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Eggnog Layer Cake

9 December 2016

For many of us, Christmas is a season of gastronomic abundance and celebration. Be it the turkey, the pudding or in my case, the endless supply of mince pies that seem to have materialised in our flat, the food that we cook and share at this time of year is steeped with tradition and ritual.

The warmth and familiarity of these festive flavours brings so much joy and tranquility to my kitchen each December. While I treasure those trusted recipes that draw me back each year, I also love the opportunity to cook with new ingredients, and to lay the foundations for new traditions. And my, this cake might just be one of them.

Eggnog tends to divide opinion, which may well have more to do with the less-than-appetising name than the drink itself. Thick with cream, nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon, a good eggnog is near transcendent.

When I was developing this recipe, I read that eggnog - now championed in the United States and Canada - is actually thought to have originated in England as early as the 14th century, when it was likely made of milk, eggs and ale. Thankfully, the recipe has been refined over the centuries, and the ingredients and flavours of eggnog as we know it today are equally at home in baking.

Spiked with nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon, this cake would be the perfect alternative pudding to serve over Christmas.
for the cake
180g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
25ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
180g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
for the soak
50ml bourbon or rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
for the cream
250g double cream
25ml bourbon or rum
25g icing sugar
for the buttercream
120g unsalted butter
375g icing sugar
25ml bourbon or rum
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 170°C / 150°C fan. Line two tall 4" cake tins with baking parchment.

For the sponge, beat the softened butter and caster sugar until creamy and pale. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the milk and vanilla extract. Sieve in the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Mix until the wet and dry ingredients are just incorporated. Divide the cake mixture between the lined tins, then place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes.

While the cakes are baking, make the bourbon soak by mixing the ingredients together.

The cakes are baked when they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool out of their tins for 10 minutes, then carefully use a serrated knife to divide each cake into two. Use a pastry brush to glaze each cake with the soak.

For the cream filling, mix the ingredients together then whip the cream until it is just short of soft peaks. It will continue to thicken after you have stopped whipping.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter for a minute or two until it is creamy and pale. Add the icing sugar, and mix on a slow speed until the mixture is sandy. Add the vanilla and bourbon and half of the milk, and mix slowly. Add the remaining milk if the texture is too thick. Whisk on a high speed for 7 minutes. Transfer to a piping bag.

Brush the cakes with a pastry brush to remove any excess crumbs. Use a small scoop of buttercream to secure one cake layer to the plate, then pipe a circle of buttercream around the edge of the cake to form a damn. Spoon a third of the cream into the middle, then top with a second cake layer. Repeat this twice, until you have four layers of sponge with three layers of cream and buttercream inside.

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