“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is what I say to Jon each year when my birthday draws near. He looks blank because (a) he hasn’t read Little Women, (b) it’s October, and (c) we don’t celebrate Christmas anyway. But what I am cryptically saying is that as much as presents are essential to Christmas, so cake is essential to a birthday. (Wasn’t that obvious?)
My mum always made us amazing birthday cakes when we were little. I had a fairytale castle, a ski run, a doll in a pram, and loads of others. My brother had a football pitch, a hot air balloon, something tennis related, a fire engine, and I can’t remember what else. We always knew there would be a cake, but what it was would always be a closely-guarded secret. We would have to stay out of the kitchen while it was being done, but then before washing up we could come back in and lick the bowls of icing. It was nearly as good as the actual cake the next day.
I loved baking too, and as soon as I was old enough to reach the mixer I would also bake cakes, and sometimes I would make one for mum’s birthday because if I didn’t then no one would, because you can’t make your own birthday cake. When we were a bit older and stopped having “theme” cakes, we always got a perfect and delicious chocolate cake, the recipe for which was in mum’s tatty orange book of secret recipes, with an Evelyn Rose coffee-chocolate icing. It became THE family birthday cake, and then as time went on I would make it as the standard birthday cake for all friends and family too.
But in the last few years a sad thing has been happening. I have been diligently making cakes for Jon’s birthday, for friends’ birthdays and other family members if they are around. But on my birthday, there’s no one to make me a cake. My mum is the only one who would, but we are often not in the same place on my birthday (we were a few years ago and I asked her to make me a cake, even though it’s a bit pathetic to ask for a cake, and she did and it was amazing). When I most recently moaned about it to Jon he suggested that I leave an appropriate recipe lying around nearer the time. So a couple of days before my birthday I scribbled the recipe below on a piece of paper and waved it in front of his nose, saying “I’m leaving this carelessly lying around!” and then quite miraculously, on the afternoon of my birthday, I was presented with my own perfect, amazing and delicious birthday cake. Jon is pretty impressed with what a great cake he made all by himself, too.
- 6oz butter or margarine
- 6oz caster sugar
- 6oz self raising flour
- 4 tablespoons cocoa
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 eggs
- 2-3 tablespoons water
- Beat all the ingredients together in an electric mixer (or beat thoroughly by hand).
- Grease a round tin (around 8 inches), and spread the mixture evenly.
- Bake at your normal cake-baking temperature (for a fan oven it is 160) for round 45 mins, or until a fork stuck in the centre comes out clean
The original Evelyn Rose icing
- 3oz butter, softened
- 8oz icing sugar
- 4 tablespoons drinking chocolate
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
- 3 teaspoons instant coffee
- Put the chocolate, cocoa and coffee into a small bowl and pour on the boiling water. Mix to a smooth cream.
- In a larger bowl (or your electric mixer) put the butter and cream until the consistency of mayonnaise.
- Add half of the sugar and cream again.
- Add the chocolate/coffee and the rest of the sugar and beat again until smooth and glossy.
- Spread on the cake and eat the rest!
My more sophisticated icing – coffee chocolate ganache
- 200ml double cream or soy cream
- 200g dark chocolate
- Optional – 1 tsp glycerine
- Optional – 2 tsp instant coffee
- Heat the cream in a saucepan and add the coffee if using. When it is just starting to bubble, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, broken into small pieces.
- Stir until it is a smooth cream.
- Add the glycerine if using (it keeps the ganache kind of stretchy and stops it from cracking)
- Cover the cake with it
I’m not doing a baby-friendly version, and I’m definitely not doing nutritional values – it’s my birthday!