Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Let them Eat Cake.

A couple of days ago my third child was six. Like any mother worth her salt, I wanted her birthday to be perfect. She’d requested a chocolate cake covered in strawberries and raspberries. No big deal I thought and so, the day before the big day I curled my feet under me on the sofa, a pen and notebook on one half of my commodious lap, Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess on the other.
Now I can’t make a Victoria sponge to save my life, so something a little more off key is the gateau de jour. On page 172, I found an inspirational Nutella cake. It sounded extremely good, if a little sophisticated, requiring as it did a couple of tablespoons of Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur. In fairness to Nigella she does stress that it is not imperative to race out and buy the liqueur, but as I have previously drank it and know how truly moreish it is, I thought it would be a marvellous idea to put a little dribble in the cake whilst we grownups could toast the birthday girl with the remainder.
And so began my day of making an atrocious carbon footprint the size of India in an attempt to make a little six year old ecstatic but who, would have been just as happy with a shop bought fudge cake covered in raspberries and sticky sweets.
The day started well, in that a friend who runs a cafe took me for an outing to a ‘cash and carry’* in Plymouth. Well, I’d never seen the likes before and whilst she dashed hither and thither not pausing for breath, I loitered around the detergents in 7th heaven. Humongous 10 kilo boxes of Bold and Daz rubbed shoulders with great, big plastic containers of softener, which in turn were next to industrial amounts of toilet cleaner and bleach. Then, on other shelves and to my intense delight, I found a ten inch tall, plastic tub of mixed dried herbs and a bottle of gravy browning so big that my kids will still be using it when I have departed this earth for good. There were bouillons of all manner, ketchup bottles to last until next year, enough English mustard to set fire to a small town and vast jars of every type of curry sauce this side of Mumbai. I can’t believe we pay through the nose at a regular supermarket for piddly sized amounts when at a cash and carry the items are half the price yet, you get double or triple the amount. It’s really worth opening a shop or cafe just to get membership.
Eventually my friend dragged me away whilst I was still yearning for the Wrigley's chewing gum dispenser and box of Walkers’ Sensations crisps. All I’d bought apart from the herbs and browning was the requisite raspberries and strawberries.
My friend, who was in a hurry to open her cafe for lunch, quickly dropped me off at Aldi’s to buy the Frangelico, which, I’d discovered a few months ago, is four quid cheaper there than at Waitrose. So with liqueur and soft fruits at my disposal I picked up the Red-Head from school and went about making the cake. On referring to my list however, I realised that my shopping was not complete and that I still needed a huge jar of Nutella – the one I’d found in the cupboard was old and full of butter where hapless children has carelessly buttered toast then shoved the knife into the chocolate spread. I also needed 100g of ground hazelnuts. “Oh this won’t do at all”, I groaned.
“We need to go back out aden mummy?” asked the Red-Head.
“Fraid so”, I replied, picking up my bag and car keys, “Let’s go”. In Somerfield and the Co-op they were terribly negative about my acquiring ground hazelnuts, “Never seen them my lover. Not even at Christmas time”. Bother. The only thing for it was to drive out to Trerulefoot roundabout, where in Kernow Mill lurks a Julian Graves – the dried fruit and nut specialist extraordinaire. Much to my dismay even they didn’t have the nuts, at least not in ground form.
“Sorry, we don’t sell them ground. You could of course buy them whole and blitz them in a food processor”. It seemed I had no alternative but I still complained.
“But Nigella says they must be ground, what if the food processor isn’t up to the job?” The saleswoman looked at me blankly as one would when face to face with a madwoman.
“I’m sure it’ll be just grand”, she said guardedly.
I drove home again quite agitated. This whole cake and its ingredients had taken almost a day and several miles to procure and I hadn’t even started cooking the bloody thing yet.
Finally we arrived home and on opening page 172 again read the method, where, much to my embarrassment, Nigella’s advice was thus, ‘I use hazelnuts bought ready-ground, but ones you grind yourself in the processor will provide more nutty moistness’. What a twit I am, an opinion no doubt also held by the staff of Julian Graves.
Twenty minutes later and the cake was in the oven; forty minutes later and it was out and cooling. I went to retrieve the birthday girl from school where on arriving home we made a ganache topping and then decorated the cake with the fruits. She was thrilled. “It’s exactly how I dreamt it mummy. Thankyou”. The Red-Head had been watching us avidly but because her mouth was blissfully wrapped around a chocolate covered spatula I didn’t really give her a second thought. It was only later when I went back to the kitchen that I found her little red chair leaning against the kitchen counter. She, it goes without saying was no-where to be seen, nor, unsurprisingly was the ring of beautifully sliced and arranged strawberries that had once adorned a birthday cake. Boy did I holler that kid’s name.

* - like Costco but without the diamonds, oh and you must own a business to be a member.


Mopsa said...

My OH made me Nigella's fab Chocolate Raspberry Heart for my birthday last year (From the FEAST book). Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. If I'd been six I'd have nicked the fruit off too.

Alice Band said...

It was the 3 year old that was the strawberry thief! Chocolate raspberry heart sounds dreamy!

enidd said...

bugger being three, enidd would have nicked the fruit anyway. then eaten the cake too.

Mary Alice said...

That cake sounds divine. I made my usual chocolate cake recipe for Military Man the other week....but this time for a twist I added a big dollop of actual nutella. It was really good...and stayed extra moist.

I can hardly blame her. That sounds too tempting!

Alice Band said...

enidd - I think you'll find there is a 'k' in knicked - feel free to tell me to nack off...

Alice Band said...

Mary Alice - always best to stay extra moist don't you find?

Jo said...

You sound exactly like me on my daughter's first birthday--first mind you...she had nothing to compare cake to so I am sure ANYTHING would have been good but I spent a good couple of days procuring ingredients and making cake (if you read From the Front Lines I am Red Eagle the romantical one--she wrote a blog about my ridiculousness planning my daughters b-day complete with strawberry mascarpone cream cheese filling.) They were good but why do we get like this when our children could care less for the most part?

The cake you made sounds like an absolute slice of heaven that I could eat many slices of. Nigella is one of my favorites as is Nutella and hazelnuts in general. I used to make an absolutely wicked hazelnut fudge brownie that should be generally outlawed--I had to outlaw if for myself that is why I say "used" to make! Happy birthday to your little one!

Alice Band said...

jo - I know who you are!!! Sorry to hear that you've been feeling like shit. I truly understand.

Jo said...

Thanks Alice. I know, I usually just winter through it b/c I know all will be well except during those few days out of the month! It has gotten better--actually had much more difficult time in first few months after her birth, portpartum, I supppose. It is not fun. I usually exercise regularly, which helps but winter has not been kind and havn't been able to as regularly as I should. Spring is just around the corner though amd just to prove it think will plant some iris bulbs today!

Sally Lomax said...

Oh I laughed at this Alice!

Apparently, as a child, I once ate the tops off an entire box of choclates. Only the tops mind. Trying to find the right flavour clearly!