I had a seriously nice 24th birthday on Saturday – my aunty visited with my very awesome young cousin (I recognise my own ardent admiration for Nigella Lawson reflected in his deep commitment to various superheroes), Dr Scotty dropped by with jaw-droppingly real champagne, Himalayan pink salt and vanilla pods, (I love how Scotty comes to our house and quotes my blog back to me, if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right) and I got more txt messages than I usually get in a whole month.
Tim was all, “I could make you a birthday cake if you want” and I was like, “the cuss you will! Don’t do me out of an opportunity to bake!” but what I made wasn’t a birthday cake, just a cake that happened to be hanging round on my birthday. Like a girl that’s just a friend, not a girlfriend…you know.
I know it seems like I say this about every cake here, and let’s be honest, I do know a lot of awesome cakes, but this cake was truly incredibly delicious. I say “was”, not “is”, because 24 hours after it was first sliced into, only a slender wedge remains.
I found this recipe for Torta Caprese on a blog called A Forkful of Spaghetti a while back, and my birthday seemed like as good a time as any to try it out. It’s one of those Italian cakes which manages to be terrifyingly elegant and artlessly down-home at the same time, but delicious either way you see it.
Sophie Grigson’s Torta Caprese
200g butter, melted and cooled a little (do this before you get anything else ready to give it time to cool down)
200g dark chocolate, in pieces
4 large eggs
170g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g ground almonds
Line the base of a 24cm cake tin (although I used 22cm just fine) with baking paper and grease the sides. Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F.
Either blitz the chocolate pieces in the food processor or chop them roughly with a large knife till you have a rubbly pile of chocolate shards and dust.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has expanded a little. Mix in the chocolate, ground almonds, and tepid melted butter until evenly combined. Spatula the mixture into your caketin.
Bake for 50-60 mins, until the cake is just firm to the touch. If it gets too dark towards the end, cover with tinfoil. I found it was quite perfect after 50 minutes. Leave it to cool in the tin, then turn it out and dust with icing sugar if you like.
I love how no-nonsense the method is – no separating of eggs, no whisking till your arms ache, just a bit of chopping and mixing but you end up with this incredibly good-looking cake as a result. It’s solid but light and amazingly buttery. Some of the chocolate melts into the cake as it cooks and the rest remain whole, as darkly rich chunks that contrast with the soft grittiness of the almonds. It’s amazing, and a bit like a really, really sophisticated chocolate chip cookie. And it’s gluten free for those of you who swing that way.
Yesterday after our visitors left Tim and I went to engage in Independent Record Store Day. By the time we left the house most of the shenanigans were over but we still enjoyed perusing the wares at Real Groovy. I was pretty rapturous to find the original Broadway Cast recordings of A Chorus Line and Hair, as well as the Original West End cast recording of Chess (ie the one everyone knows) on vinyl for an enchantingly cheap price. Mercifully the guy behind the counter didn’t ask us about what kind of turntable we have, because at this stage the answer would be “a hypothetical one”. Hoping to change that to an actual one in the near future. We browsed at Slow Boat Records but didn’t find anything in particular to commit to. There’s also the enticing Samurai Store on Willis Street but by that stage, probably desperate for more cake, we were starting to flag and headed back home.
That night we went to see the Wellington Musical Theatre production of Miss Saigon. It’s a cleverly staged production with a very talented cast, I recommend it if you’re in the capital. I’d never seen Miss Saigon before and only had a basic understanding of the story. The music isn’t necessarily super-catchy, and sometimes it feels like it could do with a couple more high-energy numbers, but on the whole I really loved it and there were plenty of those moments where your heart jumps around the place. It made me realise how few musicals I’ve seen in the last couple of years, for all that I go on about them, and it really made me want to see more. Unfortunately, that involves overseas travel…I swear I see well-known New Zealanders sent across the world all the time in the name of travel writing for various publications, if anyone out there wants to pay for me (and Tim!) to do the same, don’t hold back…
Before the show we had some curly fries at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, that stalwart of Courtney Place, and afterwards we went to Matterhorn for some late night snacks (I don’t know why, but I feel really cool ordering food late at night). The place was full of people who had a “oh, it’s so great to be back at Matterhorn, I’m such a regular here” look about them but I think we acquitted ourselves okay, ordering a bunch of tapas and a couple of drinks without any awkwardness. It’s a very expensive place, but the food is perfectly executed, the service excellent and the setting rather gorgeous…maybe I’ll go back for dinner for my next birthday.
Title via: The Miller’s Son from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, currently revived on Broadway with the supremely wonderful Angela Lansbury. This song is a stunner, all womanly and bolshy, and musically complex. One of my favourite versions is performed by Sara Ramirez, most people know her as Callie from Grey’s Anatomy, but hi there, the lady has a Tony Award too and can sing her face off.
It’s not a tradition or anything, and it’s a completely obvious thing to do, but two songs in particular always get bandied about if one of us is aging another year…
Birthday by The Sugarcubes, ie the rock band that Bjork used to be in. It’s most famous in English but the original Icelandic sounds so beautiful. And really it doesn’t matter what language it’s in when the chorus is as wordlessly spectacular as this. I have to admit, after hearing Defying Gravity for the first time I thought “ooh, I’d love to hear Idina Menzel sing Birthday“. Maybe that’s what Stephen Schwartz was listening to when he wrote the ending?
Happy Birthday by Altered Images from their EP of the same name. It’s sweeter than birthday cake icing but I love the way it flits along noncommittally before launching into those guitars….
Next time: I’ve been given so many exciting food-related birthday presents, including…a bottle of real maple syrup from my step-grandmother, two loaf tins from ex-flatmate Ange, a beauty of a cake stand from my godmother and family, a recipe collection from the Ashburton Fuchsia Society from Nana, and more fruit puffs from Mum…for starters. So you’ll be seeing these things all used and blogged about in the near future, no doubt.