I’ve just celebrated another birthday rolling around. Time spent with lovely people, delicious food and lots of happy moments.
I’ve also been thinking of another that is no longer here.
Thinking of my grandfather who left me with a head full of happy memories, that I frequently bring out and go through. Flicking through those memories like a well worn scrap book, with mental scribbles, loved pictures and happy moments.
Ours was a shared birthday. It was always such a special feeling knowing that our birthday was on the same day. Giving me a loving connection with the grandfather I adored.
A man, who to me always smelt like smoked apple wood, and occasionally raw onions as he loved them on sandwiches.
He had a sweet tooth for certain things, introducing me to sugar coated jubes that would get soft and squishy in the car. There were scoops of vanilla icecream with spoonfuls of his home made jam on top. He also knew answers to more trivia questions than I could ever hope to know in a lifetime. Answers would roll off his tongue like a well rehearsed dialogue. No pause for thought as the reply seemed so easily retrieved.
Big boxes of locally grown apples would be brought by him when ever he came to visit, followed by bulging jars of loose change to be carefully counted and divided amongst the grandchildren. Counting was always my job, as I was the eldest. Every cent was divided up and then we could spend it in any way we wanted.
He was there when I first rode my bike. He was also there, teaching me to dive in the pool during summer. Tuck the feet in, tuck the feet in…
We would go to visit and on his arriving home after a long day, we would hear the sounds of his footsteps coming up the stairs.
Clomp, clomp, clomp…
The stairs always lasted forever as he continued stepping on the same few top stairs, making it sound like they were ten stories high. Building up the excitement, my siblings and I giggling with anticipation of him being so close. Long squashed hugs would follow, as we would all scramble for his attention.
In his last year, while he was sick, I got to tell him that I had met the man I was going to marry. This comforts me in a funny kind of way. Even though he didn’t get to be at my wedding or get to know any of his great grandchildren, he at least got a glimpse of the path I was about to head down. A path, I think that would have made him incredibly happy.
As long as I have these special memories and a hundred others, he will always be with me. Not mourned over for his loss, or the unfairness of a life taken away too soon but celebrating in the life that he did have. A life that I got to share a little part of, which I’m incredibly grateful for those years, and those birthdays we did get to share together.
…and I also think he would have quite liked a slice of this birthday berry tart.
Berry Meringue Tart
Pastry (recipe here) base can be cooked the day before. Pastry pricked all over and then baked blind for 20 minutes at 180C in a greased tart pan (the kind that pops out is good) and then a further 10 minutes uncovered. Pastry should be crisp and golden.
Meringue (recipe here) clusters baked on a tray at 130C until crisp all over, this will take an hour plus. (I used 4 egg whites/220g sugar.)
Mascarpone vanilla bean cream. Whip 300mls cream to soft peaks, then add 1/2 cup icing sugar and one scraped vanilla bean pod. Add 250g mascarpone and gently whip again until mixed through.
Berries- strawberries, blueberries and cherries.
Smooth out several spoonfuls of the mascarpone mixture on to the base of the cooked pastry. This will help the meringue stick a little. Break the meringue up and build a decent sized layer, Spoon the remainder of the mascarpone mixture all over, filling in any meringue holes and then cover with your favourite berries. Dust with a little icing sugar.
Something odd happened recently. I had read a post from the delightful Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide on brownie parfaits, and how there had been some brownie lurking in their freezer to make these up. They certainly looked delicious, but I have NEVER had brownie in my freezer, and probably wouldn’t be having any in there in the near future. Idea pushed aside….
Several days later and I wanted to bake something to take to an important meeting full of important people, as a little thank you. What to bake?….How about brownie? (See the brownie seed had been planted.)
I wanted to make dark chocolate espresso ones, and started baking the afternoon before…. Oh snap, crackle, pop. No eggs! But it’s too late, I’d already done everything except for add the eggs.
Hmmm, ok, eggless brownie seems to work (after a quick scan of the internet) let’s cross eyes and hope for the best. Baked, cooled, cut….and crumble. Loads of crumbles. I think with the high cocoa content I was using with the chocolate (72%) combined with the no eggs, it just wasn’t going to happen.
But, said crumbly brownies would be perfect for say…parfait? Which is how I came to have brownies in my freezer.
A frantic call out to Mr Chocolate for eggs on the way home from work and I made up the brownies again in the evening. This time lowering the cocoa solids percentage (50%) and adding the eggs….ahhh, much better. No crumbles, and everyone at the meeting the next day happily emptied the brownie container, leaving a smattering of satisfied crumbs.
Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie Parfaits
Layer your glass with brownie (eggless and 72% chocolate or otherwise)
Add mascarpone layer (250g mascarpone, 2 tsp vanilla, 1/4 cup icing sugar, a splash of milk- whisked together)
Thinly sliced strawberries
Eat with enthusiasm and a small spoon.
* I’m not sure that this actually fits in to the definition of parfait, but the alternative was to name the Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie, layered Mascarpone and Strawberry Thing….
…parfait it is.
Dark Chocolate Espresso Brownie
250g dark chocolate (50%)
60mls espresso coffee
2 tso vanilla
200g brown sugar
150g plain flour
50g s/r flour
4 beaten eggs
In a pot, gently melt the butter and chocolate. Turn off and add the vanilla, coffee and brown sugar. Cool a little, then add beaten eggs and fold through flour. Mixture is runny. Pour into a greased, lined baking tray, (23cm-ish) Bake at 180C for approximately 30 minutes.
He had said he wanted strawberries on it…and cream. Oh, and licorice.
Anything else little fella?
Strawberries, cream and licorice cake please!
It was Little Monkey’s birthday and the food requests had come in. The other food to be eaten were minor details, the cake was where it was at.
Happy to oblige, I had an image in my head, and just hoped that I could cut the picture out of my mind and transpose it to a cake plate.
Basic cake recipe I used the same as the Pink Cupcakes, but doubled the recipe and baked it in a large spring form pan. The yogurt in it, really does give the cake a lasting quality, that seems to only taste better in the next few days, not going stale at all.
Top layer on, and a thin crumb layer of the mascarpone mixture goes over all the cake, then smoothing over the final layer. Place strips of licorice and line up strawberries.
Next, candles lit and birthday presents safely clutched in small fingers. Line up birthday diners, for an enthusiastic chorus of Happy Birthday.
Happy Birthday Little Monkey.
The man looked at me.
It’s for cooking with, right?
Ah yes, yes it is.
Now how did he know that the brandy I was attempting to buy, was for cooking and not straight consumption? How did he know that I wasn’t hot footing it home, with The Monkeys in tow. Home to make Brandy Alexanders for cocktail hour for when my dear Mr Chocolate got home from a long days work. Cocktails matched with an assortment of jellied canapes and devilled something or others.
I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. I mustn’t have had the Brandy Alexander cocktail look going on that morning. Instead, I had the wholesome cook look happening… or was it the flustered mama shopping with kids in tow look, I can’t remember now.
I explained that yes, he was right, it was for cooking, I needed it for a cake and some hot cross buns, and I had run out of my brandy stash. He cocked an eyebrow, and looked at me as if I had just started beatboxing I’m a little teapot….
Cooking all that?…Is that because of My Kitchen Rules?*
Um no, no it isn’t…
Chocolate Brandy Layer Cake
150gms softened butter
140gms caster sugar (3/4 cup)
2 tps vanilla
3 egg yolks
40gms cocoa (1/3 cup)
300gms s/r flour (2 cups)
150gms yogurt (3/4 cup)
3 egg whites whipped to peaks
Cream softened butter, sugar and vanilla essence together. Add egg yolks, yogurt, cocoa and flour. (looks quite stiff at this stage.) Add whipped egg whites by folding through the mixture. Pop into a greased, lined springform pan and bake at 180C fpr approx 55 minutes.
Allow cake to cool in tin for 15 minutes and then out on to a plate.
When completely cool, cut cake into thirds, (3 discs).
vanilla bean mascarpone
1 cup icing sugar
I made my own mascarpone from 450mls cream (details on how to make it are here.) Then whipped 150mls pouring cream to soft peaks, adding the vanilla bean mascarpone, and 1 cup icing sugar. Keep an eye on it, don’t let it over beat. You are looking for soft peaks, holding itself together.
60mls hot brandy needed now
On the first cake layer, drizzle 1/3 of the hot brandy followed by a little less than 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture and then add some grated dark chocolate, (I used 75% cocoa). Second layer of cake on, and the same format. Brandy, mascarpone, grated chocolate. For the last layer, spread a thin layer of the mascarpone first, (this will keep any footloose crumbs at bay.) Then add the remaining mascarpone and grate more dark chocolate over the top.
The cake held together really well. It wasn’t intensely chocolatey or sweet. The yogurt and mascarpone kept it lovely and moist to eat, (even 4 days later being kept in the fridge.) The light was falling fast and so were The Monkeys, (dinner was calling) so the photos didn’t do this little cake any justice, but I’ll definitely be making it again.
* My Kitchen Rules, a cooking competition programme with teams of two competing against each other.
Birthday time and I wanted a simple cake, with not a crazy amount of sugar, no colours, kid friendly, easy to make, to be enjoyed by everyone and truly delicious…(small drum roll), please step up Strawberry Vanilla Cake.
Strawberry Vanilla Cake
150 gms butter softened
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 tps vanilla
1 1/2 cups s/r flour
Cream butter and sugar together. Add vanilla and eggs one at a time. Fold in flour. Bake cake at 180C for approx 1 hour (on 2nd shelf). Once out and cooled, cut carefully in half.
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 scraped vanilla pod
whip it all up in a mixer or with a hand held whisk and then layer half of the mixture between the cake with a layering of freshly sliced strawberries. Top layer of cake on and mascarpone mixture smoothed over and decorate with strawberries.
A really simple cake, that was thoroughly enjoyed, keeps well in the fridge for a few days and doesn’t lose any of its charm over time. (We ate this one on Little Monkeys’s birthday, now officially two.) I did catch Monkey Boy trying to get the “hair” out of his cake- he was trying to get the vanilla pod seeds out.