The on again off again birthday cake

The birthday party cookery for various reasons has not been going as planned, but I’ll write about that another time possibly. The main thing I wanted to do this week was to make a basic sponge cake and to then ice it in the shape as a skull and cross bones – really simple and easy, the only difficult bit is trying to turn the white fondant icing the right shade of black.

Anyway this week has not been good for me, I wake up tired, I am tired all day at work, I go to bed tired and I fail to sleep as there are far too many things floating around in my head. So last night when I was meant to be making the sponge cake I was instead trying to have an early night, which didn’t work out for various reasons (see yesterday’s post)…I left the butter out intending to make the cake in the morning, but as I mentioned previously someone tried to be helpful and tidied it away back into the fridge for me – and my hand held mixer can’t cope with fridge cold butter (how I miss my kenwood mixer).

At lunchtime Flapjack Queen phoned up to say that the party bags we had bought ready filled cos its cheaper are actually quite small and 2 slices of cake probably won’t fit in the bag…I agreed with her that instead we would break with small people’s party tradition and serve the cake up after the rest of the food for eating then and there. I also decided that I would copy her idea and turn Spider’s birthday cake into a pile of cup cakes instead a la Nigella.

7.30pm there was a further change of plan back to the original skull and cross bones cake due to the difficulty of persuading a certain small boy that it would be better to have the big cake on his actual birthday when he has his second party “family only”…

So spent the next 30 minutes trying to make 12oz of victoria sponge cake mixture in a too small bowl with a hand held mixer and then fitting 4 cake tins in the oven…there was more mixture on me and the walls of the kitchen by the time I had finished.

Anyway, early start again tomorrow…may be an even earlier trip to Saino’s or Tescbury if the fondant icing I’ve had in the cupboard for over a year turns out to be off…or anything else goes wrong between now and 2.30pm…

Yo ho ho me hearties, I’m off to bed to dream of pieces of eight and making people who cut you up in traffic walk the plank…

Remembrance of Walnut Whips (15th October)

My Nana passed away earlier this year, at Easter. Had she lived then today (15th October) would have been her 100th Birthday. Coincidentally had my Grandma lived, then today would have been her 106th birthday (she died the christmas before her 100th birthday).

Now, my Nana was a fantastic cake baker, she had a real talent for cake decoration. I’m told that she was still a pretty mean decorator even after she had a stroke (20years ago) and despite being paralysed down most of her right side managed to teach herself to do most things with her left !

My Mum taught me to cook. My first cake was Victoria sandwich cake. I had always assumed that it was a recipe that Mum had inherited from her Mum, and so today, when trying to decide what to make to celebrate what should have been I decided to cook a Victoria, as it sort of felt like a “legacy cake”. Anyway, I mentioned this to Mum and it turns out that she probably got the recipe from the Kenwood cook book and that if we have an inherited recipe going from Nana to Mum to Me then it is probably for pickled onions…

Pickled onions didn’t seem right as a memorial, so I used the sponge recipe as a basis and made a Coffee and Walnut cake instead because Nana loved Walnut Whips. I remember once, at about the age of 10 buying her a packet of 3 walnut whips as a christmas present – it was the same year that I bought Dad a packet of McVites Digestives (50p pocket money still didn’t go very far in the early 80’s, and we didn’t have that extensive a choice of biscuits).

Ingredients – given in imperial for sentimental reasons

6oz (175g) Margarine, Stork or Echo if they still sell it – I used butter as its what I had in the house, but my first cake was definitely marge

6oz (175g) Caster Sugar (If I’d had it in I would have used unrefined cane sugar as it works so well in a C&W)

6oz (175g) SR Flour (sieved)

3 Eggs

Coffee – I used 3 tsp of instant dissolved in a little water, but you could use camp coffee or even fresh brewed – just don’t use more than 2 tbs of liquid as you don’t want the cake batter to be too runny

Walnuts – optional – I don’t add nuts to my C&W but if you like texture then you could add about 50g of chopped up walnuts to the batter

* preheat oven to 180 deg C. Grease and flour (and line if you want to) 2 sponge tins of approx 18-20cm diameter.

1. Cream the butter/Marge with the sugar until all combined and mixture has a soft spreadable texture. You can beat it by hand or use an electric mixture – my preference is to use the K Beater of a Kenwood mixer, especially as for part of my childhood the Kenwood we had was one we had inherited from Nana – but as my Kenwood blew up about 12 months ago I opted for the manual method of a wooden spoon (which is probably why my cake hasn’t risen as well as usual)

2. Add 1 egg and a little flour to the sugar/butter mixture, mix until well combined. Do the same for each of the other 2 eggs.

3 Add in some of the coffee flavouring. Mix until well combined. Then sieve in any remaining flour. Beat well until combined. Taste the mixture, add more coffee if you like a stronger flavour. At this point add walnuts if using and combine well.

4 Put half the mixture in the first tin and the remaining mixture in the second tin. Smooth the mixture over and place in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes. Its cooked when the top of the cake springs back when you press on it. Remove from oven and leave to cool slightly, then remove from the tin and leave to cool completely on a wire rack

The Topping

A coffee flavoured butter cream is traditional and is what I would normally use. Smooth half in the middle and then the rest on top, decorate as you see fit with chopped walnuts (can provide a butter cream recipe if needed). Butter cream however makes my Dad feel ill, so I’ve tried a variation in the hope that it won’t upset his stomach.

I found this variation on butter cream in a sainsbury’s magazine circa 1998 but I don’t know who’s recipe it is…

3 level tbs instant coffee

12oz (350g) golden icing sugar

3 tbs whipping cream

4oz (110g) butter

5 Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and set aside. Dissolve coffee in 2 tbs boiling water.

6 Put butter in saucepan and melt over gentle heat. Let it bubble slightly (no more than 3 minutes or until it turns a light gold brown) – if you are lucky you should smell a smell reminiscent of butterscotch.

7 Add the butter to the icing and then quickly the dissolved coffee, and finally the cream. Beat all the ingredients together in the bowl until the icing is shiny and smooth. Leave the icing to one side for 20-30 minutes to thicken slightly.

8 Spread some of the mixture on the top of one of the sponges. Place the other sponge on top and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Decorate with any bits of walnut you happen to have in your cupboard.

9 Eat preferably with a good cup of proper leaf tea

*I made half quantities of the icing and added more cream after waiting the 30 minutes, firstly because it was a bit too set and secondly because the coffee taste was VERY strong

No photo as its a very brown cake, it wouldn’t be very visually attractive even if I had inherited Nana’s talent with the decoration…

Postscript A quick google brings to light the fact that you cannot get coffee flavoured walnut whips anymore – however it does appear that they were first produced in 1910 which I guess is as near to Nana’s birthday as I’m going to get !