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This has to be the ultimate vanilla cake to include in your repertoire. It is a to-die-for-cake that never fails to impress. It is important not to rush any of the stages. This cake is made with butter and spiked with a vanilla syrup as soon as it is baked. The Swiss meringue buttercream is lower in sugar than regular buttercream. I have chosen to flavour it with freeze-dried blackcurrant powder, which adds an intensity of flavour without adding any additional sugar or artificial colour. One of the secrets is the quality of the ingredients, which showcase the flavour of vanilla bean paste. The result is a nostalgic vanilla cake that quite literally nurtures the soul. Food for the Gods!
Preheat the oven to 160°C/gas 3. Line a deep 20cm (8 inch) round cake tin or 2 x 15cm (6 inch) cake tins with non-stick baking parchment.
To make the syrup, put the water, sugar and vanilla in a pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves, stirring all the time, then remove from the heat.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Fold the flour into the creamed mixture. Stir in the milk and the vanilla bean paste.
Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 1½ hours (or 1 hour for the smaller cakes) or until golden colour and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and pierce the cake with a skewer several times. Pour the syrup over the cake. Cool, then chill in the tin before removing.
To make the buttercream, place the egg whites and the sugar in a large clean heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Whisk with a hand balloon whisk and monitor the temperature until your reach 61–70°C (142–158°F). This will take about 10 minutes.
Remove the meringue from the heat, attach the bowl to an electric whisk and continue to whisk until the meringue cools to room temperature and has thickened. Add the butter in batches and beat well between each addition. Add the vanilla and whisk until combined.
Blend half the buttercream with the blackcurrant powder. Stir well, leave to stand for 1 hour, then stir again.
Cut each of the cakes in half and sandwich together with the buttercream. Place on a round cake board, skim coat the cakes with blackcurrant buttercream and place on a pretty cake stand.
Fill a large piping bag with a 2D nozzle and pipe a row of buttercream roses around the base of the cake making sure to cover the base board and keeping the roses even.
Empty the piping bag back into the bowl along with any remaining blackcurrant buttercream and add one-third of the remaining plain buttercream to this. Stir to create a paler blackcurrant buttercream. Fill the bag with this and pipe a second row of roses around the middle of the cake. Repeat this process and pipe the top ring of roses with a paler shade again. Combine all the remaining buttercream to achieve the palest colour of all and pipe roses on the top of the cake, starting from the outside and working your way in.
Store for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature. Not suitable for freezing.