gluten-free gruffalo chocolate birthday cake

My son turns two this week and his party was this afternoon. He had six of his little friends over to play and their mummies and daddies came too. We all had a wonderful time, chatting, eating and drinking while the little ones ran around us, playing and laughing.

I’ve been stressing over his cake for some time, wondering what I could do that would make his face light up. Over the last few weeks, he has become totally obsessed with The Gruffalo (or ‘Gluffalo’ as he says it!) by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. I don’t know if those of you from across the pond are familiar with The Gruffalo, but if you aren’t and you have young children, then you should definitely check it out. We have to watch the DVD at least twice a day and read the book about four times.

Once I’d decided that The Gruffalo was the way to go, I had to work out exactly how I would achieve it. It seemed pretty straightforward but I was still a bit daunted and I was completely prepared for the morning dash to Marks and Spencer’s to pick up a Percy Pig cake or somesuch. Luckily it wasn’t needed and I was really pleased with the result.

The pictures don’t really show the cake in its entirety and I also put it on a white plate which doesn’t help but it was a rectangular cake, covered with white regal icing with a picture of the Gruffalo taking up nearly all of it.

The recipe is a bit vague when I get to the decorating bit as we were making it up as we went along and we did have some buttercream and dark chocolate left over at the end.

gluten-free gruffalo chocolate birthday cake 2

Gluten-free ‘Gruffalo’ chocolate birthday cake

For the cake:

250g gluten-free self-raising flour
250g soft light brown sugar
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
250g butter, softened
4 eggs
2 tbsp milk

You will also need an electric whisk, a 23cm x 20cm x 4cm non-stick rectangular cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment.

For the icing:

375g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
185g butter, softened
45g gluten-free milk chocolate drops
1-2 tbsp milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Orange marmalade or apricot jam – several tablespoons
454g packet of ready-to-roll regal icing
the darkest gluten-free plain chocolate you can find (I used 84% cocoa solids) – about 50g
gluten-free white chocolate – about 25g
Orange chocolate beans (I used Dr Oetker)
Green and purple gluten-free Smarties (sugar-covered chocolate buttons)

You will also need a picture of the Gruffalo, measuring about 20cm in height, a piece of tracing/greaseproof paper, a pin, an electric whisk and an icing bag with a 1mm and a 5mm nozzle (or homemade greaseproof paper cones that can be snipped to size).

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 160°C (my oven is fan-assisted, so adjust accordingly).

Sift all the dry cake ingredients in a large mixing bowl and then add all the wet. Mix with an electric whisk until everything is combined and you have a sticky batter. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin, smooth flat with a palette knife and bake for 35-40 minutes until the cake is well-risen and the centre springs back when lightly pressed. If in doubt, stick a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean. If specks of raw batter stick to the skewer, put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10  minutes. Then, remove from the tin, carefully turn upside down and peel off the baking parchment and leave on a wire rack to cool upside down.

To ice the cake:

Trace your picture of the Gruffalo with a (non-toxic) pen or pencil onto a sheet of tracing or greaseproof paper and set aside.

Melt the milk chocolate drops in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and set aside to cool slightly.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until soft and creamy. Sift about a fifth of the icing sugar into the butter and cream it in with a fork. When the sugar is all absorbed, add the next fifth and so on. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract and mix in with a wooden spoon. Add enough milk to obtain a spreading consistency: it will need to be fairly loose or it won’t stick properly and will take a layer of crumbs off the cake.

Carefully slice the cake in half horizontally and sandwich the two halves together with the milk chocolate buttercream (setting aside about a teacupful).

Melt the apricot jam/marmalade in a small saucepan, sieve (if necessary), and brush over the top and sides of the cake. This will help the regal icing to stick.

Roll out and cover the cake with the regal icing according to the packet instructions (the finished icing will be somewhat thinner than the 5mm recommended on the packet).

Carefully place your Gruffalo tracing on the top of the cake and use the pin to prick around the outline.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and set aside to cool slightly. Add about a tablespoon to the reserved milk chocolate buttercream and beat to combine. Place the remaining dark chocolate in an icing bag with a 1mm nozzle (or homemade greaseproof cone with the end snipped off) and pipe around the outline. Take this opportunity to add two small dots to the orange chocolate beans for the Gruffalo’s eyes. When the dark chocolate has set, pipe the milk chocolate buttercream (using the larger nozzle) inside the outline. Carefully spread and smooth the buttercream up to the edges using a knife that has been dipped in hot water (this will help prevent the buttercream lifting off the regal icing). Use the point of the knife to texturise the buttercream to make it look like fur.

Place the orange chocolate beans on the Gruffalo’s face to create the eyes. Halve the purple Smarties with a sharp knife and use to create the purple prickles down the Gruffalo’s back. Cut the green Smartie in half and place on the end of the Gruffalo’s nose to create his poisonous wart.

Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Allow to cool until of a mouldable consistency and use to form the Gruffalo’s tusks, horns, teeth and claws. We used the tracing as a guide to both form them and to place them on the cake.