This is how it ends.
And this is how it starts.
It was a working bee. Layers and pieces laid out on the floor, like Christmas paper and gifts ready to be wrapped.
In years past when I had a larger salary of my own to toy with there were surprise parties and trips away to mark The Hungry One’s birthday. This year the gifts are homemade and come from the heart.
These five layers of cake and mousse were designed like a bespoke suit, in consultation with the man of the hour.
Texture, colour and tempered sweetness were my watchwords.
The first layer was the dense hazelnut brownie cake base. He chose it for its strength and structural integrity.
Over the top of that went a vibrant cherry mousse.
After my initial attempt when cherry coulis, cream and egg whites and gelatine turned blue (BLUE?) the final mousse was a simpler affair. It started with a cup of commercially bought dark cherry yogurt, set with two sheets of gelatine that had been softened in hot water. Later I folded through two whipped egg whites and some pitted cherries which had softened with sugar and water in a pan.
The field of pink mousse was then pocked with dried cherries that had been soaked in equal measures of Frangelico and brandy. After 12 hours in a booze bath they plumped up like sozzled sultanas. They were there to provide some sticky chew.
Layer three was half of the chocolate sponge (recipe below)
The sponge was then spread with black cherry jam, like the world’s most indulgent piece of toast. After that it got dressed with marscapone mousse (made by mixing a small tub of marscapone with 150 ml of cream that’s been whipped to soft peaks. There was also a squeeze of lemon juice and a tablespoon of icing sugar for a little extra sweetness).
The final element on that layer was the very first building block I made for this dessert; the hazelnut praline.
Layer five was the remainder of the sponge – gilded with melted chocolate, dark chocolate shards and a smattering of fresh cherries.
We may not have been able to find candles to light, but we did sing a little ditty. We also made The Hungry One kiss the nearest girl when he cut his cake and the knife came out dirty.
And the verdict?
He loved it. The direct quote was “It’s like there’s a party in my mouth”.
The follow up line came with a considered furrow of the brow- something he does when he’s delicately sandwiching constructive criticism. “Though the sponge was a little dry. Perhaps some more booze would have helped”.
You live, you learn. You can’t have a dry party, no matter where it is. Next year I’ll be a little heavier handed with the spirits.
To deny a boy an extra sopping of booze on his birthday would just be…mean.
Makes two layers of a black forest cake. Or one chocolate sponge. Best eaten when soaked slightly in booze.
NB, this uses a shocking amount of bowls. I needed no fewer than four mixing bowls (including one over a pot of boiling water to melt chocolate). One spatula. Electric beaters. One 20 cm cake tin. Sifter.
125g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
5 large eggs, separated
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 tablespoons cooled espresso
100g dark chocolate (minimum 65% cocoa solids)
Here’s how we roll
1. Preheat the oven to 150ºC or 300 F.
2. Grease the sides and bottom of a circular baking tin. Line with baking paper.
3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.
4. Sieve the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder together into another bowl.
5. Whisk the egg whites to firm peaks in another bowl.
6. In a fourth bowl beat the butter and sugar together until they are pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then fold the espresso through, followed by the cooled melted chocolate.
Rotate the bowl and do a gentle lift and fold with a spatula to try and keep as much air in the batter as possible.
9. Gently spread the combined batter over the base of the tin and level with a spatula.
10. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake emerges clean. Cool for 5 minutes and then turn out on to a wire rack. Peel off the paper.