When I asked Bert what birthday cake he wanted, he said a Paw Patrol Lookout Tower. (For those who don’t spend
2 hours 20 minutes a day watching, it’s a tower on a tripod base, with a glass-sided look-out room, topped by a periscope, with a helter-skelter slide.) Thanks for the confidence vote, Bert, but your ambitions are not matched by my skills. So I made a cake in the shape of a bowl of dog food. Luckily my skills were not enough to make it look disturbingly (to his friends’ parents) realistic.
This isn’t my recipe but I did find an excellent one for a decent-tasting cake that’s also easy to shape (without crumbling) and ice with fondant icing. I’m recording it here for future years – one day, this will be the basis of a vast, chocolate flavoured Millenium Falcon and my life will truly have been worth living.
Makes a 20cm cake
200g self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate)
230g caster sugar
4 large eggs
230g soft, unsalted butter
¼ tsp vanilla extract
100g milk chocolate, grated (choose something from the baking aisle in the supermarket as it will cope well with the heat in the oven without going grainy)
2 tsp milk
400g chocolate buttercream icing
500g ready to roll fondant icing (but only for a child’s, themed birthday cake – the stuff is truly disgusting)
Pre-heat the oven to 160/ 140 fan.
Mix all the cake ingredients till well-combined, then spoon into two lined and greased 20cm cake tins. Cook for 30 minutes in the centre of the oven. Check with a skewer – if it comes out of the middle clean then they’re done. If not, put them in for another 5 minutes.
Cool for 10 minutes in the tin then 10 minutes on a wire tray, then put in the fridge for a couple of hours if you’re going to shape and fondant-ice them.
Sandwich the cakes with buttercream (shape the top one into a dog bowl with tapered edges and a circular hollow in the top if you wish) and then cover with more buttercream. Roll out the icing to about 2-3mm thick (using icing sugar or cornflour to stop it sticking) and drape over the cake. If you’re going full Paw Patrol, fill the top with Maltesers and decorate with sugar dog bones and paw prints. (I stuck each Malteser down with a dab of buttercream, but by then I’d moved into The Zone – I also cut sandwiches into bone shapes and made bone-shaped cheese biscuits.)
Recall that blue food dye appears to be like a hallucinagenic drug to small children (the first time Bert ate something this colour he started to see monkeys everywhere), slice, feed small children multiple packets of Haribo and send them home with a plastic whistle. Job done!
To me there are only two types of cake – a treat that should be as delicious as possible with no nod at all to nutrition, and something tasty but vaguely healthy that I can justify serving as a pudding or snack for a 3-year-old and his friends. (You can only really get away with loading other people’s children up with empty sugar at birthday parties I feel.)
In two days’ time we’ll be eating sundaes and drinking milkshakes as Bert turns four (‘that’s very old’, in case you were asking) and in four days’ time I’ll be loading other people’s children up with empty sugar and cutting up a treaty cake with four candles on it. In theory the cake will be Paw Patrol themed – does looking like a dog’s dinner count?
But tomorrow morning it’s apple loaf, a couple of friends and a big pile of Duplo for us. This is a (very slightly adapted) one from the National Trust Family Cookbook.
Makes 1 small loaf
140ml sunflower oil
150g golden caster sugar
3 eating apples, peeled and grated
170g wholewheat self-raising flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Beat together the sugar, eggs and oil till the mixture’s light and fluffy – about five minutes. Then add the grated apple, and finally the dry ingredients. Make sure to sprinkle the bicarb through evenly, since a mouthful that contains a pocket of it is unpleasantly reminiscent of the sachets you stir into water when you’ve got a bladder infection, and no-one remembers cystitis fondly.
Tip the mix into a small, lined loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes, till firm and coming away from the edges of the tin.
Some cakes shouldn’t pretend to be useful. This isn’t one of them. Bert pressed two to his face and digested them like a fly, innocent to the fact they contain spelt flour, yoghurt, almonds and not a huge amount of sugar.
Makes 6 muffins
90g plain flour
30g spelt (or plain brown) flour
70g sunflower oil
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
80g golden caster sugar
100g frozen or fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
Flaked almonds to scatter on top
Pre hear the oven to 190/ 180 fan.
Beat all the ingredients except the raspberries and almonds together. Fold through the raspberries then spoon the mixture into a case-lined muffin tin. Scatter each muffin with almonds then bake for 20-25 minutes, till firm to the touch.
The oil gives them a more delicate crumb than butter, and they’re not too sweet. I think frozen raspberries are less prone to sinking, but both work.
… in 20 minutes.
Today Bert passed his stage 1 gymnastics badge. It involved ‘hopping on one leg and other very hard things.’
He also sulked for an hour when I chose flapjack over chocolate cake at play group (hey, he’d had his Rich Tea!)
This was commiseration and celebration.
50g crunchy, unsweetened peanut butter
25g cocoa powder
50g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
5-6 teaspoons jam
Preheat the oven to 180/ 160 fan.
Melt the butter and peanut butter.
Mix the other ingredients, except the jam, in a small bowl then stir in the peanut butter and butter mixture.
Grease 6 holes of a cupcake tray and spoon in the mixture to just under the top of each. Better to have 5 good portions than 6 stingy! Make a little hole in the top of each with a teaspoon and add a teaspoon of jam to each.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Eat two each.
When you fancy strawberry shortcake but can’t be arsed to make it. This has the same soft, vanilla crumb and berry sweetness but takes 10 minutes to prepare and 10 seconds to finish off out of the oven.
Bert declared this ‘not a birthday cake: a normal cake’.
It’s my birthday tomorrow. On his way out this afternoon Bert’s dad asked me if we needed any food.
Me: you might need chocolate? Self-raising flour? Candles?
Him: blank face
Leftover normal cake it is then.
Serves 4-6 (ahem. Ok. Three)
6 tablespoons soft butter
1 measuring cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1.5 measuring cups plain flour
1/2 measuring cup milk
1 punnet strawberries
1 tablespoon icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180.
Beat the sugar and butter together till fluffy then add the egg and vanilla and beat again. Mix through the flour, baking powder and milk till you have a smooth, thick batter then tip into a deep, buttered pie dish and smooth out the top. Top with the hulled and halved strawberries and bake for about an hour (check after 50 minutes – it’s ready when it’s deep golden brown and coming away from the sides).
Dust with sieved icing sugar and serve warm with thick cream.
Bert’s first loaf of bread (with a bit of help measuring) – he’s very proud.
Two hours after this photo was taken he was naked in the kitchen, slice of warm bread in hand, singing ‘go mummy! Go mummy!’ as I chased a fly around the kitchen with a fly swat muttering I will beat you. Making memories.
Makes one loaf
350g strong white bread flour
250ml hand hot water
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7g (1 sachet) dried yeast
75g Greek yoghurt
Mix all the ingredients together and knead for about 5 minutes or till stretchy. Cover and leave for an hour then tip onto a lined tray to form a mound and bake at 140/ gas mark four for an hour. Have a slice, still warm, in your pyjamas (or, indeed, nudie).
This is a Jack Monroe recipe.
Here’s Bert at an outdoor performance of The Wind in the Willows (or The Wind in the Willies, as my phone desperately wants it to be called).
When I asked him if he enjoyed it he said, ‘yes and no’. The muffins were a yes though.
Makes 12 muffins
240g plain flour
160g golden caster sugar
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
75g sunflower oil
4 tablespoons plain yoghurt
250g fresh mango, diced (about one of those lazy, ready prepared punnets – you’ll need to dice it a bit more finely though, into 1cm cubes, more or less).
Flaked almonds to scatter on top.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/ 190 degrees and grease your muffin tin or fill them with muffin cases.
Mix together the dry ingredients and then stir through the beaten eggs, oil and yoghurt. Mix in the diced mango (or diced tinned peach, if you prefer). Spoon carefully into the muffin holes and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Bert ate six of these.