Or, far more appropriately, Blondies
Since I was a little girl, a favourite aspect of celebrating my birthday has been the cake. This probably has a great deal to do with my love of cake, but also because I had some terrific birthday cakes as a child: a stable, complete with horses and jumps; recreations of my favourite toys; even a turreted castle. Sometimes I'd choose the design, sometimes it would be a surprise, but it was always an event.
As an adult, it has fallen to me to supply the cakes for most of my family's celebrations. Somehow or another, this tends to include my own parties. I have to confess that I don't go in for the fantastical designs or perfectly iced creations of my childhood, but focus more on the actual cake. As much as I love Victoria Sponge, birthday cake should be about what the birthday girl or boy enjoys. Consequently, when I make cakes for others, I tend to ask them what they'd like the most. When it comes to making your own birthday cake, the distinct advantage is making people try something that they wouldn't normally. (A few years ago I made courgette cake. It was a resounding success, but possibly only because I refused to tell people exactly what was in it until they'd eaten it.)
Being a birthday party of sorts, the nodermeet held last weekend demanded cake. In fact, we were fortunate enough to have two: Chocolate Mud Cake of Death, supplied by La petite mort, and my own contribution to events — because old habits die hard. Neither was brought into the room atop with flames, which was actually a shame, and I can't offer a reasonable explanation for this, but I can offer the recipe for the lumps of gooey cakeiness that I baked.
I didn't experiment this year: I went for one of my favourites. White Chocolate Brownie. Or Blondie.
As with so many of the things that I bake, this is based on a Nigella Lawson recipe. As with so much of what I cook, this is my variation on a recipe.
- 125g (4 oz) unsalted butter
- 250g (9 oz) white chocolate, the best that you can afford, broken into chunks
- 4 eggs
- 1 tspn salt
- 350g (12 oz) caster sugar
- 300g (11 oz) plain flour
- 250g (9 oz) nuts, chopped. My personal favourite is the hazelnut, but macadamias work well. If you make the coffeed version of the Blondie (see the variation below), then walnuts are a good addition. Of course, if you dislike or are allergic to nuts they can be omitted.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius, or somewhere around gas mark 3. Prepare your brownie tin by buttering it.
Select a medium-sized saucepan, preferably of the non-stick variety, and place the butter and chocolate in it. Set it over a gentle flame, and slowly melt the butter and chocolate. That's right, there's no messing about with a double boiler to melt the chocolate, and there'll no putting it anywhere near a microwave. You won't have any problems melting the chocolate this way if you do it slowly enough, and stir every now and again with a wooden spoon.
Whilst the butter and chocolate are undergoing their mind-altering experience, beat the eggs with the salt until they begin to increase in volume. You can do this by hand or with an electric mixer. When the eggs are suitably frothy-looking add the sugar then whisk until thick and creamy.
By this point, the butter and chocolate should have melted, and you will have removed the mixture from the hob to cool a little. Add it to the eggs, and beat. Then, fold in the flour and the nuts.
When everything has been combined, pour into your brownie pan and place in the oven for around 35 minutes. I say around 35 minutes, because no two ovens are the same, and it might be ready after 30 minutes, or might need up to 40 minutes. 'Ready' for blondie means set on top, and gooey in the middle. I use a toothpick for testing purposes. You definitely don't want it set all the way through, because it will continue to cook after it has been removed from the oven, and you want it still gooey when you eat it. Give it a few minutes resting time and then cut it into small squares.
I had fun with Blondie Highlighted with Coffee as a petit four, which was achieved by making a ridiculously strong single espresso shot and adding it to the batter. Alternatively, you could add two tablespoons of instant espresso powder to the mix.
For a fairly spectaular birthday cake (or anniversary cake, or bar Mitzvah cake, or any rather-important-celebration cake), make two blondies and one brownie. Pile them one on top of another (brownie in the middle), held together using chocolate ganache. Complete by icing with yet more ganache and sticking sparklers in the top.