With the federal election in full swing, political journalist and cuisine queen and Annabel Crabb won’t have much time this weekend to be whipping up layer cakes. Even so, it’s the perfect, yummy treat to enjoy while watching the winners and losers on the telly.
Why not give this decadent citrus mascarpone layer cake a shot for your own election party? It is one of an array of easy, tasty recipes in the new book by Annabel and pal Wendy Sharpe called Special Guest – Recipes for the Happily Imperfect Host (Allen & Unwin).
This cake is suitable for any event that involves the popping of someone’s cork. Dress it up with an asymmetrical arrangement of garden flowers. Spell out the appropriate birthday number in Smarties, if it’s a younger demographic you’re baking for. Sprinkle some citrus zest over the top cream layer! Forget about the top cream layer! Really, you can dress this cake up or down to suit your purposes: the basic elements are buttery sponge and zingy mascarpone cream; no one is ever going to complain once those two are on board.
225 g unsalted butter, softened
150 g caster sugar
50 g soft brown sugar
4 large eggs
finely grated zest of 2 citrus fruit (lemon and/or orange)
225 g (1½ cups) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
50 ml citrus syrup (I use the syrup from tinned mandarins) or reduced sweetened orange juice – optional
Lemon Mascarpone Filling
150–200 ml thickened (whipping) cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
150 g mascarpone
2 tablespoons lemon curd, plus
2–3 tablespoons extra for spreading
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease and line two 20 cm cake tins.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, beating well each time, then mix in the citrus zest. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, then fold into the batter until thoroughly incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the two tins (not usually one for precision, I do use an electronic scale here to help me get the same amount in each tin). Smooth the surface and bake for 20–25 minutes, until the cakes have a golden hue and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
When the cakes are cool enough to handle, carefully turn them out onto a wire rack to cool. As this is a slightly sticky sponge, be careful that the cakes don’t stick to the rack: the trick is to move them once or twice on the rack before they are completely cool. (If you are splitting the work of making the sponges and constructing the cake, you can wrap and refrigerate or freeze them at this point: they’ll keep for a few days in the fridge and up to a month in the freezer.)
A sponge cake that has been refrigerated will be much easier to cut than one that is straight out of the oven, so this is a good time to decide whether you want to cut each sponge in half horizontally for a four-layer cake, or stick with two layers.
To make the lemon mascarpone filling, whip 150 ml of the cream with the icing sugar until it has thickened slightly, stopping
well short of soft peaks. Then fold in the mascarpone and the 2 tablespoons of lemon curd until smooth – thin out with a little extra cream if it seems too stiff – you’re after an an easily spreadable consistency so you won’t plough up the surface of the cakes.
To assemble the cake, use a pastry brush to dab some of the citrus syrup on the first layer of cake, concentrating on the edges (which may have dried out if you made the sponge in advance). Next use a spatula or offset palette knife to spread a very thin layer of the extra lemon curd over the sponge, followed by a generous layer of the lemon mascarpone cream, making sure to get it all the way to the cake edges. Gently sit the next layer of cake on top and spread it with syrup, curd and lemon mascarpone cream. Keep going until all your layers of cake are used up.
Spread a final layer of lemon mascarpone cream over the top of the cake and decorate. Or don’t decorate. It’s your party.