April 19, 2012


When we were in France for Easter our friends Colin and Elizabeth were coming over and I wanted to bake a cake.  Elizabeth has to have a gluten free diet so that makes the choice of recipe something of a challenge, but I found a recipe for a gorgeous looking cake in my book “Gorgeous Cakes” by Annie Bell called “Easter Battenburg Cake”. 

birds nest cake01

I also thought it would fit very well into the Teatime Treats challenge, hosted alternately by Lavender and Lovage and, this month, by Kate of What Kate Baked, which was to be for something baked for Easter.

Tea_Time_Treatrs_logoThis is not labelled as a gluten free recipe but as it contains no flour it was easily adaptable so long as I used cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda instead of ordinary baking powder (or gluten free baking powder).

birds nest cake1g Mine didn’t look exactly like the picture in the book so I renamed it “Birds Nest Cake”.  This is because the cake ended up looking slightly untidy with a crater in the middle that I filled with Cadbury’s mini eggs.  The original recipe had really classy looking mini white chocolate eggs in the middle but I couldn’t find any of those in the shops.  So the little pile of coloured chocolate eggs had to do – and looked quite cute.

birds nest cake1 birds nest cake1a

The recipe is basically for a sponge using just eggs, sugar and ground almonds.  You colour two thirds of the mixture pink and bake three sponges – two pink and one uncoloured.  You then sandwich the sponges together with ginger jam and cover the whole cake with mascarpone cheese and decorate the sides with flaked almonds.

birds nest cake1b birds nest cake1c

The sponges did rise but also sank in the middle slightly.  I have had this problem before with sponges made from lots of whisked egg whites.  The end result was quite a crater in the middle by the time the cakes were stacked.

Part of the problem was caused by not having tins the right size in my French kitchen.  Ideally I should have used two 23cm tins and cut one of the cakes in half but all I had was some 20cm sandwich tins so they had to do.  This resulted in a taller, narrower cake and this exaggerated the slump in the middle I think.

birds nest cake1dAfter sandwiching the layers together with ginger jam, you then have to sweeten some mascarpone cheese with a little icing sugar and spread it over the top and sides of the cake.  I thought it would never work as the cheese was very runny and I fully expected it all to slide off the cake into a sort of moat around the base.  Elizabeth had the brilliant idea of putting it back in the fridge for a while to see if it thickened up and by some miracle it did actually stick to the sides and not slide off.

I do like guests who get involved in making their own dinner !!

birds nest cake1e The next step was to attach flaked almonds attractively to the sides.  This is  something I have never done before and I was surprised how tricky it was.  We found the only way was to press them all into the cheese a few at a time.  Very fiddly but definitely worth it.

birds nest cake1fIf you look at the picture of Annie Bell’s cake you can just tell there is a slight slope in the layers – but not as much as mine !! 

It still looked fun with the little eggs piled on top - they are gluten free, apparently, although not all Cadbury’s chocolate is.  And it tasted lovely with the gingery flavour between the layers.  Definitely a cake worth making again for a bit of fun and if you need to produce something a bit different for a gluten free diet.

Here is the way I made the cake:

This is what I used.

6 eggs, separated

250g caster sugar

350g ground almonds

1½ tsp cream of tartar

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

(you could use 1½ tsp gluten free baking powder instead of the cream of tartar and bicarb)

pink food colouring

approx 6 good tablespoons ginger jam

a 250g tub of mascarpone cheese

25g icing sugar

about 75g flaked almonds

a handful of Cadbury’s mini eggs

This is what you do.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°fan/gas mk 6.  Base line and grease three 20cm sandwich tins.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks in a bowl with an electric whisk.

Put the yolks and sugar in a larger bowl and using your whisk blend together, but not until they are pale and thick.

Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in two halves.  Mix the ground almonds with the cream of tartar and bicarb then fold that into the egg mixture in two halves.

Put one third of the mixture into one of the prepared tins then colour the remaining two thirds with pink colouring, a few drops at a time, until you get the pink colour you want.  Divide this mixture between the other two tins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes start to shrink away from the sides of the tins and a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. 

While the cakes are in the oven, mix the mascarpone cheese with the icing sugar and put it back in the fridge to chill.

Run a knife around the edge of each cake to loosen it then leave to cool in the tins.

Sit one of the pink cakes on a serving plate or cakestand and spread with the ginger jam.  I found the best way to do this was to warm the jam slightly in a small saucepan to make it spread more easily.  Put the uncoloured cake on top and spread the other half of jam on that.  Top with the other pink cake.

Spread the cheese over the top and sides of the cake then press flaked almonds onto the sides.  (The recipe suggested toasting the flaked almonds slightly but I forgot.)

Pile your little eggs into the dent in the middle of the cake.

Cuts into 12 slices.


  1. Jean, the slight slope of the cake is a mere trifle (painful pun - sorry!)

    You should be commended for your skills in managing to bake a first class cake like this whilst coping with me in the kitchen... and all this done after the yard arm.... Multi-tasking of the highest order!

    1. Elizabeth, thinking about it, the cake was a bit like a trifle, except for the lack of custard !!

  2. The dip in the centre was necessary for the eggs so why worry. Looks yummy to me. Diane

    1. Diane, it was yummy. I did consider shaving the cakes a bit to level them, but then I couldn't be bothered - and it would have been such a waste of nice cake !!

  3. Quite frankly I think your cake looks better and I think your choice of eggs was better. As the lucky recipient of some of the leftovers, I can tell you it was really delicious and I will definitely be making it for the BIL. Might have to sub dragees for eggs though by late May.

    1. Susan, it would also be nice decorated with fruit piled on top - anything that fills the dent in the middle in fact !!

  4. I think it looks great and you need a bit of a nest for all the eggs!

    1. MissCB, the bigger the dent, the more eggs you need - every cloud has a silver lining !!

  5. What a great idea, Jean. I'm always on the lookout for recipes for friends with food intolerances and this looks spot-on.

    1. Perpetua, it looked impressive for the amount of effort involved, if slightly tipsy - like a favourite aunt at a posh wedding !!

  6. I love the idea of a birds nest in cake form.I gave up worrying about sinking in cakes quite a while ago. Sadly I've eaten all my mini eggs for the moment.

    1. Phil, sinking cakes still taste as good as non-sinking ones, in my experience.

  7. Just a thought, Jean.... if we'd used the right amount of marscapone we could have used it to fill in the gap at the top, which is probably what the person who baked the cake in the photo had done!

    1. Elizabeth - looking at the photo, you could be right !!

  8. well, how incredible is this cake eh?... divine!... look at those glorious layers... just gorgeous.

  9. That cake looks so good! Makes me want to reach into my screen and take a big dollop of the frosting away!

  10. This cake looks absolutely fabulous, at least it is home made - compliments to the Baker - I wish I had some with you.