It’s that year for me. A year filled with parties. Everyone is turning 30. I LOVE it! By the time my turn comes around, everyone will be so pickled from the endless stream of parties, that I can just throw a drink at them, and they won’t even remember their own name! Dirty Thirty. Classy.
But just because we’re getting older, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a little of the childhood fun of birthday parties, which is why I’m a firm believer that we should all be able to blow out candles and slice a birthday cake (including the old knife-comes-out-dirty-kiss-the-closest-boy rule!) on our big day. Some things should never change, no matter how old you get.
Last weekend my dearest Becko turned 30. She’s in a pretty fab place in her life right now, kicking goals personally and professionally and generally loving life, so there were no turning-thirty-blues in sight, just lots of excitement and a true party girl spirit. Quite a bit of thought went into her birthday celebrations, including much discussion on what shoes we should all wear to ensure maximum dance floor action post dinner. I think it’s fair to say, upon post-party-debrief, that some of us chose better footwear than others… Nothing like a crippling hangover and crippled feet the next morning to make you feel your age! Bunions are us!
But before we could hit the d-floor, we had to eat cake. When I offered to bake birthday cake for 35 people, I knew it either had to be 35 cupcakes (I find making cupcakes to be quite tedious, they are more fun to eat than bake!), an abnormally giant slab of cake (for which I was ill equipped in the cake tin department) or simply two big round cakes (decision made). And it had to be chocolate. I’ve made plenty of chocolate cakes in my time, but am yet to find a recipe that is “the one”, so I searched my cookbooks for the ultimate chocolate cake recipe and after a mini freak out due to the overwhelming amount available to me, I settled on Fast Ed’s “Last Minute Birthday Cake”. In the end, it seemed an obvious choice. Plus the picture looked pretty spectacular – the cakes are wrapped in chocolate. Tempered chocolate. Before Masterchef, I had no idea what tempered chocolate was. Did any of us? But after watching Gary ooh and aah over the perfect break, when cracking Julie and Poh’s tempered chocolate in the season one finale, I was intrigued, so this birthday cake was setting me a challenge, Masterchef style. Maybe I wouldn’t get an immunity pin, but I was sure I could earn some kitchen cred.
First step was baking the cakes. Pretty cinch. Then the icing – cream cheese, melted chocolate and some icing sugar. Easy.
Next step, melt the chocolate. I used a combo of milk and dark, and melted it the old-school way, in a bowl over simmering water (I struggle to melt chocolate in the microwave. I have burn issues. In fact, I have issues using a microwave for much more than reheating leftovers, and have many messy tales to prove it. But that’s a story for another day…).
Then it was time to get a little crafty. I had to cut a length of foil to fit around the cakes, and then wrap the foil in baking paper. It quickly became clear to me, that this piece of cooking craftery (!!) was the key to tempering success. So no pressure then…
From here on in, I had to move pretty quickly. I smothered the melted chocolate all over the foil-paper strip, completely covering it, then I performed a swift, but delicate manoeuvre and wrapped the iced cake with the chocolate strip. I’ll admit, I swore. More than once. There was bloody melted chocolate everywhere. Plus the weight of the chocolate on the top half of the foil-paper strip – the part that sat above the top of the cake – meant that it kept flopping inwards, dripping melted chocolate onto the cake and causing an uneven circle, with dipped edges. Not good enough! Gary would not ooh and aah. So I fiddled and swore a little more until it was as good as it would get, then I slipped the cake into the fridge to set.
Then I licked my fingers.
After about an hour, I took the cake from the fridge and slowly but surely unwrapped the foil-paper strip, leaving behind a perfectly tempered chocolate circle, wrapped around the chocolate cake. It worked!!!!!! Much screaming, wooping and dancing ensued. If there was a camera there, it would have been Masterchef TV gold. The background music would be reaching a crescendo. Tears would flow.
And Gary would ooh and aah. I’m sure of it.
And so would I. Gary. Swoon.
Then I had to do it all again for the second cake. Piece of cake…
And finally, just before heading to the party to celebrate with the birthday girl, I topped the cakes with raspberries that had been soaking in a bit of Cointreau and sugar (that’s the grown up part!).
So what was the verdict? Unfortunately, my cakes suffered from the “looks good, tastes average” fate. The cakes themselves were not up to scratch – they were bland and un-chocolatey – which means I am still on a search for the perfect chocolate cake. I am however, no longer on a quest to learn to temper chocolate. I’ve nailed that bad boy. Damn they looked good. Tempered chocolate gold.
PS – I don’t entirely agree with Fast Ed that these cakes should be called “last minute” – they required a fair amount of effort, and that was just the cleaning up!