I’ve had a bit of a blog hiatus, mostly because I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired lately, but I thought I’d better sort that out, and it would seem appropriate to end the hiatus with a Zoosday Tuesday post (which I haven’t done in a while) in the form of a slightly epic birthday cake. It seems to have been the year of the animal birthday cakes – we had the seal pup cake in January, Craig’s meerkat cake, and the latest offering… A killer whale cake! Before anybody panics, let me just make it clear that by killer whale cake I mean a cake shaped like a killer whale, not a whale cake that is lethal.
You may well be wondering why I decided to spend seven hours of my life making a cake in the shape of a killer whale (before anybody feels the need to point out that it doesn’t have a tail, the whale is surfacing, so the tail is underwater). Aside from the fact that cake is awesome and killer whales are pretty awesome, thus the two put together would automatically be totally awesome, Kat happens to love killer whales and has just started the Marine Mammals MRes in St Andrews (she’s clever like that). She also happens to love amaretto (an almond-flavoured liqueur), so when it came to making her a surprise birthday cake, an amaretto cake in the shape of a killer whale was a bit of a no-brainer…
Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t really come across many amaretto cake recipes, so that was the first step. I eventually found a cake recipe that involved apricots and amaretto which sounded promising. In view of the epic amount of buttercream icing that was likely to cover the cake, I decided that attempting to be vaguely healthy with the apricots was a bit pointless so I substituted chocolate chips instead. The next step was to work out how to make the chocolate and Amaretto cake into the shape of a killer whale. I decided that baking the cake in a loaf tin was a good first step, and pretty much winged it from there. So basically, I knew roughly what I wanted the finished cake to look like (a surfacing killer whale – to avoid faffing around and having to make a tail), but effectively made it up as I went along. Thankfully it turned out to be fairly straightforward. The final step was to get the cake from Edinburgh to St Andrews… on public transport. Remarkably, we managed it to get it there in one piece. All that remained to do was to stick a candle in its blowhole and all over Craig’s delicious chilli and lime chocolate brownies and celebrate Kat’s (slightly belated) birthday by spending two days eating cake… In case you’re wondering, the cake not only looked pretty amazing (if I do say so myself…) but tasted rather good, too. Phew!
Chocolate & amaretto cake
Serves 8-10 people
Adapted from Waitrose
Since I was making a whale cake, I made the cake in a loaf tin, but obviously a round cake tin works perfectly, too. I’ve given the instructions here on how to make the cake into a whale, but if you’re not making a killer whale, but still want to ice the cake, use about ⅓ of the icing ingredients and sprinkle with flaked almonds and cocoa powder to decorate. Just a warning, the killer whale cake did take me about 7 hours from start to finish, though most of that time was the cake’s cooking time and waiting for it to cool – the actual shaping and icing maybe took about 1 ½ hours since I faffed around quite a bit. The cake keeps well for a few days in an air-tight box.
For the cake:
25g self-raising flour
165g all-purpose flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
110g ground almonds
115g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
100ml amaretto (this is a bit of an approximation)
125ml sour cream
125g dark chocolate chips
For the buttercream icing:
400g icing sugar
200g butter (softened to room temperature)
5-6 tbsp amaretto
Blue and black food colouring paste/gel
Edible blue sparkles (optional)
For the cake:
1. Butter and flour a 21 x 11 cm loaf tin (or if you’re not making a killer whale, you can use a 23 cm round cake tin), and line the bottom with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.
2. Sift the two flours, the bicarbonate of soda and a large pinch of salt into a medium-sized bowl. Add 75g of ground almonds and mix together. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream the cubed butter and golden caster sugar together using an electric whisk. Add the remaining ground almonds and about 4 tbsp of amaretto, and whisk together. Beat in the eggs one at a time before adding the remaining 65 ml of amaretto and mixing well (don’t panic if the mixture appears to separate – I don’t know if that’s normal, but it happened to mine and the cake turned out perfectly fine. Adding the dry ingredients in the next step will sort the mixture out again).
4. Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the amaretto mixture, alternating each addition with folding in a spoonful of sour cream. Make sure not to let the mixture get too dry. Fold in the chocolate chips and spoon into the loaf tin.
5. Bake for 1h25 (1h20 if using a round cake tin). A toothpick or skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean, but make sure not to overcook the cake (or it will come out really dry). Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To turn the cake into a killer whale:
6. Once the cake is completely cool, using a sharp knife, cut the ends of the cake into a rounded shape (try to keep at least one of the corners in one piece to make the fin with), making one end slightly more pointy than the other (this will be the whale’s head). If necessary, trim the top edges of the loaf at an angle to try and make the overall shape more rounded and whale-like (if none of that made sense, hopefully the photo below will explain better).
7. Using one of the corners that have been cut off the cake, trim it into a fin shape (again, see the photo below if you’re not too sure). Stick a toothpick or two through the fin and into the cake to secure it into place, and use a toothpick on either side to make sure it doesn’t fall over.
8. To make the buttercream icing, cream together the icing sugar and butter in a large bowl until smooth (be prepared for an icing sugar explosion). Place 1-2 tsp of icing in the centre of the underside of the cake and place the cake onto the cake board of plate that you’ll be presenting it on, pressing it down gently (this is to vaguely stick the cake to the cake board/plate so that it doesn’t slide around in transit).
9. Transfer just under half of the remaining icing to a medium sized bowl, add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a dollop (very technical term) of black food colouring gel/paste. Mix well until the icing is smooth. Add a tiny bit more black food colouring if necessary and mix until the icing has turned very dark grey. Using a small tapered spatula or knife, spread the dark grey icing over the whale, making sure to leave space for the white icing under the mouth (alternatively, cover the entire cake in dark grey icing and then pipe the white icing over the top as with the white bits over the eyes). Use icing to cover the toothpicks on either side of the fin, and shape it a little if necessary. Try and make the icing as smooth as possible. Refer to the photos of the cake, or to photos of real killer whales as guides.
10. Prepare a piping bag with a 5 mm round tip, and spoon 2-3 heaped tbsp of the white icing into it. Pipe the white spots over the top of the killer whale’s eyes, and the the white parts of its belly under its mouth (see photos of the cake or real killer whales to use as guides). If there is any icing left in the piping bag, return it to the rest of the original white icing in the large bowl.
11. Dip the end of a toothpick into the black food colouring paste and draw a small eye between the white patch above the eye and the white belly under the mouth. Use the other end of the toothpick to do the eye on the other side. Use another toothpick to shape a blowhole in the centre of the top of the whale’s head (the blowhole I made was about 6 mm across).
12. Prepare another piping bag with a tear-drop or rose-petal tip (or if you don’t have either of those, a 5 mm round tip would probably work, too). Add 2-3 tbsp amaretto and a tiny bit of blue food colouring paste to the remaining icing and mix well until the icing is smooth. Spoon the icing into the prepared piping bag and pipe squiggles across the cake board or plate to make the waves of the sea. Sprinkle some edible blue sparkles across the top of the “sea” to finish off the cake (optional).
Enjoy! (And remember to warn people about the toothpicks in the fin…)