On the Importance of Cooking and Baking with Children

I should preface this short essay by saying that I wrote it two years ago and have just stumbled across it again whilst browsing through my drafted posts. It is all as true now as it was then, so I’ve … Continue reading

A Finnish Birthday Cake

Finnish Cream Cake

A Traditional Finnish Birthday Cake

I baked this for my wonderful boy’s first birthday. I chose this cake, not only because my partner is Finnish and this is a traditional Finnish cake (as the title of this post suggests!), but because it is full of fresh fruit sandwiched between layers of light, moist sponge; without the thick layer of gloopy white icing we have all come to expect from supermarket cakes aimed at young children.

I was first taught to bake this by my partner’s cousin, Sanna, who introduced me to a wonderfully simple way of measuring out the ingredients for this fatless sponge. At the time, I assumed it was a family recipe but I have since seen it crop up in a number of Scandinavian and Nordic cookbooks; so I guess it is the traditional way of making it!

So here you go, you will see that I have omitted the quantities of fruit in this recipe. This is because the amount of fruit you will need depends on how you wish to decorate your cake. Similarly, the amount of fruit required for the filling is a matter of personal taste.

Ingredients:

For Cake:

Equal quantities (in volume not weight) of:

  • Eggs (use half an egg per person)
  • Caster Sugar
  • Self-raising flour
  • Orange juice (for moistening after baking)

I usually use one of my glass tumblers (of which I have many) filled to a certain point with the eggs. Then use another, filled to the same point with the sugar and then the flour.

For topping and filling:

  • Approx. 800ml whipping cream
  • 200g Icing sugar
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Kiwi

To make the Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
  2. Follow the instructions above for measuring the eggs, sugar and flour.
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat vigorously until the colour lightens slightly and the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Add the flour, little by little, folding in gently to retain the air.
  5. Bake in a tin lined with greaseproof paper for 35-45 minutes or until a skewer, inserted into the centre, comes out clean.
  6. Once the cake is baked, leave in the tin and make several small holes in the surface using a cocktail stick or fork.
  7. Using a small jug, pour the orange juice generously into the holes and let it soak into the cake while you get started on the filling and topping…

To make the filling and topping:

  1. Mix the cream with the icing sugar and whist until firm and spreadable.
  2. Crush some of the strawberries to a pulp, leaving behind enough to decorate your cake.
  3. Mash 2 or 3 bananas and mix with the crushed strawberries.
  4. Thinly slice the remaining strawberries from top to bottom for decoration later.
  5. Once your cake is completely cooled, turn out onto a wire wrack and, using a palate knife, slice evenly through the middle.
  6. Use a broad metal spatula to lift off the top layer and transfer the bottom layer carefully onto a serving plate.
  7. Spread the strawberry and banana mixture onto the base of your cake and sandwich on the top layer.
  8. Again using a palate knife, spread the sweetened whipped cream evenly over the top and sides of the cake. You could use the knife to create a peaked or wavy effect.
  9. Decorate with the thinly sliced strawberries and other fruit to finish.

Enjoy! This is a true celebration cake both in look and taste. I sometimes add a layer of butter cream to the filling. As well as balancing out the acidity of the fruit, it prevents the bottom layer of cake from becoming soggy over time. This is not a traditional addition, however, and I have left it out of the main recipe for fear of reprisals from Finns, who will undoubtedly claim that this is certainly not how their grandmothers used to make it! As well as for birthdays, this is an unashamedly summery cake, light and fresh and covered in summer berries, which wouldn’t look out of place as the centrepiece for any Summertime soiree.

Trade shopping for food swapping!

Whilst pawing a well-known UK foodie mag recently I happened upon an article about a ‘food exchange’ network. This is where people get in touch with each other for the purpose of swapping their homemade goodies. Jam, chutney, sourdough, sausages and artisan cheese were all mooted as potential candidates for a swap and I can think of many more besides. I have been pondering this idea ever since!

For me, this wonderful notion harks back to the days when the farmer’s wife would take a box of eggs to the baker, who in exchange would give her her daily loaf. Then onto the butcher with another dozen in exchange for a hunk of beef or lamb, and so on. Despite the attention grabbing banner of this post, I’m not suggesting that us home bakers give up work to don an apron full-time and get to work on producing enough bread, buns or cakes to trade in for all our nutritional needs; but certainly we could make a larger batch once in a while, some of which we could swap for some other homemade foodie delight. What a treat!

There’s nothing I love more than sharing my home-bakes with others; and although I often toy with the idea of opening my own cafe, full to the brim with freshly baked fare, food swapping seems a much less risky way of sharing and showing off my baking talents, whilst being just as satisfying. The bonus is that you go away with the fruits of someone else’s labour in exchange for your own hard work. What could be better?

 

The Yeasty Thing

Let me introduce you to…The Yeasty Thing…

The latest sourdough starter to come out of Charlton!

The latest sourdough starter to come out of Charlton!

Yes baking fans, you guessed it, this is my latest sourdough starter, bubbling away vigorously in its garish Sainsbury’s picnic jug!

The thing I love about making a sourdough starter is the fact that every single one is unique. The bread I bake from this one will be different from the bloke’s down the road, from those I’ve made from other starters, even from the loaf I baked from it yesterday! The character of a starter is down to the airborne yeast spores that happened to be merrily floating by on the day I started it, coupled with how long it’s been fermenting away – and I love that about it!

While preparing my starter and growing it ready for the first bake, I like to pretend that I am a scientist, working methodically and observing closely as I go. However, the reality of growing a starter are not quite as precise. All it takes is a bit of strong white flour (this must be organic, I’m told, otherwise the yeasties will steer clear!); roughly 100g, and some warm water. Mix this to a thick paste (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, henceforth HFW for obvious reasons, suggests it should resemble the consistency of ‘thick paint’) and leave in an airtight-ish container (like my trusty picnic jug) until you see little bubbles forming on the surface. This seems to happen for me in a matter of hours, but apparently it can take up to 3 days! So some patience may be required!

I have read some instructions for building sourdough starters, which prescribe adding all manner of grated fruit to this simple flour and water mix in order to encourage the yeast to settle and grow. I have never tried this and see it as totally unnecessary; especially since you are often advised to remove said fruit once the yeast has got going – err, no thanks!

Whisk the flour and water together, to create lots of aeration, and wait for the magic to happen! When the bubbles appear, it’s time to feed your new pet. Actually, this is why mine is now known, in our household, as ‘The Yeasty Thing’; because my two year-old likes to sniff it each morning and watch me ‘feeding it’ as if it’s a new addition to the family! I rather like this way of thinking about it, and it is conducive to me remembering to feed it every day rather than leaving it languish and turn into, well, a floury bloody mess!

Yes, that is everyday – as in, every 24 hours you must feed your starter another 100g of organic strong white flour and mix in enough water (it can be cool water straight from the tap from hereon in) so as to bring it back to that thick paint consistency. You will start to see your starter bubbling up with delight each time you feed it and then over night it will begin to fall back frothily in anticipation of its next meal.

Once you have lovingly repeated this routine for at least 7 days you’re ready to bake!

Look out for future posts with more juicy sourdough deets!