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Kitchen Queries

Welcome to Kitchen Queries, where the nigella.com team will answer your cooking or food related questions.  We’d love you to submit some of your recipe problems, dilemmas or queries for us to get our teeth into!

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  • Cake Recipe Suitable for a Shaped Birthday Cake

    I want to make my daughter a birthday cake i usually use a basic Victoria sponge recipe and make a round cake covered in ready to roll fondant icing. I then cut and colour some icing into a character to place on the top for an effective but simple 2D cake. This year i would like to be more adventurous and try baking a cake to cut into the shape of a cartoon character - what cake recipe would you suggest? Would a victoria sponge be suitable? I have heard this type of cake cuts ok if you freeze it first? I watch the American cake shows they use something called a slab cake - I think. Do you have the recipe for this ? Any advice you give would be greatfully appreciated. Thank you, Kelly Spencer

    From the nigella team:

    A basic Victoria sponge cake should cut into a basic shape fairly readily as long as it has been allowed to cool completely. If you do have the time it helps to freeze the cake and shape it when frozen if carving smaller or more tricky designs. To reduce the risk of crumbling we suggest that you cut the cake using a small serrated knife (such as a fruit knife) and also use a short upand-down sawing action when cutting. You may find it helpful to put a paper template on the cake and use this as a guide to cut around - you can secure the template in place with a couple of cocktail sticks (toothpicks). 

    The American cake you are referring to is called a sheet cake. It is a single layer cake and gets its name from the "sheet pan" it is cooked in. A sheet pan is a standard-sized baking sheet with a lip which is 1 inch (2 1/2 cm) deep. A full sheet pan is 26 x 18 inches so is mainly used in a commercial environment but half (18 x 13 inches) or quarter sheet (9 x 13 inches) pans may be used at home. Most American cake recipes add extra liquid to the ingredients, in the form of milk, buttermilk or sour cream, which strengthens the gluten in the flour and tends to produce a cake with a denser crumb which can be easier to cut. If you wanted to try making something similar in the UK then we suggest that you use the Buttermilk Birthday Cake on p210 of Domestic Goddess. This cake is baked in a 23cm (9-inch) square tin so should be large enough to shape,but you will need to make two to make a cake with a decent depth. Sandwich the cake together with buttercream before cutting into shape and we suggest you use the small serrated knife to cut this type of cake too.

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