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Birthday week

Forty four.

FORTY FOUR!

So in honour of this momentous number, I decided that I should have a birthday week (what? it’s a thing) of fun, celebrations, yummy food and seeing the people I love.  7 happy days to celebrate.  Here are some of the things that have happened so far.  My Disreputable Dad’s first ever selfie – at 78! (above)…

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The triple layer Curly Wurly chocolate mousse cake and Sam’s 18th

WHAT. A. DAY.

We started early, constructing an epic chocolate layer cake. It was loosely based on Charlie’s birthday cake, but we dispensed with the top layer and added a layer of whipped cream and a thick layer of crumbled Flakes. Oh, and of course those Curly Wurlys – painstakingly cut to size and applied by the birthday boy himself.

Painstaking Curly Wurly application

Here’s how to make it:

Triple Layer Curly Wurly Chocolate Mousse Cake

For the flourless chocolate cake

Line an 8” high sided loose-bottomed tin with greaseproof paper, and give it a squirt of cake-release spray for good measure if you want.  Remember you’re going to add the layers so line the sides quite high. Preheat the oven to 160/gas 3.

125g dark chocolate

60g butter

3 large free range eggs, separated

125g soft brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl over some hot water. As soon as the water starts to bubble, turn it off and let the butter and chocolate melt gently together.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until they’re really firm.

When the butter and chocolate are melted, stir in the brown sugar, the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, then gently fold in the whisked egg whites.

Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for about half an hour or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool.  It will sink as it cools.

For the chocolate mousse

You only need a thin (ish) layer of mousse. I made my first layer far too thick, so I’ve halved the quantities here.

250ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

3 eggs, separated

So just pop the double cream in a saucepan and break in the chocolate.  Put it on a low heat and as soon as the cream is warm enough to melt the chocolate, turn the heat off, continuing to stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Leave to cool a little while you whisk the egg whites. Do check that the cream/chocolate mixture is cool enough (it needs to be lukewarm otherwise it will scramble the eggs) before mixing in the egg yolk.

Then just fold in the whites, again take your time and wait until everything is a uniform colour. Pour the mousse on top of the chocolate cake layer and put in the fridge to set.

To decorate with Curly Wurlys (or any chocolate bar, frankly)

You’ll need to make up a bit of ganache ‘glue’.  I just melted about 100g of dark chocolate in a saucepan over some simmering water, then added a splosh of cream and stirred until it was thick.  Spread with a pallet knife around the edge of the cake, cut the Curly Wurlys to fit, then press them on, making sure the cut ends are at the bottom. You might need to use a half piece just to close up the last gap.  Back in the fridge again to set.

Just before serving, whip some double cream and pipe, or spoon, over the mousse.  Cover with a layer of crumbled up Flakes.

So with the cake ready and lots of booze in the fridge, it was off to Rogue Racing in Aylesbury with ten of Sam’s friends for an epic karting session.  It really is immensely good fun – noisy, hot and frantic – we had an AMAZING time and I can highly recommend it.  You end up getting so into it – my voice was hoarse from all the shouting and there were some surprise aggressive drivers (I’m looking at you Mickey and Amy!).  Here’s the birthday boy:

The birthday boy on the track

and here’s the gang after the karting:

The gang at Rogue Racing

Back to English Towers, then, we ordered six massive XXL pizzas and were joined by family and friends for an epic party.  The hubby made a surprise appearance (he was supposed to miss the party due to a late duty time), making us all cry, my big bro brought some amazing wine and some fabulous champagne too, the Disreputable One popped in for a drink, and we laughed, danced, drank and giggled (mostly me, that bit) until 2am, eventually leaving teenagers sleeping all over the place and heading to bed.

What a fabulous day.  And what lovely friends the boy has. This is my favourite pic of the boy, beaming, mouth full of pizza, surrounded by all his mates, and photobombed by his mate Marshy.  Happy birthday Sam xx

Photobomb

 

 

The birthday with NO CAKE!

Aw I had such a fab day yesterday.  Despite their Dad’s absence the brevren rallied well – no cards (‘what, you have to buy presents AND cards?’) but they did get me a voucher for a lovely Clarins facial – will look forward to that.  Mahoosive brownie points go to Mr English for the gift of THIS little beauty:

My birthday pressie

My birthday pressie

Isn’t it beautiful?  After pressies it was off to The Akeman in Tring, Hertfordshire which is really lovely: all squishy leather, dark wood and roaring fires.  The kitchen area is open so you can see the chefs at work, and the staff were so friendly.  I had lunch with my gorgeous friend Glam C .  We had Prosecco to celebrate, plus a delicious Mediterranean salad with Halloumi, roasted vegetables, couscous and chickpeas.  Nomnomnom.  The grin on my face says it all, I feel (and look, there’s The Claw – well, I couldn’t leave it at home on my birthday now, could I?):

Birthday Prosecco

Birthday Prosecco

The reason for the salad (I know, right? Not like me at all) was our evening trip to a local pizza place.  We were accompanied by The Prof’s new girlfriend, who I’m proud to say is utterly lovely – very sweet and enormously good fun – we cackled like loons and, after we’d dropped her off, The Dude was heard to utter ‘wow, there is NOTHING wrong with her’.  High praise indeed.  However, it was only as we were getting out of the car that I realised I’d forgotten the cake.  Ah well.  We’ll scoff it today: think of it as unbirthday cake.

Thank you for all your birthday wishes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  What a perfect day.

Berry meringue pie for Grandma’s birthday (alternatively titled: when Freddy Mercury came for dinner’)

Yesterday was MENTAL.  The mentalness started early when we woke up to find that our poor Mad Professor, Sam had had an allergic reaction overnight to the plaster on his face and now had a chin full of blisters.  This caused so much hilarity ‘stop making me laugh, you bastards… OMG my chin looks like lasagne‘ that we were all late for school.

The madness continued into the evening when we realised that we’d better tidy up in readiness for our celebration for English Grandma’s birthday.  Stinky socks were thrown into bedrooms, balloons were hastily inflated (‘not two pink ones, they look like… erm… well, y’know…‘) and bags containing humming sports kits were hurled into the garage.  We spritzed a bit of air freshener around. It was fine, honest.

My brother, IJ, is my wine guru (he is generally cursed for our regular and massive Majestic Wine bills) and brought along a delectable bottle of Aussie Shiraz: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill 2010 (highly recommended). We then ordered the biggest Chinese takeaway known to man (the woman at the takeaway nearly passed out as she took the order).  My nephew and niece, the gorgeous Jackson (who was a bit late after taking part in a Queen tribute band at his school music evening) and impossibly glamorous Turtle joined the hilarity and soon we were wrestling (well, THEY were wrestling), laughing, cracking backs (the Death Wish Dude is good at this, but it made me feel a bit faint) and generally jabbering away.

Turtle and the DWD did an impressive job of lighting about a thousand candles (luckily, Grandma wasn’t offended) and in the process managed to burn a bit of meringue and quite a lot of each other, but no matter, soon we were gathered round the table, squeezed in on random garden chairs, Sam with his lasagne chin and Freddie Mercury with his sharpie moustache, singing happy birthday.

It took a while to blow all those candles out, mind you..

Berry Meringue Pie

For the sweet shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg

2 or 3 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly, adding a tablespoonful or two of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for about 20 mins.

When it’s rested, flour the work surface, and your rolling pin, and roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then, take the baking beans out and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, just to crisp up the base.

For the berry curd:

Couple of handfuls of berries (fresh or frozen)

100g butter

150g caster sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 yolk (save for the meringue)

For this curd recipe, you need roughly 6 tablespoons of concentrated, sharp juice.  I had a small bag of mixed berries left over from fruit picking during the summer, but you can use lemon juice, lime juice, whatever…  For the pie to work well, the juice needs to be acidic, so if you’re using fresh, sweet fruit, add a little lemon juice. Just keep the quantities the same.

It’s easiest to extract the juice by heating the berries up in a pan.  Once they’re going squishy, let them sit in a sieve over a bowl so you can catch the juice.

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest (if using citrus fruits) and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  As usual, make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’ – I’m SO going to record myself doing this so you can play it as you whisk.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

For the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty.  Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it (we frosted some berries in granulated sugar) and add candles.

 

Birthday cake small

The ultimate chocolate cake with coconut ganache frosting for the Death Wish Dude’s birthday,

It’s been an odd weekend.  First of all we watched ourselves on the telly (it’s a very weird experience, I can tell you).  We took part in a Channel 5 programme being made about Disneyland Paris’ 20th birthday celebrations when were out there a couple of weeks ago – it aired yesterday.  I actually managed to take a picture of the Death Wish Dude being interviewed – here he is in all his widescreen glory!  Anyhoo, after all that excitement, it was straight on to the birthday cake challenge.  As you might already know, it is the tradition at English Towers for the birthday boy to pick his very own choice of birthday cake.  Usually they choose something hideously difficult to make (just to annoy me), but this time, the Birthday Death Wish Dude wanted nothing more than a big fat chocolate cake.

Easy peasy.  The only difference is that I had a little experiment and tried making the ganache with coconut milk instead of double cream. It came out deliciously light and whipped beautifully.  Highly recommended.

To make the Death Wish Dude’s Ultimate Coconut Ganache Chocolate Layer Cake, you’ll need:

175g butter (I use salted)

175g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

150g self raising flour

20g good quality cocoa powder

100g good quality dark chocolate

For the ganache:

400g tin coconut milk (I used the full fat stuff)

500g (yes, yes, I know… ) good quality dark chocolate

1 packet Maltesers

So firstly, melt the chocolate (you can do it all at the same time or in the two batches.  It’s quite easy to pour the melted chocolate into the mixer bowl when it’s sat on the scale) in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Don’t let the water touch the bowl (yeah you know the drill).

Beat the butter in the food processor until light, then add the sugar and whizz again until pale and fluffy.  Add in the eggs (I beat them, then add them a dribble at a time – helps with the odd bits of dropped shell too), then stir in the sifted flour and cocoa.  Finally, stir in the 100g melted chocolate.

Bake in two medium lined tins for about 20 minutes until just springy in the centre.  Allow to cool.

For the ganache:

Warm the coconut milk in a saucepan – don’t allow it to boil, it only needs to be warm enough to melt the chocolate.  Then just turn off the heat, plop all the chocolate in and stir occasionally until it’s all melted.


Transfer to a bowl and chill down completely in the fridge.

To assemble:

Carefully slice each cake into two.  Pick a nice flat one as your top layer and remember which one it is!

Take the ganache out of the fridge and whip until light and fluffy (or you can just spread it).

Layer the cake slices with a thick spreading of ganache then finish with a nice layer of ganache all over the cake.  If the thought of 500g of chocolate gives you a heart attack, you can halve the quantities and just layer the two cakes together.

Finish with Maltesers (beer can candles optional).

And here he is with his birthday cake of choice.  Happy birthday, Charlie! xx

 

Happy birthday, Mum! Pistachio cupcakes with lime and white chocolate ganache.

So it’s English Grandma’s birthday, and I really wanted to take some time and make her some absolutely beautiful cupcakes. I love pistachio (and, more importantly, I know she does too!), plus it has the added bonus of making the sponge a delicate green colour. This pistachio recipe is adapted from Xanthe Milton’s amazing Eat Me recipe book.

For the white chocolate and lime ganache, I’ve done it a little differently.  Usually I would just melt the chocolate, then whisk the cream in until I get the texture I need, but I wanted the lime zest to infuse into the cream, so I heated the cream, then stirred in the white chocolate. You’ll need to chill it down, then whip it to get a lovely texture for piping.

For the cupcakes:

140g butter
250g golden caster sugar
120ml Greek yoghurt
170g self raising flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
50g pistachios, ground or whizzed (plus a few extra for decoration)

So preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4 and pop some cupcake papers in a 12 hole muffin tin.

Beat the butter and sugar in the food processor or with an electric hand whisk.

In a different bowl, beat the eggs then beat in the yoghurt.

Set the beater going again and beat the yoghurt mixture into the butter mixture.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture, then add the pistachios and stir it all until just combined.

Plop a tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake paper, then bake for about 15-20 minutes.  As with all cupcakes, take them out when they’re only just done, as they’ll continue to cook a little bit when you take them out of the oven.  As soon as the sponge springs up again when you press it, whip them out.

Allow the cupcakes to cool, then pipe on the white chocolate and lime ganache:

200g white chocolate

100ml double cream

Zest of 1 unwaxed lime

So as above, just warm the cream in a saucepan with the lime zest.  Pop in the white chocolate then allow to cool.  Chill very well in the fridge, then when properly chilled, whisk until light and fluffy and pipe or spread onto the cooled cupcakes.

Happy birthday, Mum!

In which the Mad Professor turns 16

I am the mother of a 16 year old.  There, I said it.  I know, I feel really old.

Of course with 16 year olds, you get the hormones… the moodiness… the constant demands for money… the vast tranches of time when they’re lolling about making the place look untidy, or just unconscious…

UK April 11 001

But you also get moments like this:

He’s not complained too much about being away from COD Black Ops for a whole two weeks…  it helped that he spent the whole of Sunday getting sweaty at paintball with his mate Steve – they came back filthy, bruised and knackered.  But still smiling.

He’s hugely different from his brother, but their differences make them who they are, and we love them both.  We’re so proud.  Happy birthday, Sam xx

Bluebell woods, 25th April 2011

The birthday Death Wish Dude goes to London

So it’s the Death Wish Child’s birthday.  Actually, I might now have to change his name, seeing as he is now officially a teenager.

Yes, I am the mother of two teenagers.  Kill me now.

The dude’s most fervent birthday wish was for a pair of hideously expensive Remz OS4 skates.  Now, for 99 percent of you, these words will mean very little, but for most of the teenagey skatery-type chaps reading this, there’ll be all sorts of drooling and hyperventilating at the very thought.  Here they are in all their glory:

After some pretty terrible lying (mostly by his father), we managed to dupe him into thinking that there was ‘a man’ at the skate park who sold skates, and that we would purchase them on his birthday trip.  Happily, he’s a gullible sod and was completely surprised when we whipped out the aforementioned skates with a flourish on his birthday.  Remz.  Oh yes.  With blue trim.  Exactly what he wanted.

The dude has been feverishly googling Bay Sixty6 in London for several weeks now.  It’s a massive skate park under the Westway flyover and we promised him and his buddy Olly a birthday trip while we were over here visiting the folks.  Today was the day, and we set off – the new skates nestled securely on the DWC’s lap.

When we got there, he put on his news skates, headed to the highest ramp, and promptly fell over.  English Dad and I decided that we couldn’t watch and headed to Portobello Road market instead (more of this later).  Happily, when we checked back, he was still alive and had all his limbs roughly in the right place, which is a bloody miracle, given he did stuff like this:

Yup.  And you wondered why I couldn’t watch.

He also did a bit of this:

…and quite a bit of this:

Happily 4pm came with no broken bones, dislocated joints, smashed teeth or any of the other things I’d been trying not to think about, and we whisked him home, wondering how we could get out of EVER taking him there again.

Bah, who am I kidding?  He’ll be pestering me about every ten seconds from now on…

Happy birthday, Chipper.  Welcome to teenagerhood.  xx

Lime meringue pie: In which the DWC makes me a birthday surprise

As you know, it’s one of our slightly less mental traditions at English Towers that the birthday person gets to choose whatever they like for their birthday cake.  Usually, da brevren compete with each other to find the most complicated (The Mad Professor), chocolate-filled (the Death Wish Child), or retro (English Dad) recipes they can possibly find.  And then, of course, when it’s my birthday, I just make whatever I fancy.

This year turned out to be a bit different.  ‘I’m going to make your birthday cake’, said the Death Wish Child, confidently.  ‘What would you like?’.

‘Well’, said I, ‘what I would really really like is lemon meringue pie.  No, lime meringue pie, but don’t worry, I’ll help’.

‘Nope’, said the small confident one, while imaginary fireworks and laser beams went off behind him.  ‘*I* shall make the pie’.  So sit back and enjoy, while my wonderful offspring takes you through his birthday pie:

First you need a pastry bottom (although I suspect that I might already have one):

For the pastry, you’ll need:

200g cold butter

400g plain flour

Pinch salt

1tbsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

4 or 5 tbsp cold water

Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.  It’s easiest to do this in the food processor (the pastry, not the preheating. That would be silly. And anyway, you’d never fit the oven in there), but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as us.

Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar.  Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Now plop in the egg yolk and pulse slowly, adding tablespoonfuls of water until it just comes together.

Flour the work surface (and your trousers, and your mother, and the floor) and squish the mixture together into a ball.  Roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin  (about 24cm should do it).  When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice.  Push it in to the edges and trim the top.

Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.

Then take it out of the oven, remove the baking beans and put it back in to cook the bottom (ooer) for about another 5 minutes, then take it out and leave to cool.  Turn the oven down to gas 2/150 degrees.

Meanwhile, make the lime curd.  We use bottled lime juice in this house, but if you want to juice several limes, be my guest:

100g butter

6 tbsp lime juice (or for lemon curd, 2 lemons, zested then juiced)

150g caster sugar

2 eggs plus 1 extra yolk (keep the white for the meringue)

Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined.  Now, take your warm, limey, butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.  Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens.  Make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’.

Turn off the heat and leave to cool.  Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.  When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

Finally, for the meringue:

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy.  Pile it all on top of the lemon curd and fluff it up a bit (or you can pipe it like my man here):

Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue.   If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it and add candles.

Then sit down with some pink champagne and blow your candles out, wishing with all your heart that you get to spend every birthday just like this, with the people that you love.

Thanks, Charlie xxxx

A vey vey big fashion faux-pas dahling

I’m a bit poo at fashion. I like it, but it doesn’t like me. Nor, it seems does it like my budget. My good blogging friend and fashion guru, the beautiful ThatGirl39 over at fabby fashion blog 40NotOut is like my own personal little fashion devil – dressed in frothy red tulle and with a sparkly, sequined pointy tail – perched upon my shoulder.  She keeps tempting me with gorgeous pictures of lovely things that I can’t possibly afford, or that would look completely ridiculous on me.  ‘Look at these fabulous jeans…’ she whispers provocatively in my ear, ‘you need them, AND these shoes that go perfectly with them…!’ and ‘this nail varnish – you need it!’…

Yesterday, for example, my lovely pals, the fabulous Tums and Foxy and I, planned to go out and have cocktails and dinner with our long-suffering husbands to celebrate my impending 40-ness.  But what to wear.  Well, I was determined to go girly, and with spring in the air and words like ‘brights‘ and ‘sheers‘ being bandied about amongst ‘those wot know”, I rashly purchased this:

And yes, it’s quite pretty.  In fact, it’s lovely.  It’s fabulously light and chiffonny.  Good times.

Trouble is, I didn’t bother to try it on.  And when I did, I looked sadly like several enormous, uncooked chipolatas stuffed into a very pale (and see-through) Bedouin tent.  Bad times.

I rushed to Twitter (as one does) and asked said sparkly-tailed devil for some advice.  St Tropez was the answer, or at least some kind of glowy/sparkly lotion or potion.  And a little cropped black cardi.  I tried it.  I looked as thought the chipolatas had had a light grilling and popped on a beanie hat, but the overall see-through tent/sausage theme was still present.

Oh, and a word of advice?  Don’t apply St Tropez to your lower extremities whilst 1.) In a hot, sweaty rush and 2.) When you are just about to go out.  I have two words: orange feet.

Sod it.  I wore something else.  We still had a fabulous time – laughed a lot, drank a lot (I can highly recommend Raspberry Collins cocktails), ate a ridiculous amount and walked home in a large, giggly and somewhat unsteady pack more suited to teenagers than parents who should know better.

And that dress? Oh I’ll probably keep it for my holiday. Did I mention my 40th birthday present is a holiday to Morrocco?  No?  Must have slipped my mind…

The Friday photo: #2’s ridiculously chocolatey double chocolate meringue cheesecake

Nom nom nom

So you know the rules by now.  The birthday person is entitled to request, nay, demand, the birthday cake/dessert/artery clogging confection of his/her choice and nobody’s allowed to complain; especially not me, and I have to make the bloody thing.

The Death Wish Child, my smallest, most accident-prone offspring, when not frequenting his local accident and emergency department or engaging in some form of muddy violence thinly veiled as a contact sport, is a bit of a chocolate lover.  The child has miraculously survived to celebrate his 11th birthday.  I know.  It’s a miracle.  And his birthday request was for… and I quote… “a cheesecake.  Ooh, no, a chocolate cheesecake.  Ooh, no… a double chocolate cheesecake.  Yes.  With a meringue topping.  Erm, and sparklers”. 

So there you have it.  I’ll give you the recipe, not so much because I expect you to actually make one yourselves, more so you can marvel at the placement of so many calories in so small a cake tin.  Be afraid:

300g dark chocolate digestive biscuits

100g butter, melted

175g dark chocolate

500g cream cheese

100g icing sugar, sieved

200ml double cream

Soooo, whizz the biscuits in a food processor, or put them in a strong freezer bag and bash hell out of them with a rolling pin (this step is particularly therapeutic if you have an ex-husband, or so I’m told).  Then pour over the melted butter and mix well.  Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform cake tin lined well with plenty of clingfilm (make sure it overhangs the sides) and put it in the fridge to set.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (remember not to let the bowl touch the water) and put aside.  In a fresh bowl, beat the cream cheese, then add the icing sugar and beat well together:

 Whip until the meringue isn't gritty anymore

Set that aside and in another bowl (yeh sorry, not very washing-up friendly this one), whisk the double cream until it’s lovely and fluffy, then set that one aside too:

Whip the cream...

Now check the chocky to make sure it’s blood temperature, and start to add the cream cheese mixture one spoon at a time, stirring well until it’s all combined:

After the first couple of spoonfuls you can mix the whole lot in

Now fold in the whipped cream:

 Fold in the cream

…and let the dog lick the bowl (awww, g’wan…):

Aw go on, it's going in the dishwasher anyway...

Now pile the whole lot onto the cooled biscuit base and level it off with a knife and return to the fridge to set.  Now, if you’re sane, you’ll walk away right this minute and serve your delicious dessert with a flourish and maybe some fresh raspberries:

 Sensible people walk away now...

If you’re mental, though, and prepared to do anything for your child just because it’s his birthday, crack on with the meringue.  First, preheat the grill to very hot, then take 2 egg whites, plop them into a clean bowl and whisk until really fluffy and stiff.  Now gradually add 115g caster sugar:

Mix in the sugar one spoonful at a time

Whisk until the meringue is glossy and thick, and a generous stolen fingerful doesn’t contain any hint of gritty sugar.  Take the cheesecake out of the fridge and carefully remove all the clingfilm.  Now pile all the meringue over the top of your cheesecake, smoothing it over to the edges but leaving some little peaks, and chuck it quickly underneath your very hot grill just to singe the very tops of the mountains, as it were.

Serve, with sparklers, to an overexcited child, happily hiding your exhaustion, whilst secretly dreading what concoction the Mad Professor’s going to be demanding for his birthday in less than 10 days’ time.  Phew.

Ooh, sparkly!

Hubby’s Deeply Darkly Chocolatey Fudgy Cake with wobbly icing

So I’m not arty at all.  In the lottery that is our family’s gene pool, I struck it big with The Disreputable One’s ability to fire off a really angry letter, me Ma’s filthy laugh and my Grandma Maudie’s penchant for a nice glass of Bailey’s, but sadly didn’t inherit any artistic ability at all.  Still, one can dream, and I was rather pleased when my eagerly awaited cake decorating kit arrived from Ebay.

As you know, it was Hubby’s birthday this weekend.  On Sunday, we had a big, heowge massive roast beef dinner with Yorkshire puddings and, as usual here at English Towers, The Birthday Person got to choose his birthday cake.  He wanted something really darkly chocolatey and fudgey.  And I may not be the Ace of Cakes, but I can certainly knock up a mean chocky cake.  Read it and put on weight:

150g dark chocolate

170g butter

170g soft dark brown sugar

3 eggs

145g self raising flour

25g cocoa powder

To decorate:

Pot of double cream

100g dark chocolate

So preheat your oven to 180 degrees/gas 4, and grease and line a couple of cake tins.  Melt the 150g chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time (remember if it curdles just bung in a spoonful of the flour).  Next, sieve the flour and cocoa and stir gently into the mix, then add the cooled, melted chocolate.  Divide the mix between the two tins and bake for around 15-20 minutes until they’re just firm – watch them carefully, you want soft, moist cake, not a couple of Frisbees.

Now comes the fun bit.  I whipped half the cream and filled the cake with it, then stirred the other half into some melted chocolate to make a ganache to pour over the top, but hell, it’s your cake – fill your boots.  Finally, I mixed the last spoonful of melted chocolate into a teeny bit of whipped cream and piped a completely wobbly ‘44’ on it that looked as though it had been done by a four year old.  It just goes to show how bloody nice I am that I’m opening myself up for total humiliation by actually showing you a picture.  Ah well.  Hubby liked it and if you’re even vaguely less cack-handed than I am it’s worth a go as it’s really good fun.

Give me time, and a bit of practice, and I’ll be icing cupcakes like a pro.  No, really.

 

By the way, if this picture ends up on Cake Wrecks I shall personally hunt the perpetrator down and pull out their eyelashes one by one with my kitchen tongs.  Be afraid.

Oh how I hate surprises

 

So it was the Disreputable One’s birthday on Sunday.  And seeing as his other half is in the process of dragging him kicking and screaming into the 21st century, she suggested that he might like a digital camera.  So I set about contacting my siblings.

Me (via text): Alright siblings!  Any chance of us clubbing together and buying Dad a digital cam 4 his birthday THIS SUNDAY?

Mad Uncle A (via text): Alright saves me a job. U get it send it & I’ll send u the cash. Don’t spend too much I’m not f*ckin Bill Gates.

Sensible Uncle I (via text): Fine.

Well, he’s a man of few words.  So, great, I thought, might have known as the token female I’d get lumbered with the shopping, so off I go, spending a happy afternoon researching cameras on the internerd… and finally I come up with an absolute corker.  Hubby is a Fuji man (he’s got one of those great big black yokes like the paparazzi are always sticking up Britney’s skirt), and my little red Fuji Q1 is fantastic, so I settled on a really flash new black Fuji Finepix one at 7dayshop.com – less than 2cm thick (ooer!), equipped with a 2.5″ LCD screen, 7 million pixel CCD sensor (no, I don’t know what that is either), a 3x optical zoom, image stabilising system, face detection and an infrared transmission system (not that I expect he’ll be transferring his photos wirelessly but hey, it’s there if he needs it) and an extremely fast shutter speed to ensure his photos come out clear and bright even with a little alzheimers-induced hand wobble (just joking Dad).  Anyhoo, I couldn’t get my order to work on 7dayshop, it kept asking me to login again, but Pixmania.co.uk had it too so I sent off my order and sat back all smug.  How easy was that?

So you know this is going to go all pear-shaped, don’t you.  Two days later, I got an email saying it was out of stock and would be delivered as soon as possible.  Poo!  I fired off a quick email: ‘No! It has to be delivered by Sunday.  It’s my Dad’s birthday!  Can’t you find something similar that you DO have in stock?’.  Another day goes past and, finally, I get an email back: ‘the black’s out of stock, but we do have Wasabi Green (oh dear), Sunburst Orange (oh dear again) and Cherry Red in stock.  Quick text to Dad’s other half and we settle on the red, which I order with another ‘please, please hurry up and deliver by Saturday’ message.

Long story short – Dad’s birthday came and went with no camera in sight – in either black or cherry red.  Sensible Uncle I sent him a card saying ‘hope you enjoy the camera’ (oops, that buggered that surprise then), but still nothing.  Then this morning, I check my email to find, completely out of nowhere – a completely new  ‘thank you for your order’ email from Pixmania, saying that my black camera will be delivered in 3 to 5 working days.  Give me strength.  Next time he can have his usual port and stilton and bloody lump it.

The Friday Photo: Happy Birthday Bertilicious!

So today’s FP is dedicated to that most wondrously lazy and patchily hirsute of individuals, the Bertmeister, aka Burpy, the Biffer, Biff Sniff, Sir Biffington Sniffington, Bishous, Mumma’s bubby (sorry), the fella, the geezer, yer wan, that f*cking dog!!!, and any number of other stupid nicknames depending on how loved up we’re all feeling and whether he’s nicked one of your trainers and you really, really need to go out in a hurry.

‘Tis a glorious thing for a greyhound to be retired to a comfy sofa rather than being, er, retired in a completely different, somewhat euphemistic way.  I’m a realist, and let’s face it, people aren’t exactly queuing up to adopt a retired greyhound, and there’s a serious glut, which is a shame as they’re rather good company.  And for a greyhound quite as utterly, totally, completely, thoroughly, uselessly rubbish at racing as Bert was to have lived to have seen his fourth birthday is practically a miracle.  Thanks, Jen.

Once, when we were at the races, I remember #1 asking someone how long greyhounds live.  ‘Hmmm’, came the answer, ‘depends how good they are’.

So here’s wishing the gangling, clumsy great duffer a happy fourth birthday.  He might be shite at racing, but he always seems to get to the sofa first.  Bless.