Children’s birthday parties are exhausting

That’s it. The milestone I was dreading has come and gone. We have a lot of ‘seven’ left to go, but that initial mountain has been climbed and conquered.

Not made any easier by the organisation of the birthday party, because some bright spark thought that’d be a great idea.

For some reason, when I do stuff like this, I don’t like to do it by halves. Why buy a couple of frozen pizzas, some biscuits and sausage rolls when you can make your own pizza dough, bake your own mini quiches (that none of the kids will eat anyway), dip pretzels in chocolate and create breadstick ‘sparklers’..?

sparklers-and-pretzels

And indeed, why stop there? If making your own party food isn’t hassle enough, why not spend 3 days building an elaborate rainbow layered My Little Pony birthday cake featuring fondant icing that you will inevitably roll too thin so will fall apart when you try to put it on the far-too-tall birthday cake…

img_20161117_140452

Still, I’m nothing if not a show off. And we got through the party without death, disease or tragedy, so it’s a win for a month that has been otherwise pretty crap so far.

And I only drank 4 glasses of vodka & lemonade to get me through it.

Recipe: Chocolate Orange Cake

A blogger I follow on twitter recently tweeted a link to her frugal chocolate orange cake made with a jar of value marmalade (amongst other things).

I didn’t have time to read through the recipe when I first saw it, but it came to mind when I was stood in my kitchen earlier this week desperate for some comfort food. With a full jar of ‘reject’ marmalade in the cupboard (Oliver asked for it, and then decided it was too tangy) I was inspired to experiment. And tada, I came up with my own (not frugal) chocolate orange cake recipe…

chocolate orange cake slice

Ingredients

For the cake
250g butter (room temp)
150g caster sugar
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
80g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb. soda
370g jar of marmalade
3 tablespoons milk (optional)

For the filling/icing
2 tablespoons shredless marmalade
250g butter (room temp)
500g icing sugar
2 tablespoons orange extract (I used this one from Tesco)
orange gel food colouring (optional)
dark chocolate chips (optional)

Method

BAKE IT
Turn the oven on to preheat – 160 degrees C (150 fan oven).

Cream together the butter and sugar until completely combined. Next, add the 4 large eggs and gently mix.

Add the jar of marmalade and stir in, slowly adding sifted self-raising flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder as you go until all of the dry ingredients are mixed in with the creamy sugary eggy goo.

At this point you may find the mixture is quite thick/stiff – I added a splash of milk at this point to loosen it up (approx 3 tablespoons) but it would be fine without.

Pour the mix into lined, buttered 9″ sandwich pans and pop into the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes depending on how good your oven is. Test by inserting a skewer (or a piece of dry spaghetti) into the centre of the cake: if it comes out clean, it’s ready.

Leave to cool completely before turning out of the pans.

DECORATE IT
Make your delicious orangey buttercream icing by mixing the butter, icing sugar, orange extract and food colouring. I suggest adding the icing sugar slowly or your kitchen will look like an explosion in a cocaine factory. If you don’t have food colouring, or want to avoid the E numbers, the icing will be fine (just paler).

Once the cake is completely cool, spread the shredless marmalade on top of one of the cake layers. Spoon roughly a third of the icing onto the shredless marmalade, spreading carefully so as not to cause the orangey marmalade goo to ooze down the side of your delicious chocolate orange cake.

Place the second cake layer on top and refrigerate for about half an hour (it’s easier to ice a cool cake).

After your half an hour is up, spread a very thin layer of icing around the outside of the cake and on top, cleaning off the knife/spreading implement between each go. Don’t worry too much about crumbs – this thin layer will catch the crumbs making it easier to add the rest of the icing. Refrigerate again for 10-15 minutes.

Spread the rest of the icing evenly around the sides and top of the cake. Finish off with a handful of chocolate chips. Tada! One chocolate orange cake.

chocolate orange cake

Recipe: Eton Mess Cake

Yesterday was Gaz‘s birthday and in true birthday tradition (AKA any excuse for cake) I decided to bake, with the “help” of the kids. Normally for this sort of occasion I would find a recipe weeks in advance and fail attempt to make something spectacular. However, with work and kids to contend with, time was not on my side, so I thought I’d modify my basic victoria sponge and turn it into Eton Mess in cake form. Here goes…

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 200g butter
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the filling / decoration

  • 1 tub of mini meringues
  • 300ml (ish) double cream
  • 3 tbps icing sugar
  • 300g (ish) strawberries
  • A tablespoon or two of seedless strawberry jam or some nice strawberry coulis

Equipment

  • Two 8″ or 9″ round cake tins (I can’t find my tape measure)
  • Bowl and spoon or your nan’s Kenwood Chef
  • Greaseproof/baking paper OR butter for greasing

Top tip!
You can make a fantastic, rich & tasty sponge for the majority of occasions by using equal parts butter, flour and sugar with 1 medium egg for each 50g. Don’t be afraid to experiment: e.g. make a chocolate cake by replacing 50g flour with 50g of cocoa powder.


Method

Is it just me that thinks ‘method’ makes it sound like a science experiment?

  1. Stick your oven on to pre-heat at around 150-170C.
  2. Either by hand or with a magic mixing machine, combine the butter and the sugar in a bowl until it turns into a creamy soft sugary goo. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  3. When combined, slowly add the egg, mixing gently as you go. Remove the chunks of broken shell from the mixture. When the egg and buttery mix is combined, add the vanilla extract.
  4. Sieve in the flour and baking powder.

baking-eton-mess-cake

  1. Gently stir the flour into the mix until smooth and delicious looking. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  2. Line your baking tins or grease with butter. If I’m making a cake with butter as the ‘fat’, I just grease and don’t usually have any problems getting the cake out of the tin.
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins roughly equally and using the back of your spoon, level it out as best you can. Give the spoon and bowl to the children for “cleaning” duties.

cake-mix-in-tin

  1. Pop the cakes in the middle of your pre-heated oven with the kid’s fish fingers that they’re having for tea, and cook for around 20-30 minutes. To test if the cake is done, stick a skewer / cocktail stick / piece of dry spaghetti into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean it’s cooked. If it’s black, you’ve burnt it.
  2. Let the cooked cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Answer the question “is it cool yet?” 500 times a minute with the word “no”.
  3. Remove the cakes from the tin and allow to cool on a rack. I cheat at this point and stick the rack in the fridge because the cakes cool quicker, and cold cakes are much easier to trim…
  4. When completely cool, remove any bumps and lumps from the top of the cakes as best you can (it doesn’t have to be perfect, nobody is going to see it under the cream anyway) using a sharp knife or cake trimmer thingy (posh git).

cooked-cake

  1. Whisk the shit out of your double cream. As it begins to firm up, whisk in the 3 tablespoons of sieved icing sugar until the cream is fairly stiff and leaves a hole when you stick your finger in it (for “testing purposes”). Don’t tell the people eating your cake it’s had 3 pairs of hands in it.
  2. Slather your jam or strawberry sauce on the top of one of the trimmed sponges and then chuck a few dollops of cream on top. Spread it around using the back of your (now washed) spoon — or a palette knife if you’ve got one. If you’re really fancy, you could also pipe the cream on to the cake at this point. Snob.
  3. Break 2 of the merginues over the cake, sending lovely crunchy meringue bits everywhere.
  4. Chop up a handful of strawberries into quarters and chuck them on top of the cream meringue layer, resisting the urge to dip spare strawberries into the cream as you’ll need that later.

strawberry-layer

  1. Stick the other sponge on top, pressing it down slightly to make sure it’s not going to slide around (but not so hard that your middle cream layer spurts out the sides)
  2. Dollop lots more cream on the top, vaguely attempting to spread it round. Decorate with several mini meringues and whole strawberries. If you were able to buy strawberry coulis you might consider drizzling it over the top cream layer. I did not think it’d work quite as well with blobs of jam…

finished-eton-mess-cake

Tada!