I have a friend who is expecting a baby, and she had a baby shower at the weekend. Naturally I decided to bake cakes for this occasion! But these were no ordinary cakes. Said friend had been given a lovely collection of old recipes from Persephone Books for Christmas, and we both fell about laughing when we found the recipe for ‘A Hedgehog Tipsy Cake’, which had been submitted by a Mrs Gladys Langley from Acton in 1931. You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time and we decided I had to have a go at baking it for the party.
Apparently the recipe itself is from the 18th century, and the description was hilarious – being a ‘tipsy’ cake, it’s soaked liberally in wine, and Gladys makes frequent mention of the need to soak the cake in wine, ‘through and through’, and of the fact that wine is really extremely good for soaking the cake with. We can assume Gladys enjoyed the odd tipple, then.
So first you bake a madeira cake, which I did several days in advance using the recipe from my trusty Dairy Book of Home Cookery, and then the day before the party I duly cut it into a vague hedgehog shape and took a piece out of the back before soaking the cake in wine (actually I made a sort of syrup out of white wine and elderflower cordial, as I got the feeling Gladys would have used a sweet wine, and that worked very well).
Then on the day of the party I brushed the cake with melted jam, covered it in cocoa powder and added toasted flaked almonds (Gladys suggests blanching, cutting and toasting your own almonds but this is the 21st century and Tesco now does that for you) to make it hedgehogy…
…and then finally I made what is referred to in the recipe as a ‘solid sillabub’ by whisking lemon juice, sugar and double cream together. I put blueberries from a jar of blueberry jam onto the eyes (the recipe says to use raisins, but I wasn’t going to buy a load of raisins just to use two) and piled the cream around the cake before adding a spoonful of jam just in front of the hedgehog, as instructed by the recipe, ‘to look as if he is eating it’. It looks a bit more like he has been run over, or like he’s just been horrifically ill, but here we are, the finished Hedgehog Tipsy Cake!
To make up for this bizarre baking adventure I also brought a batch of chocolate brownies, and some cupcakes. There was a bit of a story to those, as well – my friend has decided not to find out the sex of her baby, and when she had her 20-week scan we joked that the only disappointing thing about that was the fact that she wouldn’t be able to have an American-style ‘gender reveal’ party. This was something I’d never heard of until I started using Pinterest and saw people posting photos of gender reveal cakes – apparently it’s a thing to ask the ultrasound person at your scan to write down the sex of the baby and seal it in an envelope, and then you take this to a baker who makes you a cake, or cupcakes, with a secret pink or blue middle. Then you have a party and cut the cake, or hand out the cupcakes, and that’s how you find out what you’re having. Bizarre. Anyway, I decided to make cupcakes with secret blue AND pink middles, just for the heck of it.
I used my mum’s tried and tested sponge recipe – you weigh three eggs in their shells, and then whatever the weight (mine were 225g) you use the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time with a little bit of flour, add the rest of the flour, stir in a little bit of vanilla extract and there you go. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, or longer for a sponge (until it’s golden brown on top and risen and a skewer comes out clean). For cupcakes I like to add a splash of milk for a slightly more runny batter (it should just drop off the spoon) and it always makes lovely light cakes. I got exactly 12 from my mix.
I then made some buttercream and coloured a quarter of it pink and a quarter blue, and then I cut little cones out of the middle of the cupcakes, chopped most of the cut-out cake bit off to leave a lid, and filled half the cakes with pink and half the cakes with blue buttercream. Annoyingly my buttercream went a bit runny, but it was fine once it was in the cakes! I then put the lids back on the holes and decided to make the rest of the buttercream chocolate (mainly because I needed to rescue the runny situation and had run out of icing sugar, so I used cocoa powder!)