"Cake!" I whispered to myself.
I watched my colleague come towards me, but there were no candles, just a card. A lovely card, with funny little notes from all the people with which I work. My eyes drifted around around for a moment, but saw nothing else.
"Sorry the others couldn't be here today, here's your card," my colleague smiled. "But no cake, because, well, you make the cake around here!" The lights came back on.
Damn. I knew it was my own fault. I mean, in previous years I have brought in my own cake on my birthday. This year, I just didn't plan ahead and just kind of forgot. I was ready for Sainsbury's finest.
And she was right. I do make the cake. So when my husband asked me what kind of cake I'd like for my actual birthday, I told him not to worry, I was going to make it.
And blog it.
Sad, I know.
I don't have steps the whole way along, because my youngest is in his exploring mode. He likes sharp knives, wires that go around his neck, and easily breakable glassware, not to mention regularly emptying cupboards onto the floor. So here you will see tightly cropped shots on the whole, and where they are not you get glimpses into the chaos that is my household right now.
"Oh, treasure these moments, they pass so quickly" I hear the older readers say...as they quietly read without interruptions in their regularly hoovered homes.
The recipe is one I tried once before and loved. Afraisier is apparently the traditional birthday cake in France, and is a bit of an effort. You can think of it as a posh trifle - layers of syrup soaked sponge cake with custard and fruit topped with marzipan and chocolate decorations.
"But there's no jelly!" my son wishes to add.
True, no jelly...though you might get some places adding a posh French strawberry gelee I think. Just not me.
If you watched the Great British Bake Off the season before last, you may recognise this cake as one of the technical challenges.
So first I beat whole eggs, sugar, lemon zest in a bowl over some simmering water.
They got lighter and bigger.
And bigger and lighter.
And so on.
Until they looked like so. I think I had the water on a bit too high a temp, but oh well.
In went some self raising flour. In the USA salt is included in a bag of self raising flour but that is not the case here in the UK. Just plain flour and raising agents.
I folded it in like so.
Then in went some melted butter. The smell of melted butter always makes me think of popcorn. This cake does not taste like popcorn.
Once that was folded in I put it into my new springform tin, purchased at our local Bethany charity shop. It is slightly narrower than the one I used last time I tried this recipe. There were a few specks of flour not totally folded in, but there was also a toddler screaming and banging his head against a cabinet door handle, so I decided he was my priority at that moment.
When the cake came out of the oven, it looked like this.
After it had cooled, I took a bread knife and slowly cut around the sides until I had two halves, then used a big spatula to separate the halves.
Here is the hacked middle.
Then I took my trusty new springform and lined the sides with clingfilm. If I were a French pattiserie worker, I would have used acetate, but I am not, so clingfilm it was.
In went the first half of the sponge, with some lemon syrup on top. Just sugar and lemon juice boiled up together, nothing too complicated.
Then strawberry halves around the sides. I got these at the farmers market over the weekend in anticipation of this cake. Scottish berries are amazing - soft and sweet. No need for sugar really, I happily eat these on their own, but they look so pretty in this cake.
Then, rather than dealing with a piping bag, I filled a freezer bag with the creme patissiere I had made the day before. There was lots of swearing going on, and lots of shouting at my kids to keep their younger brother happy. "JUST PLAY WITH HIM!" I said. So they clapped their hands and shouted his name. "USE TOYS!" I suggested. They showed him their Lego. "TOYS HE ACTUALLY PLAYS WITH! LIKE HIS BALL, OR THE XYLOPHONE!"
They got there in the end.
So yeah, I kind of wish I had just got out my piping bag from on top of the shelves. It would have been prettier than this. Thankfully, it would all get hidden later. Until then, here we have an image of a pig's intestines.
Whenever something is ugly, just throw fruit on top. I think strawberries look prettiest on the sides, but I prefer raspberries inside.
Then more creme patissiere (or stiff custard if you will) on top, smoothed with a palette knife. At this point I kind of wished I had used the larger tin.
On top went another layer of the sponge, pressed down firmly, and the last of the syrup. The syrup's lemon juice helped me to get my five a day.
The instructions then told me to roll out 200g of marzipan and cut it to shape. I found an old bag of that confection in the cupboard, cut off the crusty end, and rolled it out very quickly. I then grabbed the parchment circle from the cake tin and used that to roughly cut out the shape. Perhaps I should have taken more care, as this is the final layer and what is visible on top. Or perhaps it doesn't matter, because it's still marzipan and it was my birthday.
See, not so perfect. Meh.
So I got out my piping set and melted dark chocolate. I swirled it around on some clean parchment paper, let it set (it only took a couple minutes) then stuck the pieces on top of the cake with a couple of sliced strawberries. See, just like a posh bakery.
I tried and failed to make a butterfly on the bottom right.
I then let it set in the fridge until just before cake time. Nervously I took it out, released the spring, lifted off the sides, and peeled away the clingfilm...
Voila! Just like grandma used to make.
It tasted good too, even with melted wax on it.
If you want to make a prettier one yourself, just do what Mary Berry says and go to this recipe here.
In the meantime, I'm gonna party like it's my birthday.