You may have noticed that I've been struggling to keep up with my weekly blog posts recently. It's been a tough month, unfortunately life keeps getting in the way of blogging. I never want the blog to feel like work or a chore for me, so rather than forcing myself to do something earlier I waited until I really wanted to bake. This weekend I decided to get started on some Christmas baking. Of course this happened to coincide with our first heatwave of the summer, thanks Sydney weather! My apartment turns into an oven in the heat, so I managed to make myself slightly delirious by turning the oven on and trying to spin sugar at the same time in this heat. It was a bit of a disaster, the sugar strands were basically melting as soon as they formed. I gave up and sat in front of the air-conditioner for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, a cool change came through and I managed to get some spun sugar action going the next day. I'm still trying to get the hang of spun sugar, so I think I could do an even better job of these cute little Christmas trees next time. By adding a bit of green food colouring to the toffee mixture, the spun sugar made these great little tree-shaped cake toppers. I think they work quite well on top of this stark white cake, a very soft and moist coconut cake layered with whipped lemon cream cheese icing. Even if you're not making it for Christmas, this is a damn tasty cake.
The spun sugar trees definitely take some practice, I made about 10 before I was happy with a few of them. Unfortunately the weather was the absolute worst type of weather for spun sugar, so they didn't last very long (maybe 2 hours) before they started melting. My main tip would be to make sure you don't make them too early if you are in hot weather like myself, otherwise the humidity will get to them and they will disappear before anyone gets to see them. I kept them in the fridge and dusted them with icing sugar to keep them dry. And make sure you protect your bench tops with baking paper to avoid having to scrape stray beads of toffee that are glued to your counter. You can even decorate the trees with sprinkles or silver cachous, but I was just happy to see that my initial idea turned out pretty well and didn't want to mess with it anymore.
Coconut Cake with Whipped Lemon Cream Cheese Icing & Spun Sugar Christmas Trees
(serves 12-15, icing recipe adapted from Not So Humble Pie)
For the coconut cake:
250g butter, softened (if using unsalted, add 1/4 tsp of salt to mixture)
1 1/2 (about 350g) cups sugar (I used caster (superfine) but white sugar is fine)
1 teaspoon coconut essence
1 cup (about 80g) desiccated coconut
3 cups (about 375g) self-raising flour
250g (about 1 cup + 2 tbsp) sour cream
1 cup milk
For the lemon cream cheese icing:
500g (about 17.5oz) cream cheese, room temperature
50g butter, softened
2 cups (about 250g) icing (powdered) sugar
Finely grated zest from 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
1 cup thickened (heavy) cream, cold
Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) (170°C (340°F) for fan-forced). Grease two 18cm round cake tins (you can use 20cm ones, it will just mean you have a slightly shorter cake) and line the bases with baking paper. Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Add coconut essence and then add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add half the dry ingredients (flour + coconut) followed by half the wet ingredients (sour cream + milk) and mix until just combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until just combined, taking care not to overmix. Split mixture between the two tins and bake for 45-50 mins, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean). Cool in tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
For the icing place cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add lemon zest, then add icing sugar gradually, beating until combined. In a separate mixing bowl, beat cream to nearly stiff peaks then add to cream cheese mixture and mix until smooth. Take care not to overmix. Sandwich icing between the two cake layers and crumb coat the cake with icing. Use the remaining icing to cover the cake completely.
For the spun sugar:
1 1/2 (about 350g) sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Optional: green food colouring, I used Wiltons gel icing colouring
For the spun sugar trees, place all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan on low heat. Stir mixture with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula until the sugar has completely dissolved. Turn the heat up to medium-high and allow it to boil for 3-4 minutes until the mixture becomes a bubbling, thickened syrup. Place the base of the saucepan carefully in cold water to halt the cooking process (I just filled my sink with some water). Using two forks held back-to-back (see photo above), or a special sugar whisk, dip prongs into the syrup mixture. Shake the forks back and forth over a clean, lightly oiled sharpening steel or long metal skewer (this will be messy so it is best to cover your bench top in baking paper), so that long threads of spun sugar are formed. Lift up spun sugar threads carefully and wrap around the tip of a lollipop stick, pinching the top end so that it forms a cone. This may take some practice to get the amount of sugar and shape correct. If the syrup starts to harden too much, return the pan briefly to low heat until the mixture melts again. Remember, any small amount of heat or humidity will cause your spun sugar to melt, so try to leave this step until you are nearly ready to serve your cake. Place spun sugar trees on top of the cake and dust lightly with icing sugar. You can also decorate the trees with sprinkles or silver cachous.
P.S. Go HERE to check out all my Christmas recipes!