Wednesday, 13 April 2011

WINNING! Chocolate birthday cake

The weekend just gone was my little brother's 21st birthday.  'You're too mature for candles,' I said, 'so I've made it in icing sugar - you can still blow it out.'
It *is* icing sugar, although we did make a lot of Charlie Sheen jokes at the picnic.  So here's a recipe for a Charlie Sheen cake, to be served with a generous glass of tiger blood - but only to Winners!  It's based on my mother's old brownie recipe, and an answer to my boyfriend's challenge that I tend to make rather dry cakes.  Eat this!
You can make this up to 4 days beforehand, but keep it in the fridge.  Do the sugaring stage just before serving, so that you can safely cover the cake with clingfilm without smudging the numbers.

Birthday Cocaine Cake For Winners
You Will Need: 24cm round springform tin(s), scales, wooden spoon, teaspoon, large bowl, small bowl, whisk, smaller bowl, fork, saucepan, dinner knife, chopping board and sharp knife, cheese grater, clingfilm, tinfoil, sieve or tea strainer, dessert spoon.

For the Cake:
100g dark chocolate
130g butter
350g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
130g self raising flour
80g walnuts
100g raisins or sultanas
4 eggs

For the Filling:
2 egg yolks
30g caster sugar
dessertspoon plain flour
1 teaspoon cornflour
140ml milk
4 squares grated dark chocolate

small pot whipping cream

2 punnets fresh raspberries

icing sugar

1) To make the cake.  Grease and line the tin with baking paper.  In a small bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate pieces and the butter.  When melted, mix in the vanilla and sugar.  Take off the heat.
2) Chop the walnuts finely.  In the large bowl, mix the flour, nuts and fruit.  Beat in the chocolate mixture.
3)  Beat the eggs with the fork and mix into the cake mixture.
4) Pour half the mixture into the tin; bake approximately 15-20 minutes until risen and an inserted skewer comes out clean.  Lift the first half onto a tray to cool.  Re-line the tin and repeat with the rest of the mixture.  If you have two tins of course this becomes less faff-ful.

5) Assembly.  When the cakes are cool, put the first half onto a serving plate.  Now make the filling:
6) Separate the eggs.  Beat the egg yolks and sugar together.  Mix in the flours.
7) Heat the milk in the pan; grate in the chocolate like cheese by grating straight off the bar into the milk.  Stir to mix.
8) Pour the hot milk over the egg mixture and whisk briskly to mix.  Pour back into the pan; heat gently until well thickened, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Be aware that the custard will continue cooking off the heat, from the heat of the pan.
9) Pour the custard into the small bowl, and press clingfilm over the surface to avoid a skin forming.  Let it cool before spreading on the cake.

10) Spread cooled custard over the bottom half of the cake.  Cover the surface with raspberries.  Dribble any remaining custard over the berries.
11) Whip the cream to stiff peaks.  Spread it over the berries.  Place the top half of the cake carefully.
12) Put a small amount of icing sugar in a sieve or teastrainer, and scatter over the cake.  If you want numbers in it, twist tinfoil into tubes and shape into the numbers.  Place carefully on the caketop; scatter the sugar, then remove the foil, leaving gaps behind.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sloe Gin

Sloes are a strange beast.  I always knew what they were, and that they existed, thanks to my Flower Fairies books, but had never noticed one until quite recently.  A bitter relative of the damson, they are only really suitable for flavouring alcohol - making the famous Gin, which is where most people encounter them.  We harvested ours from the boyfriend's dad's locality in the New Forest; there is a small tree near the railway into Wimbledon from Surbiton and also in the Christian Science carpark near my house.  They're around, if you keep looking.
The sloe season is October-November; sloe gin season is from Christmas that year to October next year.  It makes excellent G&Ts.  Depending on how sloey you want your gin, leave it to steep for 3-6 months to decant in Advent or Lent.

I'm afraid I can't offer you a proper proportion recipe to make Sloe Gin; everyone who makes it has their own ideas of how sweet, sloey or ginny it should be when it's finished.  I would recommend making a small amount to slightly different proportions and see which you like best. Here's how we did it:

Sloe Gin
You Will Need: Harvesting bag/box/bucket, freezer, £££, gin, caster sugar, empty bottles, weighing scales, patience, large jugs, sives, funnels.

1. Go to the supermarket and work out how much 'raw' gin - Gordons or other - you reckon you can afford. Then buy it.  Now have a stiff one and try to forget about it.  Gin is expensive.
2.  Armed with a gin-to-sloes ratio - the BBC reckons a litre wants a pound of fruit - go and pick your sloes! Beware of the large thorns.  Pick as many as you need; if you get a few more, they'll keep in the freezer.
3.  Freeze the fruit in shopping bags overnight.  This splits the skins and allows the juices to get out.
4.  Pour one bottle of gin into a jug.  Half-fill the empty bottle with sloes; fill the bottle a third of the way up with sugar.  Finally, pour as much gin as possible back in using a funnel.  Seal the bottle, turn it over and over a few times to mix in the sugar, and leave to stand in a cool dark place like a bedroom cupboard.
5.  Repeat until you've run out of bottles or gin, freeze any remaining sloes, and engage Patience.
6.  Wait 3-6 months before choosing a long afternoon to Decant.
7.  Open the bottles; with a sieve strain the berries out of the liquid into a large jug.  Pour the decanted liquid back into the empty bottles using a funnel.  If going for consistency, try to mix up the liquids from different bottles in the jug; if trying for taste, endeavour to keep batches separate.
8.  Home-made labels and a little purple ribbon can go a long way to making these products into a great summer birthday present, or (if waiting only 3 months) Christmas present.

Glug Glug Glug...