Making memories is a wonderful thing. Ever since we’ve had Nino, each time a celebration rolls round I get a little twinkle of excitement at the thought of how I can recreate the fond traditions of Luke and my childhoods. Summer holidays with sandy toes and sticky ice creams, unwrapping presents at Christmas, Mothers Day lunches and chocolaty Easters. For as long as I can remember, my mum would organize an Easter egg hunt in and around the house and garden, working so well on their hiding places that tiny, shiny eggs would appear in the most unexpected places months after the actual event. One year we wondered why she’d disappeared during a dinner party at our flat, only to discover on getting into bed those same tiny, shiny surprises hidden under our pillows, mattress and tucked into our pajamas.
One of the questions I’m most often asked about this blog is where I get my love of food and baking from. My first point of reference is almost always my parents – a childhood where helping my Mum out in the kitchen and making my own birthday cakes was the norm, every summer spent in Italy amongst an abundance of incredible produce and a father whose eyes are a whole lot smaller than the stomach which unfortunately reflects his infectious love of food (sorry Dad!). Continue reading
Back in 2006, Anthony Worrall Thompson‘s ‘Snickers Pie‘ was labelled ‘one of the unhealthiest recipes ever published’ by the Food Commission. At a whopping 1,250 calories per serving and with no less than five super sweet chocolate bars chopped into it, this puff pastry crusted creation was cited as an example of chefs’ irresponsibility with regards to calorie control and our increasingly unhealthy attitude to what constitutes home baking.
Fellow food blogger Jamie Schler recently wrote this interesting piece for the Huffington Post bemoaning the wave of boxed brownie mix, chopped up chocolate bars and cans of frosting masquerading on blogs around the world as home baked treats. While I’m not averse to the odd Oreo crumbled into a blondie or topping a cupcake with fizzy cola bottles, I absolutely agree with her that baking should be about creating things from scratch. It may not make them calorie-free, but using real butter, free range eggs, seasonal fresh fruit and natural colourings in all my recipes is important to me and feels a world away from the oleaginous Worrall-Thompson’s sickly sweet idea of dessert. Continue reading
The only reason for being a bee that I know of is to make honey . . . And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it’ Winnie the Pooh
When I was a little girl, my parents were fairly sensible when it came to the consumption of anything sweet. My Mum’s a wonderful cook, and we were allowed to eat the odd pudding on special occasions, but day-to-day meals were more likely to end in a handful of grapes or a little pot of yoghurt than anything more exotic and sugar-laden. I’m not saying we were deprived – we ate the most incredible home-cooked meals – but let’s just say mine was the only mother I’ve ever known to put packets of Sunmaid raisins in the goody bags of trick-or-treaters come Halloween. Continue reading
And I will. For my 21st birthday, due to the sheer number of guests, we decided against attempting an industrial-sized bake-off and instead commissioned a confection of epic proportions from Konditor and Cook. Based on their classic Curly Whirly cake recipe, this was a chocolate lover’s dream with a touch of kitsch; a huge, rich base layered and smothered with a blanket of sugar-sweet vanilla bean cream cheese frosting, piped with balloons and sprinkled with edible glitter. Amazing. Since then, the recipe has featured on the Guardian website, and a well-thumbed print-out now lives tucked inside one of the books on my kitchen shelf.
Fast forward a couple of years and last weekend we headed up north to celebrate Carniverous Boyfriend’s little twin brother and sister’s birthday. I’d offered to bake the cake, but with a minimum of three hours’ Friday afternoon fun on the M1 ahead of us, and a stuffy boot for storage, I didn’t fancy the chances of survival for a cream cheese frosting. Buttercream is a hardier option, remaining stable as it does at ambient temperatures, so I opted for this as my icing, adding a little white chocolate for flavour.
The cake itself is a more classic take on a birthday sponge than the Curly Whirly recipe, with a beautifully light, moist crumb. The chocolatey flavour comes entirely from cocoa powder, not chocolate, which adds a rich, earthy roundness and the sugar is golden, which increases the depth of flavour. It’s also a one-bowl-wonder which means next to no washing up, and you can have the whole thing mixed, cooked and cooled in less time than it takes to say ‘Marks & Spencer caterpillar cake’. I decorated this version with little star shapes cut out of rolled royal icing and stuck together with edible glue, but if you’re in a hurry a few chocolate curls or a dusting of cocoa powder would be more than enough.
Best served straight-up in thick wedges, this cake should feed twelve hungry guests with ease.
Do you have a go-to birthday cake recipe or do you like to experiment? Can’t live without chocolate, addicted to Victoria sponge or crazy for carrot cake? I’d love to know your favourite recipes.
Simple chocolate cake with white chocolate frosting (adapted from Mich Turner‘s Cake Masterclass):
For the cake:
(all ingredients should be room temperature)
200g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
85g cocoa powder
140g self-raising flour
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 if fan assisted). Grease and line 2 x 20cm loose bottomed cake tins.
Put all the ingredients in a large, clean bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric whisk for 8-10 mins until light and airy.
Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and bake 20-25 mins, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin and is springy to touch, and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. When cooked, remove from the oven and cool in tins before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the frosting:
175g unsalted butter, softened
300g icing sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
100g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Royal icing cut into star shapes to decorate (optional)
Beat the butter in a mixing bowl with an electric whisk for 1 minute. Add the icing sugar and beat slowly until blended, then on full speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla seeds and white chocolate until smooth and glossy.
Spread approx. 1/3 of the frosting over one cooled cake, top with the second cake and cover in frosting. You can pop it in the fridge to set further, then serve as is, or decorate with royal icing stars or flowers.