Cinnamon Swirl and Red Hots Swirl Cake

Tray bakes are easy to make and serve, and a good introduction to baking for those who lack confidence about baking a traditional round, raised cake.

Tray Bake Hints And Tips

A tray bake is a relatively simple cake to make, and most recipes are eminently suitable for fêtes and fundraising events where portion control and ease of distribution are important.

Key skills in making a good tray bake are:

  • Ensuring that your baking tray or silicone dish is base lined, so that the cake can easily be removed from its tin
  • Having a level oven shelf, or your cake will end up thicker at one end than at the other
  • Being vigilant about observing cooking times as shallow cakes like Swiss rolls and tray bakes can easily scorch if they get overheated, or dry out if they are cooked for too long

Many tray bake recipes are American in origin, and require cup measurements rather than metric or imperial ones. If you are using a cup based recipe, it’s important to use a proper measuring cup, not just a teacup, as volume measurements are not always easily translated into other measuring devices.

Rescuing A Failed Tray Bake

From time to time a tray bake doesn’t turn out well, especially if it’s the first time you try making a recipe. The most common problems are that the sponge or cake layer dries out too much or rises unevenly, or the base or topping layer scorches because the oven temperature has been set too high.

A tray bake that doesn’t work out perfectly can still be used. If it has a layer of topping, try cutting the whole cake into diamonds and sandwiching two diamonds together with redcurrant jelly or lemon curd, before dusting the whole thing with icing sugar to make a ‘harlequin cake’ which you can top with a mint leaf, a curl of chocolate or a sugared violet.

For an untopped tray bake, try cutting away scorched areas of the cake and then making it into crumbs and turning those crumbs into cake pops, or use the sponge base to make a trifle.

Cinnamon Swirl Cake

This recipe is an adaptation of a very popular American tray bake, with some alterations that make it slightly less sugar rich and also easier to serve. It’s an unusual technique in which the swirl is added to the top of the cake but ends up as a gooey base layer which gives the whole bake its richness and addictive texture.

  • 190 grams plain flour (I use half white, half wholemeal)
  • 120 grams caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 160 ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Swirl Ingredients:

    75 grams butter

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Grease and base line a 22cm x 22cm (approx 8 inches) square cake tin or silicone dish. Heat the oven to 170ºC. Start with the swirl, beat together all the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. Set aside.

  1. Beat the first six ingredients together until smooth and well-blended and then stir in the melted butter
  2. The batter will look very pale and quite runny – don’t worry about this, simply pour it into the dish, making sure it goes right to the edges
  3. Dot spoonfuls of the swirl onto the batter and then use a butter knife or skewer to zigzag the swirl into the batter. It will sink to the bottom as it cooks
  4. Bake for twenty minutes and check as it may need another five minutes; the cake should be barely firm to the touch in the centre of the tin
  5. Allow to cool completely in the tin before turning out and easing the paper away from the base
  6. Cut into three rows and then into four, so you end up with twelve bars of cake

Serve with a fork – it tends to be messy where they cinnamon sauce has pooled at the bottom of the cake!

Optional glaze

Traditionally this cake would be glazed with a simple glacé icing although I find that for some people the extra sweetness of the glaze actually detracts from the overall balance of the cake.

  • 75 grams icing sugar
  • 10 ml cold water

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add half the water, mixing with a spatula and adding the rest of the water almost drop by drop until a smooth liquid icing is obtained; it should coat the back of a spoon when poured over it. Simply pour the glaze over the cold cake before you cut it.

Variation – Red Hots Swirl Cake

An alternative to the standard cinnamon swirl, a Red Hots swirl cake is a wonderfully nostalgic treat for American friends and a delicious new experience for those not used to the particular candy. Red Hots are a cinnamon flavoured sweet, bright red in colour that heat the mouth as well as having a rich spicy flavour.

To make a red hots swirl, add up to a teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder to the swirl and then drop in red food colouring until you achieve a deep pink colour. The Chinese five spice powder adds warmth and the flavour of star anise in particular enriches the cinnamon and brings heat and depth to the cake. Swirl through the batter as you did for the traditional version and serve on red and white checked napkins or paper plates to enhance the overall effect.

This is a cake that works particularly well for Halloween, especially if you have American visitors to celebrate that festival with, as the flavour of cinnamon and the dramatic appearance of the cake work exceptionally well with other traditional Halloween foods such as pumpkin. Make sure you give your guests a fork and put the cake on plates, as the spicy red swirl can stain clothing if it is dropped or spilt! Check out some more Halloween cakes and traybakes.

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