Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Gluten-free Pumpkin and Cinnamon Gravestone Cake

The nights are drawing creepily in, threatening us like the sinister shadow of a black cat over a dormouse.  You can’t move for the giant pumpkins (both real and fake) in supermarkets, green grocers and on peoples’ doorsteps and the shops are filled with revolting coloured sweets and plastic spiders. All this can only mean one thing: Halloween is here again.

I wanted to make a Halloween cake that was trick-, but not treat-free. This cake requires no fancy decorating equipment and you can buy everything you need from most supermarkets. In fact, this cake is so easy, it doesn’t even require the use of an electric hand whisk, which will leave you with ample time to paint your face green and slink into your best Grotbags costume (just me?).  

This is a simple loaf cake, spread with cinnamon buttercream and covered in green sugarpaste (roll out fondant). You can dye white icing, but some supermarkets are stocking black, orange, red and green ready-dyed especially for Halloween. The railings are made with thin sausages of black sugarpaste, but you can use liquorice if you prefer. The disturbed earth is made from gluten-free biscuits, crushed and mixed with cocoa and melted butter. The only vaguely specialist equipment I used was a liquorice pen (like an edible felt tip) for the gravestone, but you can simply etch the words on with a cake skewer.

As it’s Halloween, what can be more festive than a pumpkin cake? Granted, you can opt for more gruesome-looking cakes - perhaps a bright red velvet filled with raspberry coulis, so it looks like it’s bleeding when cut – but I wanted to steer clear of blood and guts this year and go for gently macabre instead. Besides, I know from bitter experience that if I give my nephews and niece too many E-numbers in one go, they’ll be bouncing off the walls for the rest of the afternoon.

Popular culture has been rammed full of the undead for the last decade or so, thanks I’m sure, in part, to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In homage to the growing number of corpses waking up in the middle of the night to push their fists through the earth under which they’ve been buried, I decided to make a gravestone cake this year featuring the hand of someone whose consciousness, if not their pulse, has shown renewed signs of life. I can’t say I’ll never go back to the blood and guts of Halloweens past, but for this year at least, I’m leaving the fake blood in my decorating drawer.

Gluten-free Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cake 

Preheat the oven to 150°C (135°C fan)/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment

For the cake

3 medium eggs, beaten
200ml sunflower oil
300g light muscovado sugar
375g grated peeled pumpkin (it’s easiest to do this using a food processor with a grater blade)
The zest of 1 large orange
265g rice flour
1 tsp. GF baking powder
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
A pinch of salt

For the buttercream

75g soft, unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
A splash of milk if needed

For the soil

6 gluten-free digestive biscuits
1 level tbsp. cocoa, sifted
25g butter, melted

To make the cake, simply whisk together the sugar, oil and eggs thoroughly until the mixture is thick (a balloon whisk is fine, no need to plug in the electric hand whisk). Add the remaining ingredients and fold in until fully combined. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in its tin on top of a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, simply whisk the butter until very soft and sift over half of the icing sugar. Whisk again to combine, before sifting the remaining icing sugar and cinnamon over the top. Add the vanilla and whisk again, adding a splash of milk to slacken the mixture if necessary. Spread the buttercream over the cold, turned out cake.

To make the soil, simply bash or blitz the digestives and add the melted butter and cocoa and mix together. Cool and set aside until needed.

Roll out approximately 500g of grass green sugarpaste (you can buy it ready-dyed or dye white sugarpaste yourself) and cover the cake, smoothing down the sides with your hands.

Roll thin sausages of black sugarpaste and attach them all around the sides of the cake using cooled boiled water or vodka. Next, melt 5 squares of dark chocolate and paint a long rectangle along the middle of the cake with a pastry brush. Stick the soil to the melted chocolate to form a muddy bed.

Mix together some black and white sugarpaste to make grey, and form it into the shape of a tombstone. Write or etch whatever you like on the stone. Break off two short pieces of r
aw gluten-free spaghetti (or you can use cocktail sticks) and insert them halfway into the base of the tombstone. Push the ends of the spaghetti into the cake to fix the tombstone in place.

Make a small amount of flesh coloured sugarpaste (you can buy it ready-dyed or dye it yourself with a mix of mostly pink plus a tiny dash of yellow). Form it into the shape of a hand and wrist. You can use a cocktail stick to scratch on knuckles and make indentations for fingernails. Place another small piece of spaghetti into the wrist of your hand and push the other end of the spaghetti into the cake. Rub the hand with a few bits of the soil to make it look realistically grubby. Voila! Happy Halloween!

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