Gin and Tonic cake
I first came across the idea of a G&T cupcake when we got to try them at the third birthday party for Prudence, Sipsmith Gin’s still. At the time I remember thinking it was an interesting idea, however was underwhelmed at the gin-iness of the cakes although quantities of gin being consumed in liquid form that evening may have affected my taste buds! Anyway, come the summer and a friend’s G&T-drinking birthday garden party, the idea of a G&T CAKE popped back into my mind.
Prudence’s 3rd Birthday
I started researching and was surprised to find there didn’t seem to be much out there by way of a definitive recipe, however a few bloggers had shared their thoughts… Most seemed to track back to blogs from either how sweet it is or butter, sugar, flowers, but neither of these seemed quite like what I had in mind. I was looking for an impressive, large, frosted cake for a big group of people celebrating a significant birthday. So I experimented away and produced a cake… the day was very hot, the icing very gin-y and somewhat slippery and feedback was mixed, some who don’t gin full stop (shocker), some saying there was too much gin, or too much sugar, and others saying it was a genius idea.
The cake needed a tweak or two to make it just right, and so when I was thinking of recipes to try for the Great Office Bake Off (blog post to follow) and bearing in mind my colleagues’ fondness for alcoholic drinks I decided to have another go, and a practice too to in the spirit of taking it all far too seriously.
To develop the recipe I went back to basic ideas; a lime sponge layer cake and simple vanilla frosting, and then considered how to get the flavours in. Cooking with gin would involve loosing the alcohol along the way so was a no-no, however I liked the idea of adding in some crushed juniper berries to bring some depth of flavour to the sponge.
Juniper berries in Prudence
Another concern was the potentially high volume of liquid which might mess up both the sponge and the frosting. Initially I decided to reduce down the tonic to get the flavour with less of the liquid volume, however learnt that this can be taken too far; having a syrup I could barely scrape from the pan the first time. The second attempt had a batter that still looked quite dry so I settled on reducing some of the tonic and stirring in some fresh at the end, which as an added bonus reacts with the raising agents and gives the cake a boost! I’ve also used mostly lime zest and not that much juice, however if you wanted a less potent cake you could swap juice for gin.
For the actual G&T used, I went with Tanqueray gin, partly because this was what we had open in the cupboard, but also because it has a good, juniper flavour. I’m not sure that Hendricks, for example, which is often served with cucumber (blergh) rather than lime, would be that good a fit. I was also fussy over the tonic water and used Fever Tree tonic; this is a premium brand, which is made without any artificial sweeteners and has a great flavour. The absence of Fever Tree tonic in two branches of Waitrose may have provoked my most ridiculously #middleclassproblems rant of the year…
In the frosting, I found that keeping 1 tbsp of milk as part of the liquid helps it to whip up into a fluffier mixture; after that you can add as much gin as you dare! It will set somewhat given an hour or two but you want a mixture that’s still going to hold its shape well when you ice with it. When it came to decorating, I felt the muted colour of my crystallised lime slices didn’t quite have the freshness I wanted, so put strands of fresh lime zest on top and put slices of crystallised lime at regular intervals around the edge. My first attempt had grated lime zest in all of the frosting, and although it tasted good I wasn’t a fan of the speckled look so then decided to try putting it into a super-zesty middle filling.
Practice cake: lime zest in the icing
After the bake off, I was asked for the recipe so many times that I thought I should check it before writing it down so made it the third time in a fortnight for a friends wedding cake buffet, the final vision of the recipe follows. For this one I set aside a little of the coloured icing for the decoration, along with some crystalised lime zest. If you don’t want to make quite such a massive cake you could scale it down for smaller tins by scaling the sponge on the classic rule of one egg to two ounces each of sugar, self raising flour and butter.
- Uses two, 9-inch (23 cm) tins, or 3-8 inch ones if you fancy a tall cake
- Preheat the oven to 170C (150 fan)
WARNING: this cake contains semi-serious amounts of alcohol. If you use the quantities below, and cut into 12 slices you’ll have about half a unit/measure per slice. Not enough to get anyone very drunk but enough to concern someone who’s trying to avoid booze!
1tbsp juniper berries
finely grated zest of two limes
200ml of Fever Tree tonic water
10oz (275g) butter (at room temp)
10oz (275g) caster sugar
10oz (275g) self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
Juice of two limes
~75ml of gin.
500g icing sugar
160g butter (at room temp)
1 tbsp milk (15 ml)
~5 tbsp gin (75ml)
Zest of two limes
juice of 1 lime (optional)
green & yellow food colouring (optional)
Lime zest or crystallised lime to decorate.
Before starting on the cake mix, line the bases of your tins with greaseproof paper, and grease both the paper and the sides of the tins.
Pour half of the tonic water into a small, non stick pan and boil until reduced by about half, leaving you with approx 50ml. If you reduce this too far it will become very syrupy and hard to remove from the pan!
Finely grate the zest from two limes, and crush the juniper berries until there are few, if any large flakes. This took me a few minutes in the pestle and mortar.
Now make a standard sponge cake; for a guaranteed good result I’m a fan of the traditional approach. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add the lime zest and ground juniper berries.
Add the lime zest and crushed juniper berries
Weigh the flour and sift with the baking powder. Beat in the eggs one at time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each egg to prevent curdling. When all of the eggs have been added, leave the mixer to one side and fold in half of the flour, and when incorporated repeat with the remaining half of the flour.
Finally, carefully fold in first the reduced tonic water, and then the remaining 100ml of tonic from the bottle in a couple of stages. The mixture will start to fizz as the tonic reacts with the raising agents, so as soon as the liquid is incorporated spoon the mixture quickly into the waiting tins, smooth out the tops and put into the oven.
The mixture browns quite easily, so cook at 150 C in our furnace of a fan oven, probably 170 if yours is less fierce, for 30-35 minutes. (cooking in smaller tins will take less time, check after 20 mins).
Towards the end of the cooking time, make your gin & lime drizzle. Juice the limes which were zested earlier; if you give them a quick minute or so blast in the microwave, until they’re hot but not too hot to hold, it will start to break down the cells inside the lime and mean you get more juice from them. Gently warm the juice with the sugar on the hob, until the sugar is dissolved and you have a clear liquid.
When your cakes are cooked (firm to touch, and starting to come away from the tin at the edges), remove from the oven and place, still in the tins, on a cooling rack. If you have loose bottomed tins it’s worth placing a tray underneath the rack to catch any stray drizzle. Prick the tops of the cakes with a fine-pronged fork or skewer, and stir the gin into the drizzle mix. I find it’s helpful to decant this into a jug at this point, then pour the drizzle over the sponges, making sure the whole top of each cake is covered, and distributing it as evenly as possible between the cakes. Leave the cakes to cool, still in their tins.
When the cakes are ready to ice, finely grate the zest of two more limes, setting the limes aside in case you want the juice later. To make the gin frosting, start by softening your butter in the mixer. If you don’t have a freestanding mixer, or a warm kitchen, or immense patience you may want to help it along by placing your mixer bowl in a larger bowl containing some warm (but not to boiling hot) water.
When your butter is soft, and not sticking too solidly to your beaters, add the icing sugar and start to beat slowly. As the butter starts to incorporate into the sugar it will start to look sandy, at which point you can increase the speed slightly. Slowly, the sandy mixture will start to come together, passing quickly through a scrambled-egg stage until you have a smooth mixture. At this point, you can do away with the warm water bath if you were using it.
Look at the time now, add the tablespoon of milk and beat, then add the gin a spoonful or two at a time mixing each lot in well. Be wary of making your mixture too wet; however if you’re using less gin you may want to add some lime juice as well. If you want more gin then proceed carefully, making sure that the mixture will continue to hold peaks. Continue to whip for at least 5 minutes in total; you’ll notice the mixture becomes paler, fluffier and has more volume as you incorporate more air during this beating time.
At this point, I took out a quarter of the frosting for the filling (or a third if you’ve a three layer cake to fill). Mix the lime zest into this, and if you want, add your colourings until you reach a deep lime colour.
Pick the cake with the least even top, and after running around the edge of the tin with a blunt, flexible-bladed knife to make sure the cake us loosened, turn it upside down directly onto the serving plate. The drizzle mixture will make it very hard to re-position so try to avoid putting the top of the cakes onto any intermediary surface!
Spread your zesty frosting evenly across the first cake; staying slightly away from the edges, then, with a bit of juggling, (I found the greaseproof paper from the first cake came in handy here), turn out the second cake, and place it flat-side down on top of the first. If you have a third layer then repeat with the second half of your zesty icing.
Assembling the cake
At this stage, if you’re trying to win a bake off and want to try for a flawless finish on your cake you can brush it gently with a pastry brush to remove stray crumbs Then use a quarter or so of your remaining frosting to give it a ‘basecoat’, covering the top and sides with a thin layer of icing to seal in the crumbs. If you go for this strategy you then need to leave this to set, at least 30 mins in the fridge.
Finally, ice the top and sides with the remaining frosting, watching out for any stray streaks of green seeping out from the middle. I find a flat-sided dough scraper comes in handy for smoothing the sides, and went with a gently arced lines pattern on the top.
Decorate with crystallised lime slices or zest, or strips of fresh zest. For the cake I wanted to write on, I set aside a small amount of the coloured icing from the filling to pipe with.
G&T cake at the back of the wedding cake buffet