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Yan’s Animals of the Rainforest Cake

A dramatic-looking cake with three orange and chocolate-flavoured layers, sandwiched with orange curd and frosted with orange buttercream. The caramel challenge is simplified here to a sugar-work waterfall, honeycomb rocks and a praline forest floor.

Makes: one large cake, serves 16

Hands-on time: 3 hours

Baking time: 25 minutes

Skill level: Up for a challenge

For the orange cake mixture:

100g unsalted butter, softened

225g light brown muscovado sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten

Finely grated zest 2 medium oranges

100ml orange juice

175g self-raising flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Orange edible food colouring gel/paste

For the chocolate cake mixture:

40g cocoa powder

100ml boiling water

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

225g light brown muscovado sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature, beaten

175g self-raising flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

For the orange curd:

Finely grated zest 3 medium oranges

125ml orange juice

165g caster sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour

65g unsalted butter, diced

2 medium eggs plus 1 yolk, at room temperature, beaten

For the buttercream:

250g unsalted butter, at room temperature

500g icing sugar, sifted

Zest 1 medium orange

5 tablespoons orange juice

Orange edible food colouring gel/paste

For the caramel waterfall:

125g caster sugar

100ml double cream, warmed

25g salted butter, softened

For the honeycomb rocks:

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

75g caster sugar

2 tablespoons golden syrup (measured flat not rounded)

For the praline forest floor:

50g pistachio nut kernels

50g caster sugar

You will also need:

3 x 20.5cm round, deep sandwich tins, greased with butter and base-lined with baking paper

Electric hand-held whisk/stand mixer

Large baking sheet, well oiled with sunflower oil

Wire hand whisk

Small disposable piping bag

Food processor (optional)

  1. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4.
  2. Make the orange cake mixture first: put the butter into a mixing bowl and beat with the electric whisk or mixer for a couple of minutes until very creamy. Add the sugar and mix for about 5 minutes until thoroughly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
  3. Gradually pour in the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the orange zest and juice to the bowl, sift the flour and baking powder on top, then carefully fold everything together with a large metal spoon or plastic spatula until thoroughly combined. Mix in 2-3 drops of the orange food colouring to give good but not vivid orange colour. Set aside.
  4. Make the chocolate cake mixture: measure the cocoa into a heatproof bowl and stir in the boiling water to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool until needed. Put the butter into another bowl, beat until creamy (no need to wash the whisk), then incorporate the sugar followed by the eggs. Beat in the cocoa mixture then fold in the sifted flour and baking powder until thoroughly combined.
  5. Using a tablespoon, add alternate spoonfuls of the orange and the chocolate mixtures to the 3 tins (as if making a marble cake), until each tin is about ½ full. Don’t swirl, mix or spread the two mixtures, just gently tap the tins on the worktop to settle the contents.
  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20-25 minutes, until each cake is well risen, starting to shrink away from the sides of the tin, and springs back when lightly pressed in the centre with a finger. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside of each tin to loosen the cake, leave for 2 minutes to firm up, then carefully turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
  7. Meanwhile, make the orange curd: put the orange zest, orange juice, sugar and cornflour into a heatproof bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in the butter then set the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water) and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the butter and sugar have completely melted. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it on a heatproof surface.
  8. Beat the eggs and additional yolk in a small bowl and strain into the orange curd mixture, stirring constantly. Return the bowl to the pan and stir constantly until the mixture is very hot, thickens and turns opaque. The curd is ready when you can draw a finger through it on the back of the wooden spoon and see a distinct, clear path. Remove the bowl from the pan, leave to cool (stirring frequently), then cover and chill for about 1 hour, until firm enough to spread.
  9. To make the orange buttercream: put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat well with an electric whisk or mixer. Gradually whisk in the sifted icing sugar (on a slow speed), scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Beat in the zest, then gradually add the juice to make a smooth and light buttercream. In warm weather, chill briefly so the mixture is easy to spread.
  10. To assemble the cake: set one sponge top-side down on a serving board and spread with a thick layer of orange curd. Gently set another sponge on top and spread with curd as before. Cover and chill the remaining curd (you can serve with scones or on toast another time). Finish with the third sponge, top-side up. Then cover the whole cake, top and sides, with a thin layer of buttercream (this will be the ‘crumb catcher’ layer) and chill for 20 minutes or until very firm.
  11. Spread the sides of the bottom sponge cake with another, thicker layer of buttercream; smoothing it neatly. Using a cocktail stick, add a couple of drops of food colouring to the remaining buttercream and mix thoroughly until you get a rosy-gold hue, then use it cover the sides of the middle sponge cake. Add a couple more drops of food colouring to the buttercream, for a rich dark orange colour, then use it to cover the entire top sponge.
  12. Using an offset palette knife or cake scraper, carefully blend the joins between the buttercream layers to give a sunset effect – make sure the buttercream covers the cake smoothly and evenly. Chill while you make the waterfall.
  13. To make the caramel waterfall: put the sugar into the base of a heavy, deep-sided frying pan, making sure it is evenly spread. Set over a medium-low heat and leave to melt, very gently, stirring as little as possible but gently tilting the pan from side to side now and then.
  14. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, very slowly draw it away from the sides of the pan to the middle with a wooden spoon, until you have a rich, dark golden liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover your hand with an oven glove, and slowly pour in the warm cream. CAUTION: the mixture will foam up, splutter and burn if it touches your skin, so take great care. Carefully stir, then add the butter and return the pan to the heat. Stir until melted and smooth. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to cool completely.
  15. Meanwhile make the honeycomb rocks: first have the oiled baking sheet and wire hand whisk ready. Sift the ginger and bicarbonate of soda onto a piece of baking paper. Then put the sugar and golden syrup into a deep medium-sized pan and set over a low heat. Warm gently for about 10 minutes until the sugar has completely melted, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar has melted, turn up the heat so the mixture bubbles, then leave to boil (without stirring) until it turns golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat.
  16. Cover your hand with an oven glove as before and quickly add the bicarbonate of soda/ginger mix, whisking it in for a couple of seconds. The mixture will froth up and expand massively so take care as it is extremely hot and will burn if it touches your skin. Quickly pour onto one side of the oiled baking sheet – don’t attempt to spread it out or touch it (or the baking sheet). Leave to cool and harden, then break into rock-like chunks.
  17. To make the praline forest floor: put the pistachios into a small pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain thoroughly then tip out onto a plate lined with kitchen paper towels. Gently rub the pistachios to remove the papery, grey skins then set aside to dry.
  18. Put the sugar into a small, heavy pan and gently melt, then boil without stirring until the liquid turns a rich golden caramel colour. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the pistachios. CAUTION: the mixture is extremely hot and will burn if it touches your skin. Tip out onto the empty side of the oiled baking sheet. Leave until cold and hard, then break up and chop coarsely, either in a food processor or by hand.
  19. To decorate the cake: transfer the caramel sauce for the waterfall to the small piping bag and snip off the tip. Starting towards the centre of the cake, pipe a river/waterfall across the top and down one side. Scatter the pistachio praline either side of the piped caramel, then decorate the top and base of the waterfall with the honeycomb rocks.