I was asked, through a colleague at work, if I could make a birthday cake that conformed to halal requirements, for a young lady who loves computers and was going to be celebrating her 14th birthday. The request was for a cake that was vanilla and strawberry flavoured, and not too sweet.
I examined the ingredients of the cake and the finer detail of ingredients within the fondant, colours etc., consulted with some Muslim friends, researched online, and found that producing a halal cake involved only minor changes from my usual ingredients (eg. using vanilla paste, where the vanilla is suspended in sugar syrup, rather than vanilla extract, which is suspended in alcohol).
I already had some ideas brewing, involving my new lights, so I happily agreed to do it.
The cake was a three layer vanilla Madeira, filled and frosted with strawberry and vanilla flavoured Italian meringue buttercream. The lights were set into the cake before covering it with fondant and placing the circuit board panels over the top…less tricky than anticipated.
I loved this cake for several reasons – it was the smoothest finish I’d achieved to date, I got to use some more of my lights, and the design worked well. But most of all I loved this cake because it led me to Italian meringue buttercream.
The requirement for a ‘not too sweet’ cake saw me wandering the internet in search of guidance. There I uncovered the wonders of Italian meringue buttercream; the discovery brought about the hugest leap in both taste and appearance of my cakes. It was an absolute revelation…it’s a dream to work with, light and satiny, really willing to make the cake flat and smooth, with none of the sticky, greasiness that I associate with its American counterpart.
Additionally, with far less sugar (none of it icing sugar, so you don’t come out of the kitchen looking like Miss Haversham), Italian meringue buttercream doesn’t have the tooth curling, over powering sweetness of the American one. It allows flavours to shine, complementing them and the cake it adorns.
I keep telling myself I’ll try the Swiss meringue version, but I’m so happy with the Italian one, I’ve not yet got around to it.