Friday, 19 April 2013

To Bake, or not to Bake...

...that is the question.

This particular question could reasonably be re-phrased as "to burn the flat down, or not to burn the flat down", given my lack of baking experience and general uselessness in the kitchen.

My past attempts at MasterCheffery have seen me make such gaffs as setting fire to oven gloves, melting a spatula into a wok, and burning rice (complete with actual flames). This coming from someone who's proudest culinary creation is chocolate scrambled eggs, a concoction borne from a fridge with nothing but eggs and chocolate milk whilst backpacking around Australia.
 It's not that I don't want to cook; in fact, I quite enjoy having a go at a new recipe and new techniques, or new foods that I've never cooked before. I'm just not very good at it.

Every now and then I manage to make something edible, and on rarer occasions something quite tasty. Such examples include Gordon Ramsay's Shepherd's Pie, and Jamie Oliver's vegetable stir fry. I also once made a big meal of Indian food back (see Her First Mothers' Day) and cooked Christmas Turkey Dinner (see I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday), so I do get it right sometimes.

The reason I'm thinking about baking is because Lydia's 2nd birthday is coming up this weekend. Last year she was too young to really understand anything about what a birthday actually is, and in fact cried when we brought out the birthday cake and sang "Happy Birthday" to her. That took some of the gloss off the celebrations, but you can't really expect a 1 year old to be ecstaticly excited about a birthday party.

This year, she is probably still too young to really grasp what all the fuss is about, but hopefully she will be a bit happier on the day. We won't have a big party with 40+ people this time, so she shouldn't be too overwhelmed, and we've been practising singing happy birthday with her for the last few weeks in preparation for the big moment.

Having worked on steeling Lydia's nerve for her birthday celebrations, our thoughts now turn to the centre piece - the birthday cake.

There are a lot of people out there know how to bake, but I am not one of them. My culinary "skills" stretch only to main courses, or occasionally starters, and bakery has never really grabbed my interest. I prefer salty snacks (like crisps and nuts) to sweet treats, but I don't think the candles would stand up properly in a pile of Walkers cheese and onion flavour crisps. A good Shepherd's Pie would probably hold the candles well, but not really appropriate for a child's birthday party.

And so, a cake must be baked, and there's only two people who can do it - me and my wife, Chris.

We've got a general theme for the cake, based on a kids' TV show she likes, but we lack the know-how to actually put it together. I've found what is supposed to be a foolproof sponge cake recipe on the Internet, and I have no doubt that the "foolproof" claim will be strongly put to the test this weekend.

Chris has gone in search of food colouring in the right colours, while I have researched how to decorate a cake. It all looks very complicated, and I honestly have no idea if we will be able to pull this off. The sponge cake base seems straightforward enough, but certain items like self-raising flour don't seem to be available in the Migros supermarket chain here. Chris has substituted this for normal flour and a raising-agent called "levure", which is typically used in baking here. It'll mean adjusting the recipe and keeping our fingers crossed.

It could go either way: it might be a stunning success that we'll look back on in years to come with fond memories, or it might be a complete disaster that results in stomachs being pumped in hospital.

My parents will be flying over tonight so they'll be here for the birthday girl's big weekend, and it'll be their job to keep her busy while we get cracking with the cake.

We will know by tea-time tomorrow if we've been successful or not. Please, everyone out there in Internet-land, keep your fingers crossed for us this weekend.

If all else fails, the local bakery / patisserie is open on Sunday mornings so we do have a backup plan.


Belly said...

Good luck! I did a playdough 'cake' for post candle playing and then cupcakes to eat, much less stressful! XXxx

Paul Reed-Peck said...

Thanks for that! :) Cupcakes might be a good option, although Lydia isn't a big fan of playdough at the moment...