This cake definitely deserves an exclamation mark in the title. And a few more here!!!!!! Because it’s just so darn happy! And pretty! And bright! This big guy is a mountain of rainbows and sugar, but his true beauty is in his simplicity. Four layers of my favourite soft chocolate cake sandwiched together with vanilla bean swiss meringue buttercream, millions of sprinkles and some ever-so-fancy chocolate freckles from Australia’s own Haigh’s Chocolates. It’s the kind of cake you bake when you’re buzzing and bursting with glee, but can’t be stuffed with extravagant flavours and technical flourishes. It’s just simple, honest, delicious goodness.
I have a lot to be happy about, and I am totally in love with life and the people it has given me. But sometimes it can be hard to be cheery and energetic and optimistic seven days a week. It often seems that we must display a brave face with unrelenting force; ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’, ‘Focus on the power of positive thinking’, ‘It’s all mind over matter’. So I’ve been thinking lately; how can I define happiness so that it is realistic and sustainable? I like to focus more on attaining happiness as a kind of contentment. To me, being content encompasses a sense of calm amidst calamity, gratefulness amidst loss and strength amidst opposition. I often discuss these careful balances with my wise Pa (father/confidant/mentor/general legend). We’re in different countries at the moment, and have been emailing to compensate for our lack of late night chats at the kitchen table. He recently told me to remember that ‘the attainment of happiness requires courage’, and an ability to ‘retain faith in yourself’ and your decisions, even when life feels like one big shitstorm threatening to upheave your sanity and sense of self. And while these fundamentally important skills can sometimes feel impossible to demonstrate, I think a good start is to prioritise them.
Surround yourself with those who affirm and adore you, find and invest in meaningful relationships, cull the things that you don’t love/want/need and remember to always be your own best friend. That’s another little gem from Dad; recognise when you need to prioritise yourself. It’s not arrogant or selfish, it’s essential to your capacity for loving others. Have a bath. Walk through a forest. Lie in the sun. Listen to the rain. Eat some cake. Love without restraint. Be content, but don’t fear the days when you feel flat, frustrated or upset. Human emotion is vast and can be terrifyingly complex, so acknowledge that, validate it and address it, but don’t let it threaten your intrinsic sense of contentment. And if you don’t yet have that contentment, focus on finding it and owning it and treasuring it. It is awesome, and so are you.
Rainbow Sprinkles Cake!
Preparation Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours, plus an additional 1 hour at room temperature prior to serving
Chocolate Cake, adapted from this Donna Hay recipe
- 375 mL water
- 185 g unsalted butter, cubed
- 80 g cocoa powder
- 450 g plain flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 600 g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 185 mL buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 15 large, fresh egg whites (450 g)
- 750 g white sugar
- 1020 g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and cool, but not cold (leave out of fridge for 15-20 minutes before use)
- 3 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- pinch of salt
- 200 g rainbow sprinkles
- 15 chocolate freckles
- Preheat oven to 160°C/325°F fan-forced. Grease and line two 18 cm/7 inch cake tins.
- Combine the water, butter and cocoa in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir gently until the butter has just melted.
- Sift the flour, baking soda and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Pour in the cocoa mixture, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla, and whisk until the ingredients are combined and the batter is smooth. Do not over-whisk, only until the dry ingredients are just incorporated into the wet.
- Pour the mixture evenly into the two tins. Bang the tins a couple of times on the counter. Bake the cakes on a central rack for 45-50 minutes, rotating them after 30 minutes to ensure even baking. The cakes are cooked when a metal skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean but moist, with a few crumbs but no wet batter.
- Allow the cakes to cool in their tins on a metal rack for 20 minutes, then turn out and leave to cool completely. Use a sharp serrated knife to slice off the domed tops, and halve the cakes to form 4 layers.
Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- In a large heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, gently hand-whisk the egg whites and sugar until sugar has just dissolved and mixture appears white (5-10 minutes). Alternatively, use a candy thermometer to whisk until temperature of mixture reaches 70°C/160°F. Ensure you whisk gently but constantly, so that egg whites do not cook.
- Transfer mixture to the large bowl of an electric mixer, and whisk on medium/low speed until meringue is thick and glossy and holds its peaks, and the bowl feels neutral to touch. It is very important that you whisk until the bowl no longer feels warm, otherwise the butter will melt when added. Whisk for 10-15 minutes, and if the bowl is still warm, turn mixer off and allow meringue to cool further. This will ensure you do not over-whisk meringue. Double check the temperature of the meringue by turning off the mixer, and dipping a clean finger into the centre of the meringue. It should feel room temperature.
- Once cooled, swap whisk attachment for paddle attachment. With the mixer on its lowest possible speed, gradually add butter one cube at a time, beating for a few seconds between each addition. The buttercream will suddenly loosen and may appear thin or scrambled as you go, but just keep beating on low speed until all of the butter is incorporated.
- Once all of the butter is added to the buttercream, continue beating on a low speed for a minute or two. The buttercream should be thick and glossy. If it is too thin, the butter was too soft when added, so refrigerate buttercream for 15 minutes to firm up and then continue beating. If it appears too thick or scrambled (literally like scrambled eggs!) the butter was too cold when added, so keep beating on low speed until buttercream is smooth. Add the salt and vanilla and beat for another 30 seconds.
- Dollop a spoonful of buttercream on your cake board or serving plate, and secure the first cake layer upside down. Dollop 1 generous cup of buttercream onto the first layer, then spread evenly right up to 1 cm from the edge using a butterknife or small offset spatula. Place the second cake layer down, pressing gently from the centre outwards to spread the buttercream to the edges. Repeat the layering process with the buttercream and remaining cake layers.
- Using a little of the buttercream, frost a crumb coat over the entire cake. This is a very thin coat, and you should be able to see the cake through the buttercream. It forms a seal around the cake so you don’t get crumbs in your pretty frosting! Refrigerate the cake for 20 minutes, until buttercream is firm to touch.
- Frost the outside of the cake by dolloping the remaining buttercream on the top surface, spreading it out until it falls over the sides of the cake, and then spreading it evenly around the sides. Leave aside about 3 cups of buttercream to pipe on top.
- Refrigerate cake for at least 30 minutes until buttercream is firm to touch. Use a clean metal spatula, butterknife or benchscraper to smooth the surfaces of the cake.
- Use a 1cm diameter star piping tip to pipe 14-15 large stars of room temperature buttercream around the perimeter of the cake, and place a chocolate freckle in each star.
- Take the cake out of the fridge and leave to soften slightly for 10 minutes. Press handfuls of sprinkles around the sides of the cake.
Store the cake in the refrigerator. Make sure the cake has been out of the fridge for at least 1 hour before serving, to ensure the cake and buttercream are soft and at room temperature.
Store the cake covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days, but best served within 1-2 days of baking.
Note: The cakes can be made up to 2 days in advance, and stored in an airtight container. Swiss meringue buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week, or frozen for up to 6-8 weeks. Before using it to frost your cake, allow it to cool to room temperature, then beat on medium speed using an electric mixture until it retains its silky, soft consistency. This can take up to 20 minutes, so be patient if the texture looks a little strange. For ease, if possible prepare the SMB immediately before you frost your cake.