I was lucky enough to get an eARC of The Perfect Assassin, K.A. Doore's debut novel, in November, and I loved it from the first chapter. I'm so happy it's out in the world now, not least because it means I've got a paperback copy for my shelf now! This novel is a fast-paced fantasy adventure full of unique magic and realistically portrayed queer characters whose stories focus on more than queerness. I enjoyed it so much that I had to celebrate with a fun cake!
This cake was based on the color scheme of the book cover, plus fire, which features prominently in the story. The cherry flavor doesn't have any significance to the book or the author (although I chose cherry because my wife wanted a cherry cake, and making one's wife happy is very fitting for a tribute to K.A. Doore's work). The cake is four layers of vanilla sponge sandwiched with black cherry Swiss buttercream and sour cherry jelly, topped with dark chocolate mirror glaze and hard candy flames.
I used the cake part of this recipe by Michelle of Brown-Eyed Baker and baked it in 6-inch pans.
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1½ cups granulated sugar
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1¼ cups buttermilk
gel food coloring, if desired
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour four 6-inch cake pans (or use two pans, cleaning and re-buttering between bakes).
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium-sized bowl; discard any lumps. In a large bowl, beat softened butter and granulated sugar for 3 minutes with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in vanilla paste and beat for an additional 2 minutes. Sift half of flour mixture into butter mixture and mix until combined. Add buttermilk and mix until combined. Sift remaining flour mixture into the bowl and beat for 3 minutes.
Weigh total amount of batter. If desired, separate batter into bowls and stir in food coloring. Divide batter evenly among cake pans, swirling colors if you choose. Bake for ~25 minutes or until cakes draw slightly away from sides of pans and have very pale brown spots on top. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove to wire rack and cool fully. Finally, wrap in plastic and freeze.
Sour cherry jelly
I halved this recipe Genius Kitchen using sour cherry juice from a jar instead of regular fresh cherries.
1 3/4 cup sour cherry juice
5 tsp dry pectin
2 1/4 cup sugar
Stir pectin into juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Add sugar, still stirring, and bring back to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Pour into a heatproof glass container, cover with plastic touching the surface, and refrigerate until firm.
I adapted this recipe for Swiss meringue buttercream by Trang of Wild Wild Whisk.
4 oz egg white
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
10 oz unsalted butter room temperature, cubed
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup concentrated black cherry juice
Beat egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Increase speed and gradually add half the sugar. Continuing to beat, add the vinegar in a slow stream, then slowly add the remaining sugar. Increase mixer to high speed and beat until mixture is glossy and holds a stiff peak. Reduce to medium-low speed and add the butter, one cube at a time. As you add butter, the mixture will separate and look curdled. This is normal! Increase to high speed and beat for 4-5 minutes or until mixture smooths out. Add most of the powdered sugar and the cherry juice; beat on low until sugar is moist, then on medium until fully combined. Add more sugar if necessary to achieve a thick but spreadable consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Trim frozen cake layers as necessary to even and flatten them. Transfer about a third of the frosting to a piping bag and pipe a thick, raised circle around the top edge of three of the layers. Return to freezer and chill until frosting is firm. Remove from freezer and spoon cherry jelly into the three circles. Stack cakes, ending with the unfrosted layer. Spread cake with remaining frosting, get it as smooth as possible, and refrigerate (if you're not going to glaze immediately) or put in freezer if you're moving on to the mirror glaze step right away.
Dark chocolate mirror glaze
I halved this Chef Iso recipe.
350 g dark chocolate, chopped
19 g powdered gelatin
200 g water
300 g sugar
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
50 g unsweetened cocoa powder
black gel food coloring
Chop chocolate and set aside in a medium heatproof bowl. In a small bowl, stir together powdered gelatin and enough of the water to form a thick slurry. Combine remaining water, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat and stir in gelatin until dissolved. Pour over chopped chocolate and leave for 10 minutes.
Add a small spoonful of black food coloring and use an immersion blender to combine mixture until homogenous, adding more food coloring if necessary to achieve a dark color. Strain mixture into a large pouring container and cool to 90°F. Place chilled cake on a wire rack over a pan and pour glaze slowly over it, beginning at edges to fully coat the sides. When glaze sets, trim drips around bottom and transfer to a plate. Refrigerate.
I used the method from this Ashlee Marie recipe!
2 c isomalt crystals
1/2 c distilled water
red and yellow candy coloring
cherry flavoring/candy oil, if desired
Heat the water and isomalt crystals to 330°F in a small saucepan. Pour over a silicone mat and cool until hard. Break into small pieces.
Preheat oven to 320°F. Divide cooked isomalt shards into three ovenproof bowls and place on a baking sheet in the oven until melted. Remove one bowl at a time and add color and a few drops of cherry oil, if using, and stir.
Place candy sticks on silicone mat and working again with one bowl at a time, pour some isomalt onto one end of each stick. Pour next color above the first one so that the circles merge at the edges; repeat with third color. Working quickly, drag another candy stick through the pools of isomalt to swirl the colors and add spikes to the edges of the shapes. If the isomalt becomes too hard to work with, you can put the mat on a pan in the oven for a few minutes to soften up. Once you've achieved the desired effect and the candy is slightly cooled but still malleable, twist and shape the flames into three-dimensional shapes.
Push candy sticks into the top of the cake for presentation; remove and store in an airtight container at room temperature before refrigerating uneaten cake.