Happy Birthday Jonno Round 2: or another cake

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an honest picture of all the trimming and extra ingredients

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Turning twenty one seems like a good enough reason to have two birthday cakes. After celebrating on the day with Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate (but the vanilla version), Jonno’s 21st party seemed a good reason to pull out the faithful white chocolate mud cake recipe that we’ve used and adapted from the Women’s Weekly Wicked Desserts Recipe book for several 21st-and-special-occasion-cakes. We made the 8x recipe (yep, you heard right, 8x the original recipe!) and this did for a large rectangular cake and two trays of small cup cakes (plus off-cuts). Enough to feed to a smallish sort of party gathered in celebration. I say ‘we’ because in our family, birthday cake baking has long been considered a team sport. When we were tiny, it was our grandparents who would come and help mum and dad pull off amazing feats of icing and butter cake inspired by the infamous Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday cake books. While it is no longer “Minnie and Brown* and the eleventh hour [the night before the party]”, we still like to make something special to mark milestones and I have more or less stepped into the role of Birthday cake project manager. A project-manager-come-baker who ropes in all the helpful apprentices I can get; mum, Asher, dad, even my talented-baker-friend Kate if she’s around. I love cooking but I am definitely not a solo flyer in the kitchen – perhaps too many cooks do intensify the kitchen experience, but I think that mostly you get more done and stay more sane if you cook in community.

Family history and philosophy of kitchen comradery aside, with this particular cake, you cook it very long and slow with the cake tin wrapped up in newspaper to ensure it cooks as evenly as possible. It is so large that you really don’t want to start cooking this baby too late at night – you may well be waiting up till the wee small hours if you do (don’t worry, its been done!). Attempting a cake this large is less of a risk if you trust your oven. This particular cake was the first one to be cooked in the new oven at home and possibly one of the last – the oven proved itself rather unpredictable and, although we managed fine in the end, the larger cake could have safely been labelled a caramel mud cake while the smaller cup cakes turned out more successfully – tiny white mud cup-cakes as expected. In the end, it is really all about how you sell a thing isn’t it?! Once the cake had (finally) cooked, I then set to work stressing over the decorating. Jonno is a keen muso so we had decided to create an edible version of his Nord synthesiser. With some cutting, puzzle work, ganache spreading, a bit of nifty fondant icing work and some chocolate and lollies – I managed to pull it off with a tonne of support from Mum and Asher (in particular).

Ingredients:
2 kg butter
1.2kg white chocolate melts
3.52kg caster sugar
2 lts milk
2.4kg plain flour
8 tsp baking powder
8 tsp vanilla essence
16 eggs
8 tbsp malted milk extract (or powder)

Decorations:
red fondant icing
chocolates of various sizes and shapes (for keys and buttons)
white icing in a tube for the piano key divisions

Ganache Ratio:
1 cup white chocolate
1/3 cup cream
cocoa to taste (for the brown icing on the cup cakes)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160oC.
2. Grease and line the large rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Wrap the outside of the tin in a thick layer of news paper to protect the cake while it cooks. The cup cakes were baked in free standing cardboard cup cake wrappers which were laid out on a baking tray.
3. Heat the butter, white chocolate and sugar milk together in a very large saucepan  (or two medium sized ones) till the butter, sugar and chocolate melt into a shiny, slightly thickened liquid.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and malted milk powder over the cooled butter mixture and mix to combine. Continue to mix till the flour has been distributed evenly throughout the mixture and any lumps have been smoothed out.
5. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl to combine, add these to the mixture, ensuring the residual heat from the melting is not high enough to ‘cook’ the eggs on contact with the mixture.
6. Pour mixture into the large cake tin and bake for several hours until done all the way through. The small cup cakes took much less time to cook – more like 20-30 minutes. The time taken for each will vary with the oven used.
7. Make the ganache by slowly melting the chocolate and cream together in a saucepan (if you have an induction stove top, if you have a regular one, try a glass bowl over the saucepan – French name ‘bain marie’ – so the chocolate doesn’t cook). Refrigerate till it reaches spreading consistency.
8. The large rectangular cake was then trimmed (the hard crust is removed) and the pieces cut to construct a longer thinner rectangle. This was then iced with white chocolate ganache and the red fondant icing, rolled out to resemble the red sections of the Nord.
9. The keys (KITKAT chocolate bars cut to size), buttons, dials and knobs were added using a variety of different chocolate pieces and icing as cement. Bought ‘white fudge icing’ in a tube was used to define the keys (a pre-prepared food compromise I was so willing to make at about 10am on the morning of Jonno’s 2pm-start-time-party!)
10. The crotchet cup cakes were iced with the remaining white chocolate ganache turned brown with cocoa. Peppermint sticks were used as the stem.
11. Finally we sang, celebrated and shared this symbol of Jonno, his musicality and his birthday.

*[pet names for my grandparents]

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A little (cheesecake) celebrating

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The mini cheesecake above was made by adapting this recipe by Bare Root Girl – made tiny so it could be shared between the two of us as we celebrated one year of marriage (As an aside: I would love to keep working with these cute little pans and come up withe a range of pint-sized desserts for moments when only a few need feeding but a treat would be nice!). Food manages to establish itself as central to special occasions almost unconsciously … birthday: cake, Christmas: pud (and feast!), Thanksgiving: turkey and pumpkin pie, Valentines Day: chocolate … we almost can’t help ourselves (no pun intended!). Somehow, it seems that eating allows for the fullest participation as we actually em-body, consume, assimilate, special foods symbolising the celebration by taking them into ourselves. Without thinking it all through, we just know that when its time to commemorate, party, toast, honour and remember – there needs to be some thing fit to eat. And, so, when it was time to celebrate the 12 of October one year on, Asher’s favourite dessert was in order – Berry Cheesecake. I will probably keep tweaking the recipe (I do like yoghurt, nuts and berries, I just don’t love coconut), but this was approximately what I did on the day …

Ingredients:

Base:
1/2 c. raw almonds
5 dried dates
1/4 t. sea salt
1 tbs (or 15g) melted butter

Cheesecake Filling:
2 1/2 tsp gelatin
1/2 the juice of one small lemon
1/2 cup full-fat plain greek yogurt
90g light coconut cream
30g cream cheese
45g honey
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 vanilla bean
1/8 tsp sea salt

Berry Topping:
1/2 cup frozen berries (I used a mix of blueberries and raspberries)
1/2 a small lemon, juice & zest
1 tsp honey
1 tsp arrowroot flour

Method:
1. Roast almonds in the oven at 220°C for 10-15 min. Blend almonds, dates, butter and salt using the food processor till fine. Press the mixture into the base of a 10cm diametre springform pan, lined with baking paper. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so it becomes firm.
2. Add the gelatine and lemon juice to a small bowl or enamel heating vessel and then place this in a slightly larger saucepan of simmering water. Stir the mixture till the gelatine is dissolved.
3. The rest of the filling ingredients need to be combined in the food processor. While the processor is going, carefully pour the gelatine mixture in through the top and keep processing till the mixture is fully blended (shouldn’t take longer than another 30 seconds or so).
4. Pour over the base and leave in the fridge over night to set!
5. To make the berry topping, combine all the ingredients in a little saucepan over a medium heat, keep cooking till the berries have begun to disintegrate and the whole mixture starts to thicken. If you would like it smooth to spread over the cheesecake, it can be blended using a stick blender or food processor or you can leave it chunky. Depending on the look the berry topping can be poured over just before serving or it can be given time to set in the fridge too!
6. Enjoy!