Don't miss out on our special Christmas issue with free 2023 calendar - subscribe by 18 October!
First make the cakes. Heat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Make the 18cm and 23cm cakes first. Butter then line the base and sides of both a 23cm and an 18cm round, deep cake tin. Have two large bowls ready, then put 250g flour, ¾ tsp each baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, and ¼ tsp salt into both bowls. Add the muscovado to one, the caster sugar to the other, then stir. Break up any muscovado lumps with your fingers.
Put the butter, chocolate, vanilla and coffee in a saucepan and heat very gently until melted and smooth. In another pan, do the same with the white chocolate ingredients. This white chocolate mix will look buttery and separated, but that’s fine. While you wait, put a large jug onto your scales, crack in the eggs and add the soured cream. Make a note of the weight (it should be about 800g in total). Beat to combine.
When the chocolates are melted, tip the dark mix into the bowl that has the muscovado in it. Tip the white chocolate mixture into the other. Pour half of the egg and soured cream mix into each bowl (do this on scales to be sure).
Beat each bowl with a spatula or balloon whisk to make a smooth, runny batter. Leave it to sit for a few moments to thicken a little, then spoon alternate blobs of the batters into the tins, until they are filled to two-thirds full and all of the mix has been used. I find an old-fashioned ice cream scoop really useful for this. Using a skewer, swirl the two mixes together just a few times, to marble the mixtures.
Bake the cakes together on the same shelf, in the middle of the oven, for 1 hr 30 mins or until risen and crusty-looking on top, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 30 mins, then turn onto a wire rack and cool completely.
To make the 30cm cake, butter then line a 30cm round cake tin with baking parchment, then wrap the outside with a couple of layers of newspaper, securing with string (as you might a Christmas cake). Repeat the recipe as above, dividing the quantities for the 30cm cake in half between two bowls, as before. Bake the cake for 1 hr 45 mins and test as before.
Make the buttercreams. Follow this method for both buttercreams and keep them separate. Heat the cream and coffee liqueur in a small pan until steam rises. Put the chocolate in a smallish bowl and pour over the hot cream. Leave to melt for a few mins, stirring until smooth. Leave to cool completely.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with a pinch of salt with an electric whisk until pale and smooth. Gradually beat in the icing sugar to make fluffy buttercream. When all the sugar is in, gradually add the cooled ganache and beat together well. The white chocolate mixture will be whipped and very pale, while the dark chocolate mixture will be a milk chocolate colour when finished.
Split and layer the cakes. Once each cake is completely cool, level off its slightly chewy, brownie-ish top using a long serrated knife. Spread a little dark chocolate buttercream over the thin cake board that matches the cake you’re working on. Turn the cake upside-down onto the board, then sit this on a sheet of baking parchment, so you can spin the cake around.
Split cake into three layers using a length of cotton or, as this is a fairly sturdy cake, simply cut using a long serrated knife, if you prefer.
Now you can start to fill the cake. If you’ve made the buttercreams in advance and they have hardened slightly, warm in the microwave on defrost for 10 seconds and beat well. Half-fill a piping bag with the dark chocolate buttercream, either with a wide nozzle or just the end snipped off. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the inside edge of the bottom cake layer. This is going to keep the white and dark frostings separated and neat.
Spoon some of the white chocolate frosting into the middle of the cake and spread it out to meet the dark frosting at about the same thickness. Stack the middle layer of the cake back on top and repeat until the cake is rebuilt. Chill for 10 mins. Ensure any crumbs are cleaned away, then cover the top and sides of the cake with an even coating of dark chocolate buttercream, paddling it out over the top and down the sides using a palette knife. Smooth the top as best you can. Repeat with all three cakes.
Chill the cakes for at least 30 mins to allow the buttercream to firm up before covering in sugarpaste. Can be done up to three days ahead.
Cover the cakes in sugarpaste. Starting with the small cake, transfer the cakes to new sheets of baking parchment, as any blobs of buttercream could get into the sugarpaste.
Knead the sugarpaste until pliable, then shape into a smooth ball. Lightly dust the work surface and the top of the icing with icing sugar, then use a large rolling pin to roll a circle large enough to cover the entire cake and for the icing to be about 5mm thick. If you’re not sure, roughly measure the cake with a piece of string from one side to the other (don’t get it chocolatey). Using your rolling pin to help, or just lifting it with your hands, lift the sugarpaste over the cake.
When the icing is in the right position, drop it onto the cake. Smooth it over the cake with your palms, working from the top down, until there are no wrinkles or folds. Push the excess in towards where the cake meets the board.
Using a small sharp knife, trim the excess sugarpaste away from the cake. Keep the cake on the work surface for this, don’t be tempted to lift it up as if you’re trimming a pie, as the sugarpaste can rip.
Using your palms or a plastic cake smoother, polish the sugarpaste to make a smooth, silky surface. Slide the cake somewhere it won’t be disturbed and leave to dry overnight, if possible. Repeat for all of the cakes. Brush a little cooled boiled water over the 35cm drum and cover that in sugarpaste, too.
Dowel the cake and decorate each tier. Now you need to insert dowels into the cake, which act like internal scaffolding. Starting with the 30cm cake, push three dowelling rods in a triangle into the middle of the cake – they should be set apart no wider than the base of the 23cm cake. Lightly mark where the top of the icing comes to on the dowel.
Carefully pull out the dowels and line up on the work surface. Then, using a ruler, re-mark each rod to the highest point. Score the dowels with scissors around the marks and snap the plastic.
Re-insert the rods in their original holes, rounded-end down.
Make the royal icing, following pack instructions, to a fairly thick icing. Put a no.2 nozzle into a piping bag, then fill with some of the icing; cover the rest with cling film. Pipe random dots over the 18cm cake, from pea-sized to pinhead-sized. To make a large blob, squeeze continuously, rather than trying to draw a circle and fill it in. As you near the base, make the dots more sparse, eventually fading to nothing where the ribbon is going to sit). Leave to dry. The icing needs to be the right consistency, so that it pipes but doesn’t drip.
For the chevrons, knead a little of the colouring into the sugarpaste until evenly pink. Split into two; keep one half covered with cling film. Using a little icing sugar, roll the other half to about £1 coin thickness, and in a rectangle just bigger than A4 size. Starting from one of the short edges, cut into ribbons 2.5-3cm wide. Carefully lift the strips onto a piece of parchment on a board and take them outside, out of the wind. Spray with pink spray, then take back indoors and leave to dry for couple of mins. Repeat with the second piece of paste.
Positioning the pink strips. Brush a little cooled boiled water in a diagonal stripe up the side of the 23cm cake, then position one of the pink chevrons up against it, letting it overlap at the bottom and curve around to meet the middle of the cake at the top. Press into position, cut away the excess flush to the cake and leave to dry. Do this with each of the chevrons, spacing them evenly. Go easy with the water and try to keep your hands clean and dry.
For the gold cake, take it outside as well, then spray liberally to create a shimmery gold effect. Don’t waste the spray on the middle of the cake where the next cake will sit. Leave to dry.
Stack and complete the cake. To stack the cakes, spoon a little of the leftover royal icing over each of the dowel holes on the 30cm cake (bottom layer). Carefully lift the 30cm cake onto the covered board, then stack the remaining cakes on top of one another, positioning each cake and gently lowering the back edge of the cake onto the cake below. Make sure it’s central, then slide a palette knife under the cake and gently lower the cake down. Slide the knife out at the last minute.
Run a thin line of royal icing around the edge of the base board and attach 110cm pale blue ribbon. Fasten ribbon around the base of the gold cake and the white dotty cake, then finish with fresh flowers (wrap stems in flower tape or foil first).