It’s not everyday that I get to have a little celebration at home, at lunchtime, during the week… it’s a real luxury and definitely planned for something extra special…
A very close friends’ birthday sparked a little glint of excitement in me at the idea of getting a few girls to come over for a sort of “back-to-school-happy-birthday!” lunchtime soiree…
I made it happen… and all the lovely ladies were obviously keen, seeing as none of us had interacted with eachother that much during the summer.. It really was THE perfect excuse for a mini-party!
Whenever I have a get together such as this, I like to loosely base the menu on a particular type of cuisine, so that everything marries well… So this time I picked Italy! Partly because the birthday girl in question has a fondness for Italian food and partly because I had just spent a weekend in Rome, and had absorbed the flavours and aromas of the historically overdriven city.
OK, so back to food..! I was thinking of doing something typically Italian, like a tiramisu or a pannacotta… however I had a few guests who are strict vegetarians and cannot eat anything that contains egg or alcohol… which lead me to my invention and slight twist on a tiramisu cake…
It involves about 3 stages, which sometimes seems like a lot of work on paper, but honestly, the batter was so easy to throw together, it was fun and quick…
- For the sponge base- this recipe makes ONE cake, just double the quantity or make two separate batches if you want two layers:
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 6 tablespoons pure unsweetened Cocoa powder
- ¾ cup white granulated sugar
- ½ cup vegetable/sunflower oil
- ¼ HOT coffee ( 1 teaspoon of coffee in ¼ cup of boiling water)
- ¼ milk
- ¼ yoghurt, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the coffee syrup:
- 1 tablespoon coffee
- ⅓ cup boiling water
- ¼ cup dark demerera sugar
- For the icing:
- 1 cup heavy/double cream
- 250 gram mascarpone at room temperature
- ½ cup icing sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Cocoa powder for dusting
- 75% dark chocolate shavings for decorating (optional)
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
- Line your round cake tin/s with parchment paper or a little oil dusted with a tiny bit of flour.
- Sift together the flour,baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and sugar.
- Make a well in the centre.
- Add your wet ingredients: the oil, hot coffee, mik, yoghurt and vanilla.
- Whisk with an electric mixer or hand whisk for about 3 minutes on a low speed. Use a spatula to keep scraping down the sides. Do not overbeat the batter.
- Pour into cake tin and tap down a couple of times beforeplacing in the oven.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- allow to cool for about 10-15 minutes on a wire rack before removing from the tin. Allow to cool completely before icing it.
- Meanwhile, make the syrup:
- Combine the boiled water, coffee and sugar in a saucepan and allow to simmer over a low heat. Keep stirring from time to time. What you are looking for is a slightly reduced version of the coffee mixture, but not too thick. It should just about coat the back of a spoon. SHould take about 10 minutes or so.
- Once it's done and the cakes are cooled, pierce tiny holes in the cakes( not all the way through), and brush or spoon over the coffee syrup, to cover the surface of the cake. Set aside>
- For the icing:
- Whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Be very careful not to over whisk as it will turn grainy and curdle. I suggest a hand whisk, although it is a slight strain on the arms! In another bowl, whisk the marscapone, sugar and vanilla till smooth and combined, again, don't over whisk! With a spatula, gently fold in the cream into the marscapone mixture. It'll be light and airy.
- If you are doing layers, spread a little icing on the first one and sprinkle with chocolate shavings if desired.
- Place the second layer on top and do the same. You can cover the entire cake with icing or do it as I did... I wanted a more rustic, "homemade" looking cake. Dust with cocoa powder to finish.
- It's best to refrigerate the cake for a little while before serving so that the icing sets very slightly.
The sponge has a slightly sticky feel which is rather nice, and you’ll notice a little sheen along the top, which becomes even more enhanced once the syrupy coffee gets brushed over it… heavenly, really…. I never thought THIS kind of cake would turn out so moist and luscious… I will make this again and again… without icing!
It was a wonderful day… my table was a happy one…and special place to be for those few hours…
What I really enjoyed was the fact that we ALL pitched in and made something lovely for the meal… We had pasta, bruschettas, an aubergine bake, two salads and the fish dish which I tried and tested for the first time… a Jamie Oliver recipe which I’m pleased to say, is going to be part of our regular mid-week dinners…
Mr Oliver’s great… because he’s practical, quick and understands simple tastes and how to make them shine…
Baked white fish with olives, capers and a simple tomato sauce
3 cloves of garlic
a small bunch of fresh basil
1 fresh red chilli
2 x 400g tins plum tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
red wine vinegar
4x 150g white fish fillets such as hake, cod or pollock, skin off and bones removed
a handful of black olives, stone in
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Peel and slice the garlic, chop up the basil stalks.
Add olive oil to a pan and sautee the garlic and basil stalks. Pierce the chilli and add tot he pan. Add the 2 tins of tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer on a low heat, lid on, for 30 minutes. Remove the chill, and mash the tomatoes. Season again with salt and pepper and add a little vinegar. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Pour the tomato sauce into an oven tray. Season the fish on both sides and place on top of the sauce. Squash the olives and sprinkle over the fish. spoon the capers over. Scatter the basil leaves on top and place in the oven.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through (check by cutting into the thickest part of one or two of the fillets; they should be pearly white and not transparent).
Once the meal came to an end, and the candles on the birthday cake were blown, it soon came to the end of a beautifully sunny Wednesday afternoon, giggles still lingering in the air, smiles on content faces… All in all, the perfect way to spend a day….isn’t that always the way..?