Happy Australia Day! I know it’s nearly over back in Australia but it’s just starting here and what better way to celebrate than with a classic childhood treat – homemade frog cakes! Say what…? No, no, no, don’t worry – these don’t have anything to do with frogs, except a slight resemblance and, well, they are (sometimes) green. The Balfour’s Frog Cake is a South Australian institution – they even have their own Wikipedia page AND have been designated a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of South Australia.
When I was growing up in Adelaide, a frog cake used to be a big treat (it’s pretty big for a little kid – and oh-so-sweet!) when we would head into Rundle Mall to go shopping with mum at John Martin’s and David Jones (big department stores). If we were lucky we would pick up some frog cakes to take home – it was THE treat to get at Balfour’s bakery (which just happened, ironically, to be situated on the ground floor of our dentist building!). Created in 1922 the frog cake was inspired by Gordon Balfour’s confectionery discoveries in his European travels – it consists of a sponge or genoise cake with a layer of jam topped with a dome of very sweet (butter)cream and covered in shiny fondant. The dome is then slashed open to make a “mouth” shape and two eyes are piped on so the cake looks like a frog. Actually, it looks nothing like a frog but hey…
I’ve written about (eating) frog cakes before but I’ve been wanting to try making these for a while since I saw the recipe in A World of Cake a few years ago. I was always put off by what I thought were too many complicated steps. Ahem. Seems I was right, though I struggled through a couple of days of a LOT of mess and fuss because once I start something, I don’t like to give up…
I started out making the genoise cake. Not too much hassle. I sandwiched it with jam (not the raspberry glaze the book calls for because, well, that’s one extra step and I am convinced the originals have just regular jam inside). I then cut the cake into 5cm cubes…
I made a sturdy buttercream and topped the cake with domes using my 1.5 tablespoon cookie scoop…
The book calls for a vanilla icing to use as fondant which I wasn’t sure would produce the same effect I wanted (thin, glossy fondant) so I investigated other options. I came across this quick poured fondant that I thought would be perfect. Unfortunately I didn’t read the first line where it says “Cover cupcakes lightly with buttercream icing. Let set 15 minutes”. As I was struggling to pour the fondant over the cakes evenly with crumbs going everywhere, I remembered – crumb coating! According to my friend Stella, “Crumb coating means applying a thin layer of buttercream over the outside of a cake to lock the crumbs down and prevent them from polka dotting the finished cake. A crumb coat also smooths over holes in the surface of the cake (ever lose a chunk when the cake sticks to the pan?) and fills in the gaps between the layers to make an even surface. Most importantly, it gives the cake its initial shape.” Uh ok. I attempted to patch the cakes up with some fondant – making a fondant crumb coating. Not recommended. Next time I will totally use buttercream for this.
I popped them back in the fridge and made another couple of batches of fondant and set about figuring out how on earth to coat the cakes evenly. They are not tiny but not too big either so to “pour” to fondant means the head gets a ton of coating and the sides not so much. I ended up using a piping bag with a tiny piping tip to slowly coat each cake one side at a time. Painstaking, to say the least. And none of my frogs looked perfect …
And though the fondant does harden, it’s not recommended to pick the cakes up in any place you can see them since your fingers will leave marks. Sigh… Oh and though my cakes are only green, the original comes in pink and chocolate. As you can see, there was no way I was making multiple coloured fondants. Maybe next time….
I did take comfort in the fact that, dissected, my frogs looked perfect:
I read that these are now available in mini size too – I can’t even imagine the hassle factor involved there but I might try my hand because these look much more my size!
The frogs are currently hanging out in the freezer. After two days on and off working on then, I couldn’t bear the thought of eating them. Also, they are SUPER sweet. Need to be in the mood and perhaps eat 1/4 at a time!
So there you have it – an experiment I have been wanting to try for a long time. An experiment that took me a long time to complete. And one that I won’t re repeating for a very long time either!
Happy Australia Day! May your beer be cold and your frog cakes be from Balfour’s!
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