If it were just for me, my birthday cake would be coconut every year – no deviation. Sadly, some of my family don’t like coconut so it’s never the right cake to pick for a family get together. Everyone likes pineapple though so I came up with the idea of a pineapple sponge sandwich cake...and just kept adding detail. What if I cut each layer into two, making four layers? What if there was pineapple curd between the outer layers? What if I beat some of that curd into the Swiss meringue buttercream? What if I added juicy chunks of pineapple into the centre layer? What if I made some mini meringues for decoration and a nice bit of crunch? It all snowballed into this rather OTT creation:
There are quite a few processes to this cake but none are difficult and can, except for the buttercream, be made in advance. I made each element on a different day so it didn’t take that long. I made them in the order: curd, sponge, meringue, buttercream.
The mini meringues looked so cute on the baking sheet – take care to place them on the cake at the last minute as they go soft quickly when they hit the buttercream.
There is a nice mix of texture in every slice – crumbly sponge, crunchy meringue, creamy buttercream and juicy curd and fruit. Not bad for a last minute creation (I say last minute, but it was actually about 5 days before the event...which for me thinking about cake is total red alert panic stations!)
I’ve had several comments and emails that people find Swiss meringue buttercream an elusive technique to master, so I took photos and made a note of timings while I made it. Here’s the journey:
Start with the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. The bowl must not touch the water. Stir the whole time until the sugar has dissolved – you can tell when this has happened as, if you run your finger over the back of the spoon, it will feel smooth. Mine took 6 minutes. It froths a little from the stirring and will look like this:
Next, transfer to a clean bowl for whisking. I used my kitchenaid. Whisk until the egg white is fluffy and stiff and – most importantly – until it is cool. If you add the butter to hot egg you will get a rather yucky mess. Mine took 9 minutes of whisking at a high speed:
Now beat in the diced, soft butter. This is the key stage for whisking. At first the mix will turn sloppy and won’t hold on to the beaters – it will look gloopy, sunken and almost curdled. If you lift the beater all the buttercream will slide off and resemble slop (from the emails I've had I'm guessing this is the point some of you panic and give up):
KEEP GOING! If you keep beating – at a high speed – you will suddenly notice the buttercream firm up and start to look like whipped cream. Mine took 10 minutes. Here it is thick and whipped up:
The next thing to do is beat in any flavouring/jam/curd that you’re using to flavour the buttercream. Don’t add too much as you don’t want to risk making it wet and sloppy. I added my pineapple curd while the beater was still running. I gave the mix a further 5 minutes of beating.
You should now have light, whipped, smooth mousselike cream – the most heavenly of buttercreams! Pipe over cupcakes or use to sandwich together a layer cake. Enjoy!
For the pineapple curd:
2 egg yolks (keep the whites for the buttercream!)
200ml pineapple juice
50g caster sugar
For the cake:
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
220g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
300g self raising flour
227g can of pineapple chunks – drained and chopped smaller
To decorate: Large can of pineapple rings or chunks
For the mini meringues:
2 egg whites
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
60g caster sugar
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar – I used vanilla infused caster sugar
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-4 teaspoons of the pineapple curd (made earlier)
Start by making the pineapple curd and keep, covered, in the fridge: place all the ingredients into a saucepan and stir, over a low heat, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then refrigerate until needed. It will thicken further as it chills.
Now make the cakes: Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
Line the bases of two 20cm loose bottomed sandwich tins with baking paper.
To make the cakes: Beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as this is when you get lots of lovely air into your sponge.
Beat in the eggs gradually, add some of the flour if it looks like it might curdle. (NB. If you have beaten the eggs and sugar for long enough the mix should not curdle).
Beat in the milk.
Stir in the flour until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
Gently stir in the pineapple chunks.
Spoon into the prepared tins and level the surface.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponge comes out clean. Another good sign is if the sponge is just pulling away from the edge of the tin.
Leave to cool in the tins for about 20 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.
You can make the sponges a couple of days in advance and store in an airtight tin.
Now make the mini meringues: Preheat the oven to 110°C/fan oven 90°C/230°F/Gas mark ¼ .
Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment.
Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until you reach the stiff peak stage.
Keep whisking and add the sugar a spoonful at a time.
Whisk in the cream of tartar.
Spoon the thick meringue into a piping bag and pipe small rosettes no bigger than 2cm across. Leave a little gap between each one.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the meringues are crisp – you’re not really ‘baking’ them, more ‘drying them out’.
Leave to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Do not place on the buttercream until you are ready to serve the cake otherwise the meringue will turn soft due to the moisture in the buttercream.
On the day of serving the cake make the swiss meringue buttercream: Place the egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir pretty much constantly to prevent the egg from cooking.
After 5-10 minutes, when the sugar has dissolved (when you cannot see any crystals on the back of the spoon), remove the bowl from the pan of simmering water and whisk until the meringue has puffed up and the mix is cool.
Add the butter to the meringue and whisk until the butter has been completely incorporated into the meringue. At first it will look a disaster – it will collapse and look curdled but don’t worry! Stop when the mixture is smooth, light and fluffy.
Beat in 3-4 teaspoons of the pineapple curd.
Cut both the sponges through so that you have 4 layers of sponge.
Take one of the sponge layers and cover with some pineapple curd.
Place the second layer on top and spread with some buttercream.
Lay the pineapple chunks or rings over the buttercream and cover with some more buttercream.
Place the third sponge layer on top and gently press to ensure it has “stuck”. Cover this layer with some pineapple curd.
Place the final sponge layer on top and gently press to ensure it has stuck.
Spread or pipe the remaining buttercream over the top and outside of the cake.
Decorate as you choose – I used the mini meringues (place these on the cake at the last minute or they will go soggy)
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have made.