The Earl of Frome gets a shock when a gaggle of nosy bird watchers gang up on him. When one of them winds up dead, it doesn't look good for the Earl. Amateur baker Poppy Wilkinson gets embroiled in yet another murder mystery. It's a good thing she's got witchy powers as she has to solve a murder, try and learn more about her own mysterious beginnings and turn out a winning cake, because it's cake week in the competition tent.
Poppy’s Strawberry and Basil Layer Cake
Basil Cream:As you know, I was short of time for this challenge, so I’d recommend making the basil cream the night before, or at least five hours before you start baking. The four-hour time limit only just didn’t cut it for me. I don’t want you to have any touch-and-go moments! All in all, you’ll probably need to have about five and a half hours to make the whole cake. It’s a long time, I know, but it’s well worth it. Preparation, preparation, preparation!
- 6¾ cups heavy cream cold
- 60 basil leaves large
Sponge and Macerated Strawberries
- 2 sticks unsalted butter room temperature, plus more for pans
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for pans
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- Coarse salt
- 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 1/2 cups sliced strawberries 1 pound 4 ounces
- 1 cup basil leaves smallor gently torn
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
Bring1 1/2 cups cream to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. And when I say gentle, I mean gentle—we don’t want any tears of spilt cream before we even really get started.
Bruise large basil leaves by hitting repeatedly with the dull side of a knife (think of your archenemy here and have the same cathartic experience as I did) and then stir the bruised leaves into the cream.
Remove from heat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let the mixture steep for 25minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing solids to extract liquid, and then place it into a fridge (or blast chiller if you’re short of time and have one nearby!) until the mix is very cold. For most people, this will be at least five hours.
Sponge and Macerated Strawberries
Make sure to preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and level your rack so that it sits in center position.
Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and then line with parchment cut to fit exactly—we don’t want any misshapen sides. Presentation is everything with this cake. Then butter your parchment and dust it with flour, tapping out the excess.
Whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt.
Beat butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, for about 2 minutes. When this is done, reduce your speed to medium, and then add your eggs 1 at a time, making sure to beat them in well each time.
Beat in part of your flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, but make sure you begin and end with the flour. Then add the vanilla until everything is combined.
Divide the batter evenly between pans—be careful here as you want your sponges to come out at exactly the same height.
Place them in the oven, wishing them well, of course, and then rotate the tins halfway through, until tops spring back when gently touched and a cake tester inserted into centers comes out clean. This should take about 40 minutes, but keep on an eye on it, especially for the last five minutes of baking.
Transfer your tins to wire racks, and let sponges cool in their tins for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the macerated strawberries by combining them with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, plus more if needed, depending on how sweet your strawberries are already, or how sweet your tooth is! Stir occasionally and leave them for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour if you have the time.
Once the cakes are cooled, run a knife around their edges, turn them out onto separate plates and make sure they have time to cool down completely.
While the cakes are cooling, get your basil cream infusion, and using a mixer, whisk the basil cream with the confectioners’ sugar in the chilled bowl on a high speed until soft peaks form.
Very, very gently add the macerated strawberries, making sure you keep back a handful of berries and all of the juices to drizzle over the top of the cake. Add a few more small (or torn) basil leaves to the cream.
Now layer each sponge cake with the basil mix.
Use the remainder of the basil cream to spoon over the top of the cake and pile the macerated strawberries on top.