Margaret Fulton
80 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Vanessa Levis

Icings, frostings & fillings

Icings, frostings and fillings provide the finishing touches to many cakes, and they need not be elaborate or time-consuming to make. A simple glaze can add an extra level of flavour and visual appeal, and a filling can be as easy as jam or whipped cream.

Icing & frostings

Icings and frostings add flavour to cakes, give texture contrast, help them stay fresh and moist and, of course, enhance their appearance.

Hints & tips

A freshly baked home-made cake has no rival when it comes to flavour. The methods of making cakes may vary, but their popular appeal does not. A good recipe is essential, for this is one branch of cookery where indiscriminate inspiration does not work. The balance of ingredients is critical. Perhaps our grandmothers didn’t use a recipe, but they had a sure eye and an experienced hand. Until you have both, don’t experiment. Follow a recipe carefully and you’ll soon be turning out lovely treats like the best of them.

Types of cakes

Cakes are categorised according to their ingredients or the method by which they are made.

Butter cakes

Butter cakes are so called because they have a high proportion of butter. There are several methods. Most common is the creaming method, in which butter and sugar are beaten to a creamy consistency first, then the egg is beaten in, and lastly the flour is added. There is also the melting method, which for many cooks is easier; the butter is melted and the remaining ingredients are folded in. Lastly, there is the rubbing-in method, in which the butter is rubbed into the flour then the remaining ingredients are added. The basic butter cake mixture can be varied in many ways.

Tea cakes

Although certain yeast-based buns are sometimes known as tea cakes, the Australian-style tea cakes in this book are halfway between a sponge and a butter cake. Quickly made from store-cupboard staples, tea cakes are lighter and less rich than butter cakes. With less butter and egg than butter cakes, they do not have the same keeping qualities and are meant to be eaten the day they are made. The butter may be rubbed in or melted depending on the recipe. Tea cakes often have a filling or topping of apple slices or cinnamon, and are so called because they are traditionally served, still warm, as an accompaniment to tea.

Quick-mix cakes

These are also sometimes called ‘one-bowl’ cakes, because they are made by mixing all the ingredients simultaneously in one bowl. If you are new to baking, or not very confident, quick-mix recipes are good ones to start with. To make mixing easy, the specified fat is often melted butter, but it can be oil or sour cream. There are many delicious cakes made by the quick-mix method. Don’t try to adapt ordinary recipes, but use those especially created for quick mixing.

Sponge cakes

The lightness of a good sponge depends on beating air into the eggs. There are two basic ways of making a sponge cake. The first method is to beat whole eggs with sugar until thick and light, then fold in the flour – this is called a whisked sponge. The second way is to separate the eggs, make a meringue of the whites and sugar, then add beaten yolks and flour. This is called a sponge sandwich.

The French make a slightly different version called Génoise, with melted butter added. It is used as the basis for petits fours and other decorated cakes. Swiss rolls are another type of sponge, baked in a shallow tin, rolled while warm, then re-rolled around a filling.

Sponge cakes (except Génoise) contain only a tiny amount of butter, so they don’t keep as well as butter cakes, and are at their best when eaten freshly made.

Tins for sponge cakes should have their bases lined with baking paper and the sides should be lightly greased with melted butter, then floured. All sponge cakes should be baked as soon as they are mixed. To test if a sponge is cooked, look for shrinkage around the edge of the tin, and press the centre lightly with your fingers. It will spring back when cooked.

Fruit cakes

There are two types: light and dark. They may be made by first creaming the butter and sugar, or by the melt-and-mix method, in which the liquid ingredients (including melted butter) are mixed into the dry ingredients. Many fruit cakes have excellent keeping qualities, and even improve with age. In fact, Christmas cakes are traditionally made a couple of months before Christmas to give them time to mature. The Christmas Cake will keep, if stored properly, for 6 months.

Continental cakes

Continental cakes have a richer, closer texture than butter, sponge or quick-mix cakes. When they contain a high proportion of ground nuts instead of flour they are often referred to as tortes, and when they are split into many layers and decorated they may be called gâteaux.

In Continental cakes rich butter-cream fillings are used, and different types of liqueurs, chocolate or coffee are favourite flavourings. Nuts and fruit are used as decorations, and often the cake is chilled before serving. Springform tins make it easy to turn out the richer mixtures, and the interestingly shaped gugelhopf, bundt and ring tins give authentic shapes to Continental cakes.

Making cakes before you start

Read the recipe through in full before you start, to ensure you have all the equipment and ingredients.

Prepare the tins before you start making your cake. Make sure they are the correct size and well greased. For some recipes, you will need to line the bases with baking paper cut to fit. The size of the tin is usually stated but, as a general rule, the mixture should fill the tin by no more than two-thirds. As it bakes, the mixture should rise to the rim or slightly above.

Set the oven shelf in position and preheat the oven to the required temperature. Check the oven temperature guide and also check the chart that belongs to your stove for oven positions and temperatures, as these will vary with different types.

Have eggs, butter and milk at room temperature for easy mixing and good results

Lining a tin with baking paper

Baking paper has a non-stick surface and is very handy to have in the kitchen. Some recipes will tell you to line only the base of the tin, others to line the base and the sides..

When lining a tin with baking paper it is useful to lightly grease the tin first to secure the baking paper in place and prevent it from sliding around. If you are making a meringue mixture on a baking tray, you can secure the baking paper with a few small dabs of the meringue.

Place the cake tin on the baking paper and trace around it. Cut out just inside the line. Cut a strip of paper the circumference and height of the tin. Fit the strip of paper to the sides of the tin and the base piece into the bottom of the tin.

Some recipes (for example, for a soufflé) might tell you to make a paper collar for a tin or dish. In this case, cut a strip of paper the circumference of the tin or dish and the height specified in the recipe (usually a few centimetres taller than the tin or dish). Use to line the tin, or tie on the outside of the dish using kitchen twine, as specified in the recipe.

Mixing & baking

If creaming butter and sugar beat them very thoroughly until very pale and fluffy. Once a light mixture is achieved, add the eggs. Caster sugar is best for cakes, as it dissolves more readily and gives a fine texture. When using an electric mixer, add a little of the cake’s liquid when creaming butter and sugar as it helps to dissolve the sugar. When creaming butter or beating in sugar by hand, use a long lifting motion from the bottom of the bowl to trap as much air as possible into the cake mixture.

If melting ingredients do not let them boil unless the recipe specifies.

Eggs should be beaten lightly and added gradually. If using an electric mixer, it is not necessary to beat the eggs first, simply add them one at a time. Be sure to beat well after each addition. If the creamed mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle or separate, sift in a little flour alternately with each egg.

If the mixture contains whisked egg whites ensure your bowl and beaters or whisk are scrupulously clean; the slightest trace of fat will prevent the whites from reaching their full volume. Whisk the whites until stiff but not too dry. Add a spoonful of whisked egg whites to the cake mixture and mix in thoroughly to soften the mixture. Then finally, fold in the remaining egg whites with a large metal spoon, using large cut-and-fold motions to the bottom of the bowl and back to the top.

Sift powdered and ground ingredients (such as raising agents and spices) together with the flour so they are evenly dispersed.

When folding in sifted dry ingredients alternately with the liquid, always begin and end with the flour mixture. Be careful not to beat the mixture, and use a large metal spoon to lift it up gently from the bottom to the top. Give the bowl a small turn between scoops.

Turn the mixture into the tin. Thinner mixtures can be poured into the prepared tin; thicker mixtures will need to be spooned. Scrape all the batter out of the bowl using a spatula. If necessary, smooth the surface of a thick mixture using the spatula.

Leave the oven door closed for the first half of the cooking time, or the cake may collapse (sponge cakes should be left undisturbed for the entire cooking time). When opening and closing the oven door, do so gently.

About halfway through the cooking time check the cake. If it is cooking unevenly, turn the tin around. Check again 10–15 minutes from the end of the stated cooking time. If the cake is browning too much, loosely cover the top with a sheet of foil or baking paper.

Testing & cooling

Learn to test when a cake is cooked. Lightly press the centre of the cake. If it springs back, it is safe to bring it out of the oven. If your finger leaves an impression, leave the cake in the oven a little longer. A well-cooked cake should also shrink just a little from the sides of the tin. Or buy a fine cake tester, which can be inserted into the centre of the cake and must come out clean.

When removing a cake from the oven avoid a draught. Most cakes will need to be left it in the tin for a few minutes after removal from the oven, so they can firm up a little before being turned out. However, this is a general rule only – always check the recipe, as some cakes (such as flourless cakes) need to be cooled completely in the tin before being turned out, or they will break.

To turn a cake out put a wire rack (or, if you have only one rack, use a large plate) on top of the tin. Using oven gloves, grasp the whole lot and invert it. Ease the tin off the cake. To turn the cake the right way up, put a second wire rack on top of the cake and invert the whole lot again.

If a cake sticks or won’t leave the tin put the tin on a damp cloth for a few minutes to help ease it.

Leave the cake to cool completely before icing or filling it, otherwise the icing or filling will melt. However if you are going to drizzle the cake with hot syrup, do so while the cake is still hot.


If you’re going to eat all the cake the day it was made, or even the next day, there is no need to refrigerate it. It should simply be put under a cake dome or in a plastic container and left at room temperature.

If the cake has been cut it is worthwhile pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the cut edges to prevent them from drying out. Otherwise place the cake in an airtight plastic container and keep in the refrigerator. Remember to take it out in time to reach room temperature again before eating. Most cakes shouldn’t be served chilled.

Rich fruit cakes such as those made for Christmas and wedding cakes, may be stored (un-iced) in an airtight container. If they are to be stored for a long time, a wrapping of baking paper or foil helps them to age well. Once the cake is cut a wedge of unpeeled apple may be placed beside the cake to enhance freshness – replace with fresh apple as needed.

Most cakes can be frozen for up to 4 months. The richer the cake, the better it will freeze and retain its flavour and texture on thawing. So rich chocolate cakes, cheesecakes and butter cakes freeze very well. Sponge cakes, on the other hand, have little fat, and will lose their flavour and texture in less than 2 months. Wrap the cake airtight in freezer wrap then in foil before placing in a plastic bag and labelling with the type of cake and the date. Thaw frozen cakes without unwrapping.

Butter cakes, tea cakes & continental cakes

Undercooked: The cake is dense and soggy and has sunk in the centre. A skewer inserted comes out sticky. Cause: The cooking time may have been too short or the oven temperature too low. The oven door may have been opened in the early stages of cooking. Too much butter or too little flour may have been used in the mixture.

Overcooked: The cake is dry and the crust is very dark. Cause: The oven temperature may have been too high or the cooking time too long. The tin may have been the wrong size, or placed too high in the oven.

Sponge cakes

Undercooked: The cake is pale and sticky. The cake has not risen properly. Cause: The cooking time was too short. The oven door may have been opened during the cooking time.

Overcooked: The cake is quite dark on top, has shrunk well away from the side of the tin, and is dry. Cause: The egg whites may have been overbeaten. The oven temperature may have been too high or the cooking time too long. The cake may have been placed too high in the oven, or the tin may have been the wrong size.

Fruit cakes

Undercooked: The cake is quite pale and has sunk in the centre. The cake is dense and soggy. Cause: There might be too little raising agent or too much fruit. The oven temperature may have been too low or the cooking time too short. The tin might not have been placed in the middle of the oven.

Overcooked: The crust is very dark and the texture of the cake dry. Cause: The cake may have been cooked for too long, or at too high a temperature. The mixture may have too much raising agent or too little butter. The tin may not have been properly lined; due to the long cooking time, the tin should be lined with two layers of brown paper and one layer of baking paper, to protect the cake.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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