Spring has well and truly sprung and as the blossom begins to fade and the warm weather gets set to return, I’ve spent some time thinking about the flavours and colours I associate with this time of year.
We have a giant cherry blossom tree outside our flat and although the blooms have almost disappeared, leaving pink confetti all over the street, the branches are still bursting with fresh green leaves after what feels like months of bleak, naked branches.
Recently the paint company Crown approached me with a challenge to create a new cake based on one of its colour palettes.
Its newest campaign challenges people to look beyond the colour you paint on your walls to how that colour changes your environment, what memories it stirs up and how the paint in the tin reflects your own life story.
In my life I’m continually looking at nature for inspiration, the cherry blossoms right now, but in the summer it’s the blush pink roses we have in pots outside the flat and in the autumn it’s the crisp amber leaves as they begin to fall.
Although it’s now a household name, its roots are based in Lancashire (also my place of birth!) where it first started as the Meadows Print Shop in Darwen in 1777, and the latest TV advert is focussed around the mission statement: ‘It’s not just paint. It’s personal’.
While this is a great marketing line, it has a little truth to it and has made me think about how my life, and especially my baking, is inspired by the colours around me.
Deciding what colour to paint your home is deeply personal as it’s a safe, calm space where you spend a lot of time and will make a lot of memories.
My kitchen is my favourite place and often if I can’t sleep I’ll wake up early and decide to make something as the space is calm and allows me to be creative (Rob doesn’t enjoy these early morning baking sessions as apparently I’m never as quiet as I think I am) and to collect my thoughts.
The colours Crown gave me all feature in its new range for kitchen spaces. I chose them not only because they all sound delicious but because I could imagine all of them in my own kitchen: toffee apple, lemon squash, sugar bowl and spice rack.
They even smell good – according to Crown, its kitchen collection have a breatheasy formulation, which means the paints are 99 per cent solvent free so you don’t have that grossly sterile smell when you open the tin.
Plus, they’re beautiful. The bright red and yellow of the toffee and lemon colours are bright, fresh and cheerful and balance well with the pale green of spice rack and the calm grey of sugar bowl.
After much deliberation, and a lot of cake tasting (thanks generous volunteers), I finally decided on a lemon and apple sponge cake, filled with lemon buttercream and fresh raspberries. I also dotted buttercream blobs on top of the cake and sprinkled raspberries, pomegranate and dried rose petals on the top to make it extra special.
225g self raising flour
225g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large free range eggs, at room temperature
100ml milk, whole is best but semi skimmed will do
Zest of 2 lemons
1 grated apple
500g unsalted butter, very soft
1kg icing sugar
300g fresh raspberries
100g fresh pomegranate
A selection of dried flowers (I used roses)
A teaspoon of edible glitter
juice of 2 lemons
Preheat the oven to 180C/170 fan/Gas 4 and line three eight-inch cake tins with parchment paper.
Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy and doubled in size, around three minutes with an electric whisker or five without. If using an electric mixer make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl so all the ingredients are well mixed in. Add in the eggs one at a time (if the mixture curdles throw in a tablespoon of the flour in-between eggs) until the mixture is completely combined. Then add the lemon zest.
Once the apple is grated, squeeze the grated apple in a clean tea towel to get rid of as much liquid as you can – if you leave it in the cake will be a lot stodgier. Sieve the flour into the mixture and carry on stirring until everything is combined. As you’re mixing, slowly pour in the milk, and when the entire mixture is combined, pour into the three baking tins.
Try and make the tins as equal as possible (you could weigh them if you’re the kind of person who will be annoyed with mis-matching layers) and then bash the tins a few times on a hard surface to remove any air bubbles. Next pop them into the oven for 35 minutes. The sponges are done once they spring back when you gently press them, or a sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
While you’re waiting for the cakes to cool make your icing. Beat together the butter, milk, juice of the 2 lemons and sugar until it forms stiff peaks. It should be thick – like soft butter – and the longer you beat it for the smoother it will become, around five minutes with an electric mixer.
When the cakes are cold, pile them on top of one another, filled with a healthy layer of buttercream and raspberries.
Next cover the entire cake with buttercream in a thin layer. Pop this into the fridge for an hour and then cover the cake with another layer of buttercream. This is the crumb coating and will mean you don’t get any pesky crumbs in the final icing layer. If you’re short on time you can skip this stage but it will make the final cake look a lot better and smoother.
When the cake is covered, use a spatula to smooth the sides and cover up any bits where the cake is peeking through. Take a piping bag, fill it with the remaining icing, and cut off the end (about an inch from the tip) and pipe blobs onto the top of the cake. These don’t need to be exact, in fact I think they look better if they’re not.
Then adorn with the raspberries, pomegranate, dried flowers and glitter and tuck in.
This blog post was written in association with Crown