Earlier this month it was my boyfriend’s 31st birthday. As the recipient of practically all the goodies I bake, it can be hard to come up with something special for his birthday dinner and dessert and/or cake. This is exacerbated by the fact that his idea of special and mine exist on opposite sides of the planet. I like busy and complex multi-layered cakes of ridiculousness with fancy decorations, he likes chessecake. I started quizzing him on things he’d like me to make for him and got nothing except requests to make cakes I’d made for previous birthdays. Unsatisfied with that answer I sent him to rummage through my recipe books for ideas.
He returned with an A4 list of cakes. He’s about as decisive as I am.
They were almost all cheesecakes and tea cakes, save for the bread and butter pudding he’d very subtly circled. I resigned to banishing any idea of spectacular gateaux from my mind and baking him a cheesecake instead (whose birthday is it anyway, right?).
I took a basic baked cheesecake recipe and decided to load it with a few of his favourite things.
If you’re someone who bakes a lot, or are the recipient of home baked goods, you’ll know what I mean when I say store-bought cookies just don’t cut it any more. No matter how nice the brand is, nothing compares to fresh cookies right out of the oven. Which is always a problem when cookie-craving-hour unexpectedly strikes. You know buying cookies for the moment is just going to lead to disappointment, but baking an entire batch of cookies seems like so much effort. If you manage to conjure up the energy, then you have to work out what to do with the rest once the craving is satiated. If you live in a full household baking an entire batch of cookies mightn’t be an issue. But if, like me, your household is tiny, you’re left with more cookies than anyone has the stomach for. It’s often not long before I decide the effort is just too much and wallow in cookie-craving-self-pity instead.
Lately I’ve spent so much time making fancy stuff that it had been months since having anything simple, like cookies. Increasingly so, a little voice kept popping into my head going, “Ooh, cookies. Must have cookies.” It was always defeated by the effort involved when I just wanted one or two. Eventually I decided I needed a solution to the dilemma and dedicated an afternoon to what I call Emergency Cookies at home.
“What are emergency cookies?” you might ask. They’re pre-prepared packages of cookie dough that can be stored long-term and baked on an as-needed basis. Any time someone in the household gets hit by the cookie cravings, I can throw as many cookies as required in the oven with minimal effort required. The best part is the amount of variety you can get out of one or two batches of dough: definitely everyone’s favourite part of emergency cookies.
I love making tiny desserts. No matter what it is, making it into tiny, single serves always makes it better in my opinion. I also love making lots of desserts, so making them tiny means more people can have more variety. Whenever I have people around for a party or just for dinner I usually crack out as many teeny desserts as I can.
Recently, I bought a set of teeny tart pans and just could not wait for the chance to use them. So when I invited Cam’s parents around for dinner one night I leapt at the chance to bake these.
I’m the kind of person who never read recipes first. I’ll be flicking through a cook book, see a picture of something that looks good, quickly browse the ingredients and if I have most of them get started straight away. If it’s a standard thing I’ll have trouble even following the recipe, I’ll just use the quantities and the general order of ingredients as a guide.
About three years ago I saw this recipe for apple confit and needed to make it. After dinner was done and people were washing up I started on this recipe. It obviously wasn’t a standard thing so I followed the recipe as I went along. I put the confit in the oven and referred to the next step to see what I had to do once it was out of the oven. Then I saw it: “Refrigerate overnight until firm”.
I announced we were eating it warm, unfinished and accompanied and resolved to return to it properly prepared one day. One day took quite a while to come around again. But when it did, I was prepared this time.
It was Cameron’s uncle’s birthday just recently, so I got another excuse to make cake. If trying to get my partner to decided on a cake is a task, getting the same from his uncle is umpteen times that. We’re an indecisive bunch. My only brief was to make something ‘plain Jane’. In a way, that’s more difficult for me. I find it too easy to over-complicate something. Doing something plain? It’s not really my style. I’m not sure I even know what plain is.
For these instances, I tend to default to simple flavours and classic recipes. It doesn’t get much more classic than a sponge in my book. A sponge is also usually a pretty safe option in Cam’s household, and a relatively regular appearance at birthdays. I’m fairly sure the first time I ate a sponge was at one of his family celebrations. So all that was left was the fill it with flavours I find reminiscent of previous occasions spent with his family.
A little while ago, my sister approached me with an idea. She’s doing an education degree, and her and her friends had to give a series of lessons on the geological sciences to a class of primary school kids. One of their lessons involved teaching the kids about the structure of the Earth. One of her friends came up with the idea of presenting a model of the Earth made out of cake. So my sister asked me if I could make a spherical cake with all the layers of the Earth inside it.
I told her I couldn’t do it. “How do you get a sphere inside a sphere inside a sphere?” I recall saying. “Oh yeah,” she replied, realising what it would involve.
I spent the rest of the afternoon thinking about it. I don’t admit defeat. Ever. But especially not with cake. Nothing is impossible is pretty much my baking motto, so to say this cake was impossible left me feeling weird. There had to be a way. A way that didn’t involve carving or crumbing the cake. I kept mulling it over until I had a breakthrough.
It finally arrived…
With Mother's Day just around the corner it's a time for making all things pretty and elegant. The first thing that comes to mind for this occasion is roses. The rose has been used as a symbol in most societies throughout human history. And it's little wonder. It's a beautiful, and varied, flower. Qualities that make them a lovely way to say thanks this Mother's Day.
The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose…