Friday, August 31, 2012

Henry turns 10 and birthday cake disasters

The pressure was on in our home last week; the youngest member of the House of Barr, Henry was turning ten. Despite valiant efforts on my part to dissuade Henry from the idea of having a party, by 3.30pm last Thursday the river bank at Willow Bend was overtaken by a dozen or more ten year old boys and girls packing “nerf” guns and various other weapons…

The day before I had pulled my late 1960s model Kenwood Chef mixer out of the cupboard, opened up my “Women’s Weekly Original Cookbook” and commenced Operation Chocolate Cake. In our house (for the last thirteen years), a birthday means chocolate cake.

Once (and only once) upon a time, way back in 1999 in our home, a child’s birthday meant sponge cake. Triple-sifted flour and delicately combined ingredients were to produce a light as a feather, fluffy as a cloud, sponge cake… well that was my intention.

In May 1999 Max was turning one and as any parent knows, the first birthday is a significant milestone. As one half of a team of super parents, I wanted Max’s first birthday cake to be perfect; so I phoned my Mother for advice. Mother, a domestic goddess from way back, recommended a plain sponge cake with strawberry jam and cream. Even though I had never baked a sponge cake before, it all sounded so simple… so I left it until the last possible moment to begin my culinary masterpiece.

I selected a sponge cake recipe from my extensive cookbook collection and set about recreating the delicious looking cake photographed next to the recipe. It was all going along beautifully up until the moment I walked towards the pre-heated oven with my cake tin full of mixture. A little voice inside my head said, “Hang on a minute, did you remember to add the baking powder to the flour before sifting it three times?”

I muttered merde in English and my inner Julia Child evaporated as I realised I was out of time to start again. Upending a half-teaspoon of baking powder over the top of the cake mixture, I stirred vigorously before slamming it into the oven. Unsurprisingly I produced a circular cake of brick-like consistency, which I was forced to disguise under a mountain of whipped cream and chocolate Freddo Frogs. Although it looked suitably impressive in the photographs the only member of the family that actually ate it was Spook, the kelpie sheepdog and even she wasn’t that enthusiastic. I haven’t made a sponge cake since.

These days I begin preparations the day before. I dedicate an hour to amassing copious amounts of flour, cocoa powder, black coffee, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence, sour cream, salt and bi-carbonate of soda. Then pour (most of) the (sensationally delicious) raw mixture into a big, square cake tin and place it into the oven for a further two and a bit hours at 160 °C. The end result is a double sized, Women’s Weekly Dark Chocolate Cake that could feed a small African nation or a horde of Barham Primary School children and their parents. Add a small bucket load of mocha icing, handfuls of Smarties, Strawberries & Cream and Natural Confectionary Co. dinosaur shaped jellies and the gastronomic, diabetes-inducing masterpiece is complete.

With the addition of a platter or two of fairy bread and a few chip sandwiches; plenty of outdoor spaces to run around on with nerf guns and you have the perfect setting for a birthday party. Happy 10th birthday Henry.

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