Recipe: The Dark Chocolate, Berry & White Chocolate Cream Cheese Cake.

Putting the 'goo' in 'damn good'

Putting the ‘goo’ in ‘damn good’

I do not exaggerate, Ogglers, when I say that this is THE BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE I think I’ve ever had – and all thanks to my pal Mimi (she of the Cinnabon Substitute).

Adapted from a few different recipes that have been expertly fused together, it was made for me as a belated birthday present – and was extremely well received.

With a sponge not unlike a Chocolate Fudge Brownie (moist and slightly chewy at the edges), plus a filling so creamy and perfect it hurts (the berries! The cream cheese! The chocolate!) , I defy you to bake one and leave it alone.

Indeed, so bereft was I when I finished my first, I had to make me a second the very next day.

I kid you not.

Anyway, a million thanks to Mimi for curating the recipe – and for letting me share it with you lot via this blog.

Trust me, Ogglers: homemade cakes don’t get much better than this…

The Dark Chocolate, Berry & White Chocolate Cream Cheese Cake (makes a sponge big enough to feed 10 in one go – or 2 over several sittings)

Something to berry your face in

Something to berry your face in

Ingredients:

For the Dark Chocolate Sponge:

  • 125ml cold water
  • 200g broken dark chocolate (the best you can afford)
  • 200g butter
  • 1tbsp dried coffee
  • 85g self raising flour (or 85g plain with ¾ tsp baking powder)
  • 85g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g golden caster sugar (white caster sugar’s fine too, if that’s all you’ve got in your cupboard)
  • 200g brown muscovado sugar (light, preferably)
  • 25g cocoa (or drinking chocolate – though reduce the sugar content by 50g if using the latter)
  • 3 eggs
  • 75ml buttermilk (I used natural yoghurt in its absence – no probs)

For the Berry, White Chocolate & Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 300g icing sugar
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 150g softened butter
  • 100g white chocolate
  • A handful of berries for garnishing – if using fresh raspberries, this works out at about 20 or so. Alternatively, you can also use 3 to 4 tbsp of mixed berries (i.e. blackcurrants, blueberries, redcurrants, etc). Whatever you fancy for extra juice and tartness…

Method:

To Make the Sponge:

  1. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (fan assisted) or Gas Mark 3
  2. Add the coffee to the cold water and stir well
  3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the buttermilk/natural yoghurt. Put aside for later
  4. Pop the dark chocolate, butter and coffee solution into a saucepan. Warm gently and on a low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to stop the bottom burning
  5. While the chocolate mixture is melting, put the flours, bicarb, sugars and cocoa together in a large bowl, using your hands to stir out the lumps (a spoon will do the same job if you’d rather not get messy)
  6. Add the egg mixture and the melted chocolate mixture to the flour mixture, then stir the whole lot until it’s smooth and runny
  7. Pour into the tin and bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes (until a knife comes out clean when poked through the top)
  8. Keep the cake inside the tin for a few minutes, then carefully turn it out on to a wire rack

The cake cannot be iced until it has cooled, so take a break and then get to work on the cream cheese frosting…

To Make the Filling:

  1. Beat the butter and cream cheese together in a large bowl until the whole thing is fully blended
  2. Using either a microwave or a saucepan, gently melt the white chocolate.
  3. Stir the melted chocolate into the butter and cream cheese
  4. Sift the icing sugar and beat this in with rest
  5. Try to refrain from eating the lot until the cake is cool (tempting though it might be)

To Assemble:

Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

  1. Using a long, sharp knife, carefully cut the sponge in two, then smear half of the frosting in the middle
  2. Dot this with about three-quarters of your berry rations, scattering them evenly throughout
  3. Pop the upper sponge on top, then cover it with the rest of your icing and berries, hiding any cracks that might have appeared while the sponge was baking
  4. Hey presto: bring out the cake forks!

NB: This is one of those sweet treats that improves after 24 hours or so. However, if you don’t think you’ll be able to eat the lot within a few days, slice up the surplus and freeze it in airtight containers.

When you’re ready to eat, allow at least four hours for your slices to defrost (leaving them out overnight works for me…).

Happy Hogging!

P-H x

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Hell Pony Biscuits.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes something crazy like a Hell Pony Biscuit.

It happened like this: twas Ms Q’s birthday bash (Ms Q being the pal who helped bring those ridiculous Jelly Belly Cookies into being), and – being a horse obsessive – she wanted to play with her housemate’s My Little Pony cutter (as you do, when you’re in your mid-twenties).

A mutual friend made a quick biscuit dough (butter, sugar, flour – in quantities guessed and beaten), and Ms Q got ready to roll.

But wait!

Where’s the fun in a plain batch of My Little Pony biscuits?

FETCH THE COLOURING.

With a dab of purple and spots of orange, suddenly things took an interesting turn. In minutes, our beige ball of pre-baked biscuit had gone all psychedelic.

And you know what? It looked GREAT.

‘Great’ being a subjective term…

Only by accident had the colour been added so late. However, the marbling effect it created was, quite frankly, awesome.

Yes, it was unusual – comparisons with the underworld, placenta, varicose veins and bruises flew about the room – but what better way to jazz up some birthday biscuits?

Actually, if I’m honest, that’s not all the jazzing that occurred.

Having spent some time in the oven, our Ponies from Hell (as they came to be known) were deemed to be slightly too dry. Possibly thanks to the eggless dough, they turned out more like sweet pastry than cookies – crisp, rather than chewy.

No matter though: Ms Q had some extra supplies.

Glittery icing pens, Cream Cheese frosting, pink sugar granules and candied lemon segments to be precise.

It was time to release our inner five-year olds (though two-year olds might have done better).

When we were done, the whole lot was thoroughly lubricated – looking not unlike My Little Ponies who had been in some kind of accident (with a van filled with children’s face paints perhaps).

Medic!

Still, for those who could look beyond the monstrous decorations (and the thought of all those additives), the taste of the ponies was quite superb – especially dipped in the Cream Cheese frosting.

I ate them like a sweet-toothed version of Salsa and Nachos, better still with the odd fresh raspberry plonked on top.

On and on our Hell Ponies galloped, down my gullet to the Ranch of No Return.

I hope they’ll be perfectly happy there.

But not nearly as happy as me.

The Marbled Brownie & Blondie Cake Bar.

It might be Tuesday in most quarters of the world, but this Blog is still stuck on Friday of last week. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post on Lantana, it was the Man’s birthday and there were plenty of treats to be had. Far be it for the Pud-Hog to skim past such edible pleasantries…

With a hearty breakfast eaten and a bag of Chocolate Brazil Nuts at the cinema (now that’s my kind of health food) the next significant pudding of note was the Man’s Birthday Cake itself.

In an ideal world I would have made something from scratch at the Hog House, but being short on time – and requiring something that wouldn’t get squished in a backpack – my options were fairly limited.

After mooching around the shops of London, I settled on the tastiest-looking, most portable cake I could find: a Marbled Brownie and Blondie Cake Bar from the folks at Marks and Spencer.

Surprise!

Politeness prevents me from saying how much it cost (the Man will most likely be reading this post at some point, you see). However, I will let you know it was reasonable (in other words, less than a fiver).

This particular concoction had caught my eye on the shop shelf before, and now seemed like the perfect excuse to buy it. Granted, it wasn’t the size of a normal Birthday Cake (allegedly designed to feed eight, it wouldn’t have comfortably served more than five), but it was just fine for our post-dinner party of four.

Before the candles had been extiguished, my expectations were fairly high. By now you ought to be aware of how much I love Blondies and Brownies – and the thought of having them intertwined was more than a little exciting.

Sadly, however, although it was undeniably tasty with ice cream and fresh raspberries, on its own it didn’t quite cut the mustard.

Yes, it was soft and moist in the middle.

Yes, it looked lovely.

Yes, it was good value.

But for something as decadent-sounding as a Brownie and Blondie Cake Bar, it was painfully restrained.

Where was the thick seam of goo? Where were the chocolate chunks? Where was the interesting medley of textures that Brownies like those at Konditor & Cook showcase so well?

Also, perhaps more importantly, where was the flavour of Blondie? I tried hard to find it but all I could taste was the dark chocolate base – not even a hint of creamy white chocolate. Why bother bringing the two things together, if only to let one be drowned out so thoroughly?

If M&S had just tried a little bit harder – strengthened the white chocolate flavour; added a few solid chunks – they could have laid claim to a pretty great product.

Instead they settled for making what was basically a slightly chewy chocolate cake.

Thank Hog the birthday feasting wasn’t over. Though we weren’t to know it then, on Saturday we would try something quite spectacular.

Consider this your advance warning, Ogglers. If you’re planning to read tomorrow’s post (which, of course, you should be), you might need to strap on a bib…

A Bonzer Birthday Breakfast.

When you think of Australian food, what exactly comes to mind? Kangaroo? Barbecued ostrich? King Prawns on a boomerang?

Whatever your thoughts, it’s a pretty safe bet that – for most of you – they had nothing to do with breakfast.

But they should.

On Friday, in order to treat the Man for his birthday, I took him to a small Australian café on Charlotte Place – Lantana – for a special spot of grub to start the day. We’d intended to visit them numerous times before, but it had always seemed too busy.

Now I know why.

As breakfasts go it was up there with the best of them. For savoury-lovers, there were juicy corn fritters, homemade baked beans, halloumi (a Pud-Hog favourite, as you know), and plenty more besides.

However (and I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear it), the dishes this diner fancied were the sweet ones. Two of them in particular: Almond Bircher Museli with a Cinnamon-Baked Peach, and Toasted Banana Bread with Spiced Mascarpone and Passion Fruit.

How was I supposed to choose, I wondered?

Then it came to me: order them both.

I’m mighty glad I did, because what arrived at our table was, quite frankly, the tastiest breakfast offering I have had in living memory.

An altogether awesome form of Hog Slop

In it were huge sultanas, vibrant flecks of green apple, plenty of crunchy flaked almonds, and – perched on its gooey white throne in the middle – the juiciest, softest baked peach I have encountered.

Hog. Heaven.

Fresh, comfortingly sloppy, and – to my surprise – very generously portioned, I even felt it justified the £5.60 price tag (praise indeed from a skinflint like me).

Normally I would have found it very hard to say goodbye to such a dish. But this time I had some Toasted Banana Bread to get me through.

By ‘some’ I mean a single slice – and again, at £5.50 a go, it was rather more luxurious than your average greasy spoon. But again it was delicious.

Actually, let’s scrap ‘delicious’ and go straight for ‘wowzers’.

WOWZERS

I shared it with the Man (but only because it was his birthday) and both of us thought it was expletively good: a moist banana slab, lightly crisped on both sides, with a smooth melting blob of mascarpone and oodles of super-zingy Passion Fruit seeds.

What a combo.

I couldn’t taste the spices in the mascarpone, but that didn’t matter too much: the fruit was the star of the show.

Streuth. My mouth is watering in remembrance.

It was so gosh darn yummy I ate my way through it as slowly as possible, trying my best to savour the flavours, umming and aahing like a fireworks spectator.

By the time I was done, I felt like it was my own celebratory day.

Good thing they had a counter full of cakes.

The birthday fun had only just begun…

Having Your Cake (and Freezing It).

Discount cake. The freezer’s last taboo.

If you’re a bargain-hunter like me, chances are that at one time or another you’ve been tempted by discount birthday cake. It’s happened to me so many times: bumbling along the reduced section of the supermarket, I see a cake so huge that it could feed at least ten people – and because it’s approaching its sell-by date, it costs less than a couple of quid.

So what do you do – assuming it’s not actually your birthday, and you don’t have a reason to buy a big cake?

There’s the give-it-to-your-friends-or-colleagues option (great for fostering relations, but does involve sharing – possibly with people you’re not too keen on). There’s the buy-it-and-eat-it-yourself option (but with less than 24 hours until it supposedly expires, you may live to regret it). There’s also the never-mind-I-probably-don’t-need-it option, which is just plain depressing.

Now, when it comes to other foodstuffs, my go-to solution is to buy it and then bung it in the freezer, bringing it out when the time is right.

But when it comes to those icing-covered birthday cakes, nine times out of ten the box will say something like this: NOT SUITABLE FOR HOME FREEZING.

Darn.

So many times I’ve passed up the opportunity of super-discounted cake, simply because of those five little words. So last week, when I caught sight of a reduced Marks and Spencer Father’s Day chocolate cake (big enough for 10-12 people), my inital reaction was to sigh and put it back on the shelf. Not Suitable for Home Freezing, the box said.

Predictably, as usually happens, my Bargain Brain whirred into action. But the cake’s only two pounds, it argued. That’s less than 20p per slice! And it looks SO GOOD.

I probably would have stood there for quite some time, silently arguing with an inanimate cardboard box before I gave it up and walked away. This time, however, the Man came to my rescue. ‘That looks nice,’ he said. ‘Let’s buy it.’

So we did. Only instead of racing to eat it all within the next few days, I decided to try an experiment: after having a couple of slices with our dinner, I would chop up the rest and freeze it.

You heard me, Ogglers. I was going to break the rules.

What’s the worst that can happen? I wondered. After all, I’d put a lot of things in the freezer over the years (cakes, cookies, grapes) and every single one had emerged unscathed. No tummy bugs, no discolouration, nothing.

I thought perhaps the icing would crack as it thawed, or some chemical reaction would occur, making it taste slightly strange. But these were both risks I was willing to take. After all, if it worked, the payout would be ENORMOUS. No more would I have to turn down a great cakey bargain. Never again would I have to admit defeat.

That night, we had a piece each for our pudding (verdict: chocolatey but fairly average – probably would have been better with buttercream), and I popped the rest into airtight boxes.

Into the freezer they went, their destiny unknown…

Godspeed, my darlings

In the meantime I emailed Marks and Spencer, asking why they were so freezer-averse with such things (perhaps I also should’ve asked who actually buys a special cake for Father’s Day, but I suppose that’s by the by).

The reply – from a very nice lady called Emma – came back to me nice and promptly: ‘we don’t recommend products are frozen for either safety reasons or quality reasons. With cakes, it is likely that freezing and defrosting will noticeably affect the quality so we mark them as unsuitable for home freezing.’

All fair enough.

But a few days later, when I thawed out some pieces to take for a Sunday lunch offering… they were FINE.

Wary of how the icing would cope with the microwave, I’d left them to defrost on the kitchen counter for a few hours and as far as I could tell, they were exactly the same as when they had gone in. Colour, taste, texture and overall quality were unchanged – not one of my friends could tell they’d been frozen for days (or that they’d unwittingly taken part in my experiment. Sorry guys. I did nibble a bit beforehand though, just to make sure that you wouldn’t drop dead…).

Of course this news is extremely exciting – even now my stomach is gurgling with delight.

It does make me wonder though: how many cakes have been turned away, consigned to the bin bag of history, all because of those five extraneous words?

Naturally, I don’t want to make anyone sick with my discovery, so exercise caution if following suit: freeze on the day of purchase, use airtight boxes, make sure the cake’s defrosted thoroughly before you eat it, and don’t keep it in the freezer for too long (or else it will be blighted with ice crystals, most likely). Don’t leave the cake out for days before you munch it either – if you freeze it in pre-cut portions, you’ll be able to thaw them as and when you need them.

That’s enough of the boring details methinks – most of it’s common sense anyway. The fact is that now you too can rejoice in the knowledge that ten-person cakes can be yours!

It’s a fact worth celebrating, don’t you think?

Somebody fetch the candles. I’ll meet you by the freezer.

Riverford Revisited.

The more dedicated Ogglers among you might remember my trip to the Riverford Field Kitchen at the end of last year, when the Pud-Hog Blog was still in its infancy. Now that this blog has reached the grand old age of six [months], it’s probably time we went back.

This time, the reason for our visit wasn’t purely to stuff our faces, but to feast for the birthday of Ma Hog (Happy Bithday, Ma), who turned 25 yet again (ahem). Coincidentally, that’s also the age of the Riverford Farm, so plenty of reason to celebrate.

As you may recall from my earlier visit, the folks in the Field Kitchen put on quite a spread when it comes to pudding. And they don’t make it easy to choose.

Here’s what was on offer for Ma’s birthday last week:

Observe!

You’ll have to excuse the slightly blurry photo – I was shaking with anticipation at the time – but believe me when I tell you there are ten puddings on that counter. TEN. Now, in theory, at that point of the meal – after copious amounts of organic vegetables and substantial dishes of savoury food – one bowl of dessert ought to be more than enough to satiate even the heartiest appetite.

Not for this Hog though. For I, like many other sweet-toothed noshers (possibly yourself included), have a genuinely separate Pudding Stomach which seems to operate quite independently of the rest of my digestive system, demanding nourishment even after a full-blown main meal. It’s a blessing. And a curse.

Anyway, I digress. Let’s talk about that counter full of treats. If my memory serves me well (and hasn’t been entirely blighted by excess sugar), they were, from front to back:

– Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding

– Lemon and Poppyseed Cake (I think?!)

– Frangipane (possibly of the Rhubarb variety)

– Baked Chocolate Mousse

– Lemon Tart

– Custard Tart

– Stewed Rhubarb

– Lemon Cheesecake

– Apple, Honey and Fig Cake

– Blackcurrant Pavlova

All organic, all seasonal, all served with either double cream or custard (or both). So tell me. How ON EARTH is a Pud-Hog to choose just ONE?!

Mercifully, unlike last time, most of the Hog family (including my unofficial godmothers) were in attendance, so there was chance to spread out our orders. Sensing an opportunity, I tried to coordinate a plan of attack, enabling us to get as much variety on the table as possible. As you will see, however, not everyone played ball. In fact, there were two repetitions: two custard tarts and two lemon cheesecakes (tut tut).

Eight filled bowls. Better than one, not quite as good as ten.

Admittedly, there was still plenty to snuffle through. We all swapped and tasted, and I went around the table with a wielded spoon. The custard tart: beautifully soft and light, like the filling of a crème brûlée. The lemon cheesecake: as awesome and zingy as before. The baked chocolate mousse: dark and bubbly. The blackcurrant meringue: perfectly sharp and sweet. The apple, honey and fig cake: moist chunks of fruit, slathered in vanilla custard. And – my perennial favourite – the sticky toffee pudding: as rich, smooth and gooey as you like.

Alas, nobody ordered the frangipane or the lemon tart, both of which I was seriously keen to try. But a trip to the counter of the Please-Sir-I-Want-Some-More variety went down like a lead balloon. ‘We don’t do seconds,’ said the server. ‘If we give you anything else, then everyone will want some.’

Then for GOD’S SAKE, MAN, I thought. Give them some! I’m a Pud-Hog. I have NEEDS.

*Sigh*

It wouldn’t be so hard to swallow if it weren’t for my first trip to Riverford, about three years ago now. On that occasion, we gorged on mains, face-planted our desserts, and then – to our utter delight – were all invited back to the pudding counter for seconds.

Those were the days.

To be fair, I suppose it can’t be sustainable, filling your diners until they burst like Mr Creosote (my preferred – and most likely – ending, by the way). Besides, I did have a napkin full of Amazeballs to gnaw on.

And yet… and yet…

Aren’t two portions always better than one?

Caramel Corn.

As far as I’m concerned, a birthday isn’t over till you’ve had your last present. With that in mind, this year my birthday didn’t last one day but 6 whole weeks. Not bad, I’d say. Not bad at all.

Better still was the final present itself: a plastic bag full of sweet and edible goodies bought back from the streets of Hong Kong. My cousin had been there on a business trip, and managed to gather numerous crazy-coloured packets of unknown delights for my general pleasure and enjoyment. The bag of Mini Oreos was the only one I’d ever tried before. The rest would involve an adventure of sorts – but one that I was more than prepared to embark on.

Now, tempting as it is to preserve these treats in their lurid packets – display them on my bookshelves for a talking point, maybe, or frame them on the wall like foreign artefacts – the thought of tasting something new will always been a greater draw. So yesterday I shut my eyes, rummaged around, and took down the first thing that my fingers encountered: Caramel Corn, made not in HK but Japan.

Despite being my favourite in terms of packaging – with its plethora of cutesy, bright and deliriously happy characters – I can’t say the name inspired me. Nor did the morsels of corn themselves: they looked quite a lot like dried worms, or miniature cheesy Wotsits.

But the taste, dear Ogglers: what a surprise! Not dry at all, but light, crunchy, sweet and surprisingly juicy – saturated with caramel oils, no doubt (and other naughty ingredients that it’s probably best to know nothing about). The downside is there’s not much in a packet – and there’s quite a long way to travel to get some more…

A good enough reason to visit Japan?

Gosh darn it, folks! There’s never been a better one!

Vanilla Black.

Ladies and gentlemen, lend me your ears (or should that be eyes?) and prepare yourselves for a tale of such amazement, such extraordinary strangeness, such exciting puddings, that your tongues will hit the floor in shock.

I give you: Vanilla Black.

From the outside, this tidy restaurant, tucked away in a small street near Chancery Lane, looks as conventional and plain as the rest of them. Nothing special, you might think as you peer through the dark green door.

You would be wrong.

Like the wonderful Terre a Terre (about which I have raved perhaps a tad too often), Vanilla Black is a haven for the gourmet vegetarian diner. And like Terre a Terre, it’s certainly not cheap, but the kind of place you can book for a special occasion. Last night, the occasion was ostensibly my birthday (still!), and we met with the Man’s lovely parents, for an exciting three-course meal.

This being the domain of the Pud-Hog, however, the first two of those courses will not get a mention. So let’s go straight to dessert.

And what an ensemble of wonders it was! The four of us ummed and aahed over the options – intriguing prospects, every one of them – and eventually settled on the following:

  • For Man-Pa: Raw and Poached Pineapple and Passion Fruit Mayonnaise with Toasted Coconut Sorbet and Crumble
  • For Man-Ma: Iced Malt and Burnt Orange Marshmallow with Muscovado Sugar Meringue and Parsnip Puree
  • For the Man: Poached Apple and Cinnamon Gel with Yoghurt and Cheshire Cheese Ice Cream and Cinnamon Pastry
  • For the Hog: White Chocolate and Cep Tart with Cornflake Cake, Picpoul [French Wine] Sorbet and Crispy Tarragon

It seems almost a shame to follow that list with my own writing;  nothing I can say could be quite as thrilling, I’m sure. However, I’m guessing you want to know what everything tasted like. So continue I must…

Ahem.

The puddings. Were. AWESOME.

Generous portions, beautifully served, with plenty to tease every taste bud. The pineapple was thick and juicy, with a density that made me dribble. The yoghurt and Cheshire cheese ice cream cut through the sweetness of the apple gel perfectly, providing a much-needed tang that lifted the dish to ambrosial heights. My white chocolate and cep tart – Cep! That’s a mushroom, people! grew better and better with every mouthful, until by the end, I was forking up portions no bigger than match-heads, in order to prolong it all the more. So rich and earthy! That texture… mmm… thicker than the thickest of ganaches, clinging to its cornflake cake base like a lover, soulmates ’til the very end.

And let us not forget the marshmallow – oh, the marshmallow! – so good that it gets its own paragraph. Gelatin-free (at last!), as soft as a cloud, and anointed with puddles of sweet orange sauce. They make it with agar agar, the maitre d’ told us. I felt as if I’d found the Holy Grail. All these years in search of vegetarian marshmallows, and finally I’d found one. Better yet, I’ve been told that the chef will send me his recipe. The keys to the golden kingdom will be mine! I might even share it with you lot, if you’re lucky…

Whew!

I’ve just looked back at what I’ve written – it sounds a little excessive, I’ll admit. But justifiably so. In fact, it could be worse. Imagine how much more effusive this post would have been if I’d sampled the other two options as well: the Yorkshire Gouda and Crisp Black Sheep Ale Bread (with Salted Caramel Powder and Ale Soaked Raisins), or – better still – the Peanut Butter Cheesecake and Cracked Cocoa Beans (with Banana and Thyme Bread and Toffee Sauce).

Apparently, at this very moment, the chefs are also perfecting a liquid doughnut.

The mind boggles. And the mouth is watering still.

The Master Bakers Reunite.

Hooray for Beardy and Mrs C!  The three of us – long-time pals from the days of uni – met up at the weekend for a post-birthday reunion (or Fat-Fest, as it might as well be known). And what a reunion it was, folks. Beardy spoilt us rotten. There was homemade soup! There was wine (thanks C)! There were nachos and chilli and cheese! And best of all, there was a three-tiered platter of chocolate cupcakes – with bowls of frosting and spoons to lick! Hooray, I say! HOORAY!

I failed to count how many cupcakes had been baked and frosted in my honour, but as well as the ones that were stacked in their tiers, other batches covered every surface of the kitchen. Truly, I am not worthy. 

Lovely moist sponges they were, with deep chocolate buttercream and candied butterfly sprinkles. Scrumptious to the max. As usual, the only downside was that I couldn’t put them all inside my belly. Not because of any sense of decorum or politeness (as a matter of fact, in our little group, unrestrained gorging is compulsory) – but because, logistically, what with all the tasty nachos and soup and cheese, they just wouldn’t fit.

How sad. You’d think that I might have stretched my stomach wide enough by now (it’s not like I haven’t been practising). Mind you, I can’t complain: I was given a tin full to take away, so I can always try to beat my highest score at home…

In addition to this cupcake congregation, I also brought a little fridge cake to be tried: an experimental jobbie, with a milk chocolate base and a thin meringue topping (yet another attempt to make the most of my Christmas meringue hoard). It went down well enough, but next time I think I’ll exchange the milk chocolate for white – and add a few puddles of lemon curd too while I’m at it. A lemon meringue pie fridge cake? Cor, blimey…yes, please.

As for Beardy and Mrs C, our next reunion’s already on the cards – and who knows what splendiferous treats it’ll bring? Mrs C’s gooey carrot cake, perhaps – zinging with layers of thick cream cheese? Or perhaps the infamous Death Crunch (a fatally good mix of dense chocolate crunch bars and cheesecake – invented by Beardy herself)?

All I know is whatever the pudding will be, I’ll want to get it down me with a shovel. So please excuse me while I go and get some practice. This stomach of mine has to double in size by March…

Birthday Cake(s).

As lovely as my birthday was, I couldn’t help feeling it wasn’t quite right: I had my ginger parkin (and very tasty it was too), but there wasn’t even a whiffter of good old-fashioned birthday cake.  In many ways I’m a traditionalist, so if you ask me, a birthday’s not really a birthday without some slightly wobbly singing and the blowing-out of candles on a tasty home-made sponge.

Thank goodness, then, for Saturday.

Along with a couple of my bestest buds, the Man and I headed to Brixton Village – an up-and-coming Mecca for those who love their nosh. Despite its rural name, the ‘Village’ is actually an industrial-sized building tucked behind Brixton station, stuffed with intriguing little huts, at which you can sample all types of cuisine – from Japanese street food to bangers and mash. The prices aren’t always that cheap, but the variety’s pretty thrilling (with choices apparently changing on a fairly regular basis).

All eyes, however, were on the cake. So, after dutifully eating some Japanese omelettes, we made a beeline for the nearest stall.

Wonderful things, are cake stalls – this one was no exception. Most of the sponges were three tiers high, and the flavours all sounded incredibly tempting. Mango cake, banana cake, shortbread filled with chocolate drops, red velvet cake, carrot cake, cookies, chocolate brownie cheesecake, fruit muffins… We stared at the range for quite some time, and ended up choosing three things between four of us. An excellent way to maximise sampling potential.

And so it was that after having no birthday cake whatsoever, I suddenly found myself with three: a whopper slice of red velvet (with a tangy cream cheese frosting), an equally huge slice of banana cake (this time with a chocolate brownie frosting), and a creamy wedge of chocolate brownie cheesecake. As we perched on our bench in the cold, out came the candles and the plastic forks. Good times! Now, that’s the way to do it.

Somehow, despite having one more person than we did slices, the four of us were overstuffed by the time the last crumb vanished. And the winner? Well, somewhat surprisingly – given the presence of the world’s biggest red velvet and cheesecake fans – our love unanimously fell on the banana cake. Moist, solid, substantial – it could do no wrong. And as for the chocolate brownie frosting? A delicious twist on the norm.

Thank heavens for good cake – and even better friends. If only it had hands, my stomach would salute you all.