Birthday bake

Hello, blog. Long time, no see. I missed you, and I should have called, or at least sent you a text or something but I’ve been ridiculously busy – setting up as a freelancer, starting a new part-time job on the side, watching DVD box sets and going to the pub.

Another thing I was busy with was turning 40. It’s a big number, so big you have to use all your toes and fingers twice, and I decided to have a party. There was country dancing, Pimms, sherry, tea and a number of cakes. Also a huge amount of washing up, which to my shame was not done by me but by Others.

Some of the people who came along have asked for cake recipes so that’s what the next few posts will be. None of them are inventions and most of them are from this book:

The Big Brown Book

The Big Brown Book – we used it so much that the spine came off.

The Big Brown Book is a family treasure, and the reason why I know the German words for ‘whisking’, ‘heating’, ‘folding’, ‘sifting’, ‘kneading’ and ‘greasing’ despite being ignorant in most other areas of German vocabulary. It was published in 1987, and I assume my mother was given it or bought it around that time. Ever since then it’s been the book to turn to when the baking urge is strong. Because I’m a messy cook it’s easy to find my favourite recipes: the book naturally opens on pages thickened with sugar and a dusting of flour, and decorated with stains of egg and butter that spread a few fractions of a millimetre with each passing year.

Cake the First: “Versunkener Kirschkuchen”

Versunkener Kirschtorte: Sunken Cherry Cake

Versunkener Kirschtorte – the original recipe. ‘Versunken’ sounds so very much more deeply sunk than ‘sunk’.

This is basically a sponge with juicy summer fruit embedded in it. It’s not fancy or complicated, in fact quite the reverse – beautifully simple.

The name literally means “Sunken Cherry Cake” and it is good with cherries but for the party I made it with a mixture of raspberries and blueberries – you get more variety of colour and flavour and you don’t have to spend ages stoning cherries. If you do use cherries weigh them after stoning, not before.

The soft fruit won’t last long at room temperature so in warm summer weather I would recommend keeping this cake in the fridge or eating it within the day. Bear in mind the Brown Book’s helpful note that this cake has a nutritional value of around 2500 calories – be nice and share it with your friends.

My adds to the original recipe are [in square brackets].

Ingredients for one 26cm diameter spring-form cake tin:
300g [mixed raspberries and blueberries]
5 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
180g caster sugar
80g soft unsalted butter
180g plain flour
5g baking powder
4 tablespoons icing sugar
A little butter and flour for the tin

Wash the fruit and leave it to drain [or pat it very gently dry with kitchen roll]. Grease the baking tin with butter and dust it with flour. Pre-heat the oven to 200C [reduce for a fan oven].

Whisk the egg yolks, half the caster sugar, and the butter until the mixture foams. Gradually sift the baking powder and flour into the egg mixture, stirring as you go.

Beat the egg whites with the rest of the caster sugar until they are stiff, and fold them into the yolk mixture.

Pour the dough into the cake tin and scatter the fruit on top. Gently poke it down through the dough with the handle of a spoon. [Make sure it’s completely covered – any exposed fruit will burn.]

Bake the cake on the second shelf from the bottom for 50-60 minutes [it’s ready when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean], cool it on a wire rack, then decorate with the icing sugar [sprinkled through a sieve].

[Serve with whipped cream.]

Next time: a few of my favourite things, including chocolate, sherry and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Chocolate Mouse

I recently discovered that my dog had been moonlighting from his job as under-desk foot-warmer by helping out on my friend Noon Observations blog. I wouldn’t have minded if he had asked but he didn’t. By way of apology he has written a recipe for me. You might like to share it with your children, nephews and nieces, small cousins or grandchildren.

Chocolate Mouse for Burmese Cats
by Zephyr in the Kitchen

Apart from a smooth-coated lurcher, the Burmese cat is one of the most intelligent and beautiful pets a human can have. 

Sitting Burmese cat

Burmese cats are almost as good as dogs

Burmese cats originally came from Burma and Thailand in south-east Asia. They lived in the grounds of Buddhist temples where the monks took care of them.

Buddhist temple

A Buddhist temple

Buddhists believe that all living things have souls and that when they die the soul moves on to a new body. Burmese cats are so clever and friendly that it’s easy to believe they used to be human. Or lurchers.

Nowadays the natural habitat of a Burmese cat is a sofa, armchair or possibly a silk cushion within easy reach of a radiator and the remote control. Burmese cats are luxurious beasts. If they could cook this is what they would make. It’s as silky-soft and gorgeous as they are, though less fun to chase.

Burmese cat

A chocolate brown Burmese cat

The recipe has a lot of steps but each step is quite easy. You just have to keep going and be patient; as patient as a cat waiting at the entrance to a mouse hole.


125g chocolate
(you can use dark, milk or white; a Burmese cat would choose dark chocolate, but the other types will be tasty too)

25ml water from a freshly boiled kettle

15g unsalted butter

25g caster sugar for dark chocolate
(you don’t need any for milk or white chocolate which are sweeter than dark)

2 large eggs

whole almonds

currants or sultanas

pieces of clean string, 8-10 cm long

egg cups or small glasses to serve

Preparing the chocolate

  1. Find a glass bowl or small saucepan that will rest in a larger pan without touching the bottom.
  2. Break the chocolate up into squares and cut the butter into little cubes. Put them both in the smaller bowl or pan.
  3. On the hob warm 2-3 cm of water in the larger pan.
  4. When the water is just simmering rest the small pan on top.
  5. Add the 25 ml of freshly boiled water from the kettle.
  6. Leave the chocolate and butter melt without poking and prodding. When the chocolate looks melted give it a few gentle stirs to combine the ingredients and turn off the heat.
  7. Wearing oven gloves put the chocolate pan on the. Stir until the mixture looks smooth and then leave to cool. 

Preparing the eggs

  1. Separate the eggs into two bowls. Put the whites in a big bowl. The yolks can go in a smallish bowl.
  2. With an electric or hand whisk beat the egg whites until they start to thicken.
  3. Now add the sugar if you are using it and carry on beating until the egg white is really white and fluffy. When it’s ready it should be so stiff that you can tip the bowl upside down over your head without any falling out!
  4. Use a fork to beat the egg yolks to a smooth pale yellow liquid.

Combining the eggs and chocolate

Beaten egg yolk, egg white and melted chocolate

Egg yolk, beaten egg white and melted chocolate ready to mix

  1. The chocolate mix should have cooled down by now. Feel the bowl with your hand. If it’s not uncomfortably hot to touch try dipping the very tip of your little finger into the chocolate. Ideally your finger won’t feel cold or hot because the chocolate is just the same temperature. If it’s too hot wait a bit longer.
  2. Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate. Do it quite slowly to keep the chocolate mixture smooth.
  3. With a large metal spoon or a spatula and scrape the chocolate mix into the egg white bowl.
  4. You are now going to ‘fold’ the egg white over the chocolate. This is NOT the same as stirring – it’s much more delicate than that. Slide the spoon down the side of the bowl. When you get to the bottom lift as much chocolate as you can and turn your spoonful over. Turn the bowl a few centimetres and do it again. As soon as the chocolate and eggs are combined stop folding. If you have folded carefully the mixture will be runny but light and airy.

Nearly there…

  1. Put your egg cups or small glasses on a tray or large plate.
  2. Dangle a piece of string into each egg cup, leaving one end trailing over the side.
  3. Using a dessert spoon, or pouring very slowly fill each one to the top with mouse.
  4. Clear a space in the fridge for the mouses. If there is anything smelly in the fridge cover the pots with cling film. Leave the mouses to cool for about an hour. As they cool they will thicken and set.
  5. Use almonds and currants to give your mouses noses and ears. Now for the really patient part: put them back in the fridge for another hour at least, and ideally two before you eat them. The longer you wait the more delicious they will be.
Chocolate mouses

Chocolate mouse and friends

How to eat

Eat with a teaspoon, taking small dainty bites, just like a Burmese cat. You don’t have to eat the tail.