It was my mam’s birthday today, so I made a cake to celebrate. I chose the classic Victoria Sponge Cake, partly due to a range of dietary restrictions. Even so, I think it’s hard to beat a nice plain sponge with jam and too much buttercream. I used the recipe available on the BBC Good Food website. I was using large eggs, so I only used three and a half. I didn’t want an eggy sponge.
The mixture comes together nicely, especially if you cream the butter and sugar together first. Sifting the flour made the sponge nice and light.
I didn’t have two 20cm tins, so I just baked this all together. The only problem with this is that the outside can get overdone, especially the top. I turned the temperature down by twenty degrees after the first twenty minutes, and covered the top with some baking paper. After twenty more minutes at 170, the cake was nicely cooked through. I left it to cool (the most annoying part!) and then cut it.
I made almost double the buttercream so I could fill and ice the cake. I daresay you could do some more adventurous decorating on top of the buttercream, but I just used candles.
You can’t knock a classic. Even if it is a bit wonky.
I decided to make a Sachertorte for Rene’s birthday. I followed the recipe from Mary Berry on BBC Food. Though I’ve not made this before, I followed the recipe to the letter and it worked out really well. I don’t normally use electric mixers when I’m baking – partly because I can’t be bothered washing them but also because I like the satisfaction of making things “by hand”. This doesn’t extend to hand-building an oven.
The trickiest part of the recipe for me was getting the egg white to the right consistency and then folding it into the chocolately mixture without completely deflating it. The bubbles in the egg white are the only raising agent in the cake, if you can call them that.
Once the batter was in the oven I could get the washing up done! When it came out it was cracked around the top and had risen to a mound shape around this crack. I was really worried about that at first but in the end it deflated again. The crack would be covered by the ganache icing anyway.
Speaking of ganache, I think it might be my favourite cake topping. It gives such an impressive look for the effort you put in. It’s just two ingredients – chocolate and cream.
All you need to do is heat up the cream until it starts to emit steam, then stir in the chopped chocolate off the heat. Eventually you end up with a really, really shiny chocolate-cream goo. Which is utterly delicious.
You can work with the ganache at various stages. As it cools it thickens, and you can pour it over a cake to get a mirror-shine finish like below.
The ganache can also be left to cool further and spread with a palette knife, as the recipe above suggests. Even more fun – you can refrigerate it and make truffles by making small pieces using a melon baller or two spoons, and rolling them in cocoa powder. I made some balls of leftover ganache and used them to decorate the cake after I’d taken it to work.
Transporting this on the Metro was slightly hazardous, but it all worked out in the end and Rene approved of its authenticity!
The day started with a hearty mutton fry made by Sellappan’s mam, and I gave Sellappan his cookbook gift I had kept secret since arriving. We went for the bus early and I enjoyed travelling back on the 3.33 Electronic City Express in the daylight, watching the scenery change as we left the hills of Salem and went back to Bangalore. We got a phone call from Sellappan’s building manager in Bangalore to say that Holi was being celebrated downstairs – where were we? I had stayed some extra time in Bangalore especially for Sellappan’s birthday and Holi, so I knew what was ahead, but this was a day early, and we certainly weren’t dressed to be covered in powder paint and coloured water!
We got back to Bangalore and took a rickshaw back to the flat, where we saw all kinds of coloured carnage unfolding! The building manager grinned through his colours and approached menacingly – only Sellappan’s cry of “New shirt! New shirt!” saved us from a full on attack! We did, however, receive some green colour on our faces, with cries of “Happy Holi!” We went for the lift before anyone changed their minds!
We unpacked, changed into more suitable clothes and went back out to get supplies for Sellappan’s birthday party. I was pleased I’d brought a backpack for all the snacks and sweets we ended up with! Eventually the shopping was done, and we got back to find another group of about ten people all celebrating Holi. We just managed to put down our bags and take phones out of pockets before all hell broke loose! Between all the different colours of powder, the super soakers and the silver and gold face paint, we were all thoroughly covered in short order!
We must have been playing for a while, as Sellappan’s friends began to arrive – I say began to arrive…three of them walked towards the apartment block and when they saw what was going on they walked slower and slower… clearly not wanting to get too messy! They escaped with some silver paint to the face, and we all headed upstairs, carefully not touching anything.
Sellappan graciously allowed me the first shower, and it took forever to get the colours out of my hair – I couldn’t even tell if they were off my face or not. The soap and shampoo ran magenta into the drain, and I finally managed to come out with some semblance of normality. Poor Sellappan was still standing not touching anything and trying to avoid dropping more powder everywhere. Once he was cleaned up, more people started to arrive and we spent a lovely evening wishing Sellappan many happy returns – with the help of two cakes! Plenty of people managed to squeeze into the flat, and the evening was a great success!
While Sellappan ran some errands, I spent the day relaxing and playing with the millions of photos we’d taken on our trips. Zubair popped over and we all had some snacks thanks to Sellappan’s mam.
Later in the evening, Sellappan and I went to see the Doctor at his surgery. As we were chatting there was a sudden rush of patients, so we left and Sellappan took me to a department store where he wanted to get a souvenir for me. He ended up choosing a stainless steel dinner set – I had asked for a plate, which was included in the set – and he got it engraved with the dates of my trip. It’s common practice to engrave cookware with names. As Sellappan’s birthday was coming up, he also needed to get some party supplies like paper cups and plates, so we got those too.
We paid a visit to a kitchen showroom for Sellappan’s mam, accompanied by Zubair. We also went quickly to a CD/DVD shop to get the soundtrack for Highway, the Hindi film we had enjoyed so much. We even managed to squeeze in a few more minutes with the Doctor, seeing as his rush had subsided.
We went to a restaurant and met up with the whole Salem network for a meal. The young waiter ran around for us like the floor was made lava, and we got lots of different dishes. I finished off my meal with a sweet lime juice which was very tasty. All too soon it was time to say goodbye to everyone, and we left to the sound of “Happy Birthday” and “Safe journey home”.
On the evening there was a knock at the door and Mohan arrived with a birthday cake for Naveen, a little while later Sellappan came back with Mohan, and we took the magic relighting birthday candles, a bottle of wine which we’d wrapped, and the cake along to Naveen and Ashwini’s place. Mohan went home.
When we got there the lights were off and everyone had gone to bed! The light clicked on and Ashwini invited us in. Naveen got up too and Naveen’s mam was also visiting for his birthday. Sellappan unwrapped the cake and stuck the candle in between the piped “Happy Birthday Naveen” on top of the eggless sponge. We sang Happy Birthday in a range of keys and Naveen blew out the candle, which relit several times before Sellappan revealed the joke.
We got through a good bit of cake and took pictures before leaving Naveen’s clan to sleep in peace.