JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Friday, February 16, 2007

Huntswood Birthday Cake

Yesterday, Lucius was 60. We had a very good time, as we persuaded him to take the day off, since Lettice and Alfred were both on half term. After breakfast we jumped into the car and went go-karting, which seemed a suitably silly thing to be doing on your 60th birthday. Very good fun - Alfred was instantly turned into Mr Toad, poop-pooping his way round the tortuous track, and Lettice flew past me several times, her golden hair flowing out from under the back of her helmet. I pootled round rather in the manner of Miss Marple driving a Morris Minor, and letting all the faster drivers (ie everyone else on the circuit) overtake me at the bends. Then a pub lunch, and home to plant the quince tree which the children gave Lucius.

We already have a quince tree in the garden, planted by my mother-in-law about 25 years ago. I don't know much about the lifespan of quince trees, but it's definitely looking its age, it no longer fruits reliably, and last month Lucius hacked away at in, calling it pruning, and I think that may have done for it. We'll leave it there, because it is beautiful, the lovely scented pale pink flowers in spring, the downy leaves, the golden apples. The new tree is nearby. We chose carefully, after much poring over books, and the variety is Vranja. Clever Eleanor for organising it (and getting all her siblings to agree to the plan). When it arrived, it turns out to have an award of garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, so I think we have chosen wisely.

Then Lucius and Alfred played snooker, Alfred beat Lucius at chess in pretty short order, and we went out to dinner with Dick and DD. This was, as always, terrific; DD is brilliant at the details which make an evening memorable. Dick opened a bottle of 1949 Medoc, an extraordinary treat. DD gave Lucius several of his favourites: roast lamb, two types of potatoes (soup first, then dauphinois), and, right at the end, after birthday cake, a supplementary birthday treat of violet creams - improbably Lucius's favourite, known in this house as violent creams. Wonderful.

I took the birthday cake - my mother-in-law's recipe, and which I have always used for birthday celebrations. Delicious (it always disappears in moments), and very easy to make (five minutes max, no need to turn on the oven). Indulgent,too - but of course that's the point of birthday celebrations.

250g digestive biscuits
125g butter
125g dark chocolate
65g sultanas
3 dessertspoons cocoa
3 dessertspoons golden syrup

Bash up the biscuits. It's better if they're not reduced to a fine tilth, the cake has a better texture if the biscuits are lumpy. But I've made it with crumbs from the food processor too. Use the end of a rolling pin.

In a large saucepan, melt all the other ingredients. The chocolate has a tendency to catch on the bottom, unless there's a film of butter underneath. When everything is melted, take it off the heat and stir in the biscuit crumbs. Then spread them out onto tinfoil. If I want it to look neat, I put the tinfoil onto a plate, and use that as a guide, but I don't always bother. Wrap in tinfoil (the easiest is to use a piece of foil twice the size of the cake, spread it in the middle, and then pull up the sides), and put in a cool place for an hour or two. Or make a day or two ahead.

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