After slogging in the kitchen for an entire day, housewife Meg Tan did not find a pot of gold at the end of the first rainbow cake she baked four years ago.
The doting mum had attempted to make the multi-layered cake for her son's third birthday, as rainbow cakes were all the rage. It was an arduous task as she had to bake seven layers of cake in a spectrum of colours, alternate each layer with cream, and then frost the towering cake.
The 40-year-old says: "Though the cake looked pleasant, it was too sweet, and dense like a pound cake. It was overwhelming on the palate."
She started to look for alternatives. Later that year, she chanced upon a recipe for a Japanese-style roll cake made with Italian genoise sponge cake. It is leavened naturally with eggs whipped in a warm water bath, which adds air to the cake batter. This method gives the cake a feather-light texture.
The thought of incorporating genoise sponge into her multi- layered cakes came to her mind.
One of her favourite cakes to bake is an ombre strawberry shortcake, which features three layers of genoise sponge in a visually pleasing gradient of pastel yellow, orange and pink hues.
Being nimble is a vital requirement to ensure that this cake turns out well. She whisks the eggs and sugar swiftly, before adding ingredients such as milk and vanilla extract in quick succession to the batter before beating it with an electric mixer on high speed.
"You need to be quite fast or you risk deflating the batter and the cake will lose its volume," she says.
The baking process is laborious as she prefers to make three batches of batter and bakes each layer separately. This ensures that the batter remains airy when it is popped into the oven. She also needs to assemble and frost the cake within 10 minutes before chilling the cake to let the chantilly cream set. This is because the cream, which is used for the filling and frosting, melts quickly.
The ombre strawberry shortcake combines her love of colourful cakes and the classic Japanese strawberry shortcake.
Ms Tan's love of Japanese confections was sparked by her honeymoon in Tokyo in 2002. There, she was mesmerised by the dazzling array of dainty cakes that were on display in pastry shops.
She recalls with a chuckle: "I was constantly ogling cakes as I was overwhelmed by their beauty and they have a light and refined taste."
She has since expanded her repertoire of Japanese sweet treats to include baked cheese tarts inspired by Hanjuku cheesecakes and those she tried at the popular Hokkaido- based confectionery Bake in Japan.
These days, she bakes "anything that catches my attention". She bakes almost every day for her family, from carrot cake and red velvet cupcakes to rose roll cakes and breadrolls. She is married to a 43-year-old engineer. They have a seven-year-old son, Kai Yi.
It is evident that her son appreciates his mother's bakes - he remembers the birthday cakes that she has made over the years, including a strawberry jelly heart cheesecake.
The boy is also his mother's baking assistant. He offered to chip in while his mother made the cake. Eventually, he arranged the sliced strawberries for the cake filling.
Ms Tan says it is her son's fascination with cakes that fuels her passion.
"Though baking multi-layered cakes is tedious, I find it satisfying to create pretty things that kids are wowed by."
OMBRE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
For genoise sponge cake
90g caster sugar 3 large eggs
41/2 tsp fresh milk
6 drops vanilla extract
84g cake flour, sifted twice
30g unsalted butter, melted
1 drop of orange food colouring
1 drop of pink food colouring (use Wilton icing gel paste from baking supplies shops such as Phoon Huat)
For chantilly cream
500g whipping cream
150g mascarpone cheese
20g icing sugar, sifted
¼ tsp vanilla extract
50g hot water
1 Tbs sugar
10 to 12 strawberries, thinly sliced
3 strawberries, whole
12 strawberries, halved
Blueberries, glazing gel (from baking supplies shops) and mint leaves to garnish
For the genoise sponge cake
Preheat oven to 180 deg C and line the bottom of three round 15cm baking tins with baking paper .
To make the yellow layer, place 30g caster sugar and 1 large egg in a mixing bowl and whisk lightly by hand. In a wok, bring 1.5 litres water to a boil on high heat before switching to low heat. Use one hand to hold the mixing bowl in the water bath and continue to whisk until the sugar has completely melted into the mixture. Remove the mixing bowl from the water bath.
With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the mixture until it reaches the ribbon stage, where the thickened batter drips from the whisk very slowly to form ribbon-like swirls.
Switch to low speed and add 1½ tsp milk into batter. Mix for 30 seconds.
Add two drops of vanilla extract into the batter and mix for 30 seconds.
Add 28g flour into the batter in two batches and mix for 15 seconds after each addition.
Scoop 1 ½ Tbs of the batter into the bowl of melted butter and fold the contents with spoon until well mixed. Pour the butter mixture back into the batter and fold it gently into the rest of the batter.
Pour the batter into the baking tin. Gently tap the tin on the countertop and bake for 11 to 12 minutes.
Remove the baking pan from oven. Let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes before inverting it on a cooling rack. Remove baking paper and set aside.
To make the orange layer, repeat step 2. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the mixture for 10 seconds and add a drop of orange food colouring with a toothpick into the batter. Continue beating the mixture until it reaches the ribbon stage. Repeat steps 4 to 9.
To make the pink layer, repeat step 2. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the mixture for 10 seconds and add a drop of pink food colouring with a toothpick into the batter. Continue beating the mixture until it reaches the ribbon stage. Repeat steps 4 to 9.
For the chantilly cream
In a chilled mixing bowl, add whipping cream and mascarpone cheese. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat the mixture. Add sifted icing sugar and vanilla extract while gradually increasing to high speed till stiff peaks form.
Mix hot water and sugar and set aside.
To assemble the cake, place the pink cake layer on a 23cm round cake board. Brush the top of the cake with sugar mixture. With a spatula, spread 55g of chantilly cream evenly on it. Cover the cream layer with thinly sliced strawberries before spreading another 55g of cream on top of it. Repeat this step for the orange cake layer. Top the cake off with the yellow cake layer. Brush the top of the cake with sugar syrup.
With an offset spatula and bench scraper, coat the cake with 200g chantilly cream. Fill a piping bag fitted with an icer tip with the remaining cream to frost the cake evenly. Use an offset spatula and bench scraper to smoothen the frosting.
Decorate the top of the cake with whole and halved strawberries and blueberries. Brush glazing gel on the fruit and garnish with mint leaves. Refrigerate the cake overnight for the cream to set. Best served chilled.
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