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We are friends who love making simple food look beautiful. We hope our recipes will inspire you to get into the kitchen this season. Aoife McElwain works in front of the camera writing the recipes and styling the food, while Mark Duggan works behind the camera to make sure it all looks as delicious as possible. We work with editors such as Killian Broderick and music supervisors like Nialler9 to make sure that our finished videos look and sound as smart as possible. We work with brands like Glenisk and Folláin to help them create delicious video content for their online platforms. When we're not making videos, we write a weekly column called Speedy Suppers on Thursdays in The Irish Independent. Aoife writes the recipes and styles the food while Mark takes the photographs.  

27 Nov naked cake with meringue buttercream icing

I think I’ve discovered the secret of baking and, indeed, cooking at large. And that is… it doesn’t have to be perfect. I used to get frustrated with my wobbly cookies and lopsided cupcakes. Once I finally accepted that my cakes would most likely always have sloppy icing edges, my baked goods started to taste a whole lot better…

This Naked Cake is a perfect example of an imperfect baker achieving something quite impressive. I would never have attempted this a few years ago, for fear of failure. Sure, this cake is a challenge but it’s definitely an achievable cake, even for the most modest of bakers. As you might notice in our video, my cake slices are a bit uneven and wobbly but those were easily covered up by the thick, meringue buttercream icing. That sturdy meringue buttercream icing is crucial to the cake as it keeps everything steady.

My advice about approaching this cake would be to give yourself plenty of time. Watch the video and read the whole recipe before you start, so you can plan ahead. The recipe below might look long, but that’s because I’ve included lots of extra tips and information to help this cake go as smoothly as possible. If you’re baking this as an alternative Christmas cake or for a special occasion, I would even recommend making the cakes and the icing the day before, and assembling on the day of your do. That will take a lot of pressure off you as a cook. You got this.

Naked Cake with Meringue Buttercream Icing

By Aoife McElwain

Ingredients

For the cake

300g caster sugar

300g butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 eggs

300g self-raising four

2 teaspoons of baking powder

2 sprigs of thyme

Zest of 1 lemon

For the meringue buttercream icing

3 large egg whites

240g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

360g unsalted butter, softed

For the toppings

1 figs

1 x punnet of blackberries

2 sprigs of thyme

1 tablespoon of honey

Tools

4″ and 8″ cake tins (or a 4″ and 6″ would work too)

Baking Paper

Pencil

Scissors

Electric Whisk

Breadknife

Cake stand

Small spatula

Small pastry brush

Bamboo skewer

Method

  1. Before you start making this recipe, watch the video so you can see how it all works and comes together in the end. When you’re ready, butter and line the baking tins with parchment paper. Pre-heat oven to 190c / 170c fan/ gas mark.
  1. In a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar with an electric whisk. Start off on a slow speed (otherwise the sugar and butter goes everywhere – I’ve learned that through experience) and gradually increase the speed until you have a fluffy, light mixture. Add the vanilla extract.
  1. Using the electric whisk, beat in the eggs one at a time. Don’t worry if the batter starts to look like it is curdling a bit, that will all smooth out once the flour is added.
  1. Sieve the flour into a second bowl. Sieve in the baking powder into the flour. Pick thyme leaves into the bowl. Zest in the lemon.
  1. Add the flour mixture to the egg mix. Use a spoon to gently fold it until you have a thick batter. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tins, about two large heaped tablespoons into the smaller tin and the rest into the larger tin. Lightly smooth the top of the cakes with the back of a metal spoon, trying to get it as level as possible.
  1. I baked my cakes in the oven together. If you want to be more cautious, you can bake them separately. My oven is pretty good at retaining its temperature so I don’t need to worry too much about cakes collapsing or sinking when I open the oven door in the middle of baking. If you have less confidence in your oven, play it safe and bake the cakes separately. The small cake will need 25 minutes, and is done when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. The larger cake will need about 35 to 40 minutes in total. It’s ready when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  1. Meanwhile make the meringue buttercream.Separate three egg whites into a very clean, metal bowl that will sit easily on top of one of your saucepans. Discard the egg yolks, or rather save them for an omelette.
  1. Pour about 500ml of water into a large saucepan, the one that your metal bowl sits easily on top of. You don’t want the water to touch the bottom of the bowl. Bring the water to a very gentle simmer.
  1. Back in your metal bowl, add the sugar to the egg whites and whisk briefly. Put the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water. Use the electric whisk to gently whisk on a low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until you can’t feel grain of sugar when you rub the mixture between your fingers. Doing this over the simmering water gently cooks the egg in the meringue so that it can be used for icing, but you don’t want that water to boil because it will scramble your eggs!
  1. Take the meringue mix off the heat and whisk on high speed for 10 minutes, until you have a thick meringue mix. Now add the vanilla extract. And finally whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the meringue mix and beat until well combined. It will change texture towards the end into a very thick icing.
  1. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool slightly in tins. Remove from the tin and turn out onto wire rack and allow to cool completely. Once completely cool, carefully remove the baking paper from the edges and the bottom of the cakes. You can make the cakes and the meringue buttercream icing a day ahead. Just store the icing in the fridge (bring the icing to room temperature before using) and keep the cakes in a tin.
  1. When the cake is completely cool, use a bread knife to cut the cakes into layers. The bottom and top layers should give you three layers each. You can do two layers if you’re not feeling lucky; it will still look as nice.
  1. Slice the blackberries. Put the bottom layer of your cake on your cake stand. Spread cream on the layer of the cake, and top with slices of blackberries. Carefully place the next layer of the cake on top of this. Spread cream on this layer, and top with blueberries. Continue for the rest of the bottom tier, and do the same with the top tier. If you have to transport your cake, a handy little trick is to stick a couple of bamboo skewers into the cake from top to bottom, giving the layers extra support. You can take them out just before serving and cover over the holes with extra icing.
  1. Use a pastry brush to dust the outside of the cake with icing sugar.
  1. Finish the cake with a top layer of cream, sliced figs and whole blackberries. Decorate with sprigs of thyme. Just before serving, drizzle the figs with honey.
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