Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

A giant Tunnock’s teacake for a momentous birthday

March 11, 2014

We’ve had another big birthday in our house. That’s two in less than a month. Woo! I’m not sure how we’ve coped with all the excitement to be honest. We’re not used to it.

birthday girl grinning

Elsa’s transition into her teens felt momentous and exciting and scary and right. And although she’s 13 and I thought she might be beyond our usual home-styley party, she insisted on having one. So I had an unexpected bonus year of youthful party planning.

Of course one of the most important elements of any birthday celebration is the cake – it’s the bit of children’s parties we carry on right into adulthood. But ironically, given my prediliction for producing absurd cakes over the years; Elsa, it emerges doesn’t really like cake. On second thoughts, perhaps it’s not ironic at all.

So after her declaration as a teenage non-cake lover, we had to think of something else special to stick candles in, sing around and share with friends.

I began to think about biscuits, which she does like and was heading in the direction of a stack of giant cookies. And then I remembered Elsa’s favourite teatime biscuity treat, which really IS a treat. Drum roll please…

The Tunnock's teacake

The Tunnock’s Teacake

Oh what a wonderful confection, starting with the box – perfect in all its yellow and red retro glory and right through to the six foil-wrapped beauties inside.

Plated up, Tunnock’s teacakes look fabulous. I’d like to think that the Queen offers them on silver platters as an eminently superior alternative to Ferrero Rocher. Perhaps I’ll petition the government to make sure there are supplies in every British Embassy. I’m sure tricky negotiations would be eased considerably with Tunnocks teacakes to hand.

Tunnock's teacakes on plates

On the tea table a plate each of blue (dark chocolate) and red (milk chocolate) Tunnockses (that’s the official term) look wonderfully festive and quaint in a his and her’s, ‘boys and girls come out to play’ kind of way.

The red ones are far more widely available but the blue ones do actually have a certain something. Having bought a packet of them for this very blog post, we all tested them and I’m pretty sure they’ll be in my shopping basket again. I got them in Waitrose. The red ones are available widely, including in Poundland, thank you very much.

Opening a Tunnock’s teacake is sheer delight. Even the foil wrapper merits a few minutes of attention, but only AFTER the main event which of course is the teacake itself.

Teacake collage

Maybe she loves them a bit TOO much!

I’m not sure I should say too much about the beauty of that perfect chocolate dome, the joy of cracking through it with your teeth and the taste of the perfectly white fluffy mallow within. I won’t do it justice with mere words. All I can say is, if you haven’t tried a teacake yet, now’s the time. Email me your address and I’ll put one in the post. I can’t guarantee its safe arrival, but I’ll try.

Incidentally there are pretenders – supermarket own brands and the like, but I did a taste test once of three other varieties against Tunnock’s. Guess who won. By a long chalk.

So anyway, back to Elsa’s birthday non-cake. After much deliberation and a middle of the night Eureka moment the answer became clear: a GIANT Tunnock’s teacake. Oh the excitement.

It occured to me that the giant Tunnock’s teacake might have already been attempted, so I headed straight for ‘Pimp that Snack‘. I was right; 3 people have tried, with mixed results in my view, but well done them for trying and a round of applause to Michelle Kershaw and Nick Dodds for their creation.

While Pimp that Snack was a good starting place for some top tips, I went elsewhere for recipes and techniques. The whole process is perhaps not as hard as you think, but you do need to take some care and time, and it’s not one to cut corners on. Remember it’s perfection you’re trying to recreate.

close up tunnocks teacake

Somehow I think most of you won’t be falling over yourselves or each other to make a giant Tunnock’s teacake but you should if you’re feeling adventurous and you want to make an impression. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that I think it’s really important to make birthdays memorable. What better way than a giant version of your loved one’s favourite biscuit.

So I’d like to think that sometime, somewhere the 5th brave giant teacake adventurer will benefit from my experience. Whoever you turn out to be, I salute you. Please do say hello, whenever that great day comes.

boxes of tunnocks teacakes

And now here’s my more or less blow by blow account, because I did a lot of research and I wouldn’t want you to have to do the same.

To get us started; when making a giant Tunnock’s teacake there are four key elements to consider:

  • The chocolate dome
  • The mallow filling
  • The biscuit base
  • The distinctive red and silver wrapper

The super smooth chocolate dome is really the key to it all. Its super smooth, perfectly rounded finish is crucial to an authentic end result. Once you’ve got the dome right the rest will follow, sort of. Hopefully.

unwrapped teacake

The naked teacake

Dome first. I inherited my grandma’s round-bottomed copper bowl which she used to whip up egg whites into a frenzy for meringues. It’s about 8″/20cm across. Perfect. If you don’t happen to have a copper bowl in your cupboard (you don’t?) then a large hemisphere cake tin like this one would be just right.

I used this teacake recipe by Paul Hollywood and doubled the quantities for each giant teacake. (I actually made 2 domes and biscuit bases but more on that later). The recipe recommends dark chocolate but I went for a mix of milk and dark. About 2/3rds and 1/3rd respectively. And supermarket own brand rather than the usual high quality stuff I use. More authentic for this project methinks.

In the name of authenticity I decided to temper the chocolate as I wanted that glorious teacake shine. Without getting too technical (I’ll leave that to the experts) tempering chocolate is a process of developing all important beta crystals. These splendid fellows prevent the characteristic white bloom of untempered chocolate that you may have seen if you’ve stored chocolate in the fridge. Tempering involves heating, cooling and reheating melted chocolate to specific temperatures, reasonably quickly. There are several methods out there, but I recommend David Lebovitz’ guide to tempering chocolate.

Word of warning: you need an accurate thermometer for this. I hoped my jam thermometer would work but it doesn’t go to a low enough temperature. Fortunately our digital cooking thermometer did the job. Just make sure you have one before you start.

peeling chocolate off teacake

Obviously the critical part of this whole chocolate dome thing are the acts of moulding and unmoulding the dome. Scary concepts unless you’re a chocolatier with your own lab in Switzerland. So I did considerable research into making sure the chocolate would form the perfect shape AND come out of the bowl. I wiped around the bowl with a smear of flavourless oil and froze it as well. Allegedly one or other of these measures should’ve been sufficient but I wasn’t taking any chances.

To make the chocolate dome spoon a decent amount of melted ( and tempered?) chocolate into your bowl/mould and swirl it around and up the sides of the bowl. Use the back of your spoon to help the distribution process. Keep tilting and tipping and adding more chocolate until the whole bowl is covered with a reasonably thin and reasonably even layer of chocolate. Return the bowl to the freezer for about 20 minutes. Remove and repeat. I opted for a fairly thick and therefore stable (I figured) chocolate dome, coward that I am. Finally, after another short spell in the freezer check that the chocolate is firm and face the scary prospect of removing the dome from its home.

I’ve mentioned that I made two domes – this gives me the opportunity to tell you that the process of removing the chocolate shell can be either really easy or really not easy. The first shell I made slipped out with barely a word of encouragement. I just slid a knife around the top edge to loosen it, inverted it and the little beaut slid out with no trouble.

Eating a Tunncok's teacake

The second was a nightmare. It refused to budge despite the knife trick, hot tea towels laid on the bowl and a few sharp encouraging taps on its bottom. Leaving the bowl to come to room temperature didn’t help either. In the end we took a palette knife to it, pushed right down between the bowl and the chocolate. This on the basis that there must be a sticking point somewhere. I had visions of the dome’s smooth shiny surface being completely ruined but decided it would be hidden under foil so WHO CARES! Me actually, but we were desperate by then.

Anyway the dome did loosen and slid out. And miracle of miracles it was as smooth as. Not a blemish from the palette knife anywhere. The moral? Get tough if you have to. Tell it who’s boss. And if it tells you who’s boss by breaking. Well then you’ll just have to start again. Remember I made two in one evening and I didn’t find that too arduous. In fact we made the whole kit and caboodle in an afternoon and evening.

The biscuit base is straightforward – just find a circle template the right size to fit just inside your hemisphere. I used an 8″ removable cake tin base. Roll the mixture quite thick – about 1cm and bake longer than the recipe says for a beastie of this size. I confess I can’t remember how long ours took, I just kept checking and putting it back for another 5 mins. Once cooled cover all over with melted chocolate – I had enough left from the dome for this. No need for perfection here. As you can see.

smearing chocolate on biscuit base

THIS is the part Alice volunteered to help with…

Next the all important mallow. It’s basically a meringue mixture with some added syrup. The recipe uses golden syrup but I might be tempted to try glucose syrup next time for extra whiteness.

I always seem to have a problem with egg whites – there always seems to be some egg white that remains liquid in the bottom of the bowl. There’s plenty of advice online about meringue weeping once it’s on the pie, but what about when it’s still in the bowl?!

close up bowl of mallow

Anyhoo, the mallow worked out fine – it tasted and looked perfectly great – but there was some weepiness when we cut into the teacake.

Thanks to this very useful ‘Decoding Delicious’ blog post about foaming egg whites there are two things I’ll do differently next time. First I’ll start beating the egg whites at a sloooow speed and secondly I’ll refrigerate the completed mallow/meringue; warmth causes them to deconstruct.

Once we dolloped the mallow into the chocolate shell we carried out the slightly scary operation of adding the chocolate biscuit base and turning the whole thing over, before sealing the edge with more melted chocolate – rapidly piped and smeared on with a teaspoon. This join is not perfection on the real thing, so smearing is fine! You can’t really do this part without a second pair of willing and able hands.

drawing teacake wrapper

Aside from moral support and extra helpful hands, Danny’s most important and much admired contribution was the fantastic wrapper artwork. He copied the signature design (with personalised messages for Elsa) onto tin foil. Don’t use non-stick foil and do use a permanent marker like a Sharpie.

Lesser mortals like myself would need to draw circles and straight lines to ensure a reasonable result, but being a proper artist Danny drew this freehand. Brilliant! So brilliant we’re going to frame it. I love it.

giant Tunnock's teacake wrapper

And that’s it. We’re there. The giant teacake is ready to serve to our newly teenage daughter and her birthday friends. Ta da!

Giant Tunnock's Teacake

Actually I mentioned that I made two giant teacakes. We presented the second one unwrapped and with a small hammer. It was filled with sweets not mallow. A chocolate piñata if you will. Whoop! Alongside we stuck the requisite 13 candles into some proper teacakes for Elsa to blow out and then she hammered and cut her way into her two giant Tunnock’s teacakes.

pinata teacake

The birthday girl couldn’t quite believe her eyes and a special place for Tunnock’s teacakes has been utterly guaranteed for many, many more birthdays in our household. Now who do I write to at the British Embassy? Wait, I know just the man…

teacake and candles

Happy birthday sweetheart x

 

Oh and by the way, this is not a sponsored post!

Party time

October 24, 2013
Alice and 1st birthday cake

Alice’s 1st birthday. I know it doesn’t look as though she likes cake, but she does. A lot.

So our little girl, our little girl is 10 – years – old.

How did this happen? How did we get here so soon? I can hardly believe it. Her childhood, which at one time seemed like a new permanent state of being, is slipping by as she grows up. In the distance I can already see an end to this hands-on parenting, though I’ve no doubt it will be replaced by another, more subtle but equally important (and difficult) variety.

It seems like a lifetime ago that we were changing nappies and experimenting with strange vegetable purees. So long ago that when I meet new babies I scarcely know what to do with them, though maybe I’m less scared than I used to be. Clearly I am not from the ‘mother earth’ mould, rather I occupy a parenting world in outer space that involves aliens and strange planets, small steps and giant leaps.

Talking of which Alice recently expressed a desire to start walking to school on her own.

“Okay” said I

…sadly and nervously.

But next morning, after sleeping on the idea she had revised her plan. She suggested that we should both go, but on opposite sides of the street.

A fine idea.

“Which side do you want to walk on?” I asked her.

“Ummm, I don’t know, which side do you want to walk on?”

“I don’t know sweetheart, you choose”…

Silence, as we walked to the end of our street.

And at the top of the road when the decision needed to be made, her hand slipped into mine.

“I know Mummy. Let’s walk together”.

Yes let’s.

But already her big sister Elsa, aged 12 and 3/4s (she’s not too old for the months to count) is armed with mobile phone and bus pass to take her to and from secondary school every day. And so the land of looking after two independent Misses draws ever nearer. But while they might be ready to take on the World, I’m not. Really I’m not.

So at this important birthday for Alice I am reminded to enjoy these final young years before they disappear forever.

pink birthday rubber duck

I think it’s important to mark time by celebrating. We humans have done it since… well for the longest time and I think it matters; to mark our development and our journeys through life, in style.

Very soon after Alice was born I calculated that there’d be very limited opportunities to celebrate these special birthdays and Christmases with excessive frivolity and sparkle. Here’s what I worked out…

celebration formulaI hope you can all see that the amount of time we spend celebrating these very special occasions with our children is tiny and therefore not to be wasted. 0.6% for heavens sake! Plus of course a year is a very long time when you’ve only got four or five of them under your belt, so each birthday has increased significance for a young child. If I was worth my mathmatical salt I’d be able to create a formula with ‘n’s and ‘x’s to include this ‘increased significance’ factor, but I’m not so I can’t.

party dishes

For me, this all means parties – proper parties with homespun themes, decs from the loft (plus a few new ones), some great games and delicious food. Over the years we’ve been under the sea with dolphins and fish and then over it, on a pirate adventure. We’ve stopped off at the seaside, complete with sand and beach huts in the kitchen, walked through a magic sweet garden and explored a wild jungle.

It’s been brilliant fun, but it’s hard work and I don’t suggest everyone should do it, or feel like they should. In fact my one hesitation when putting on these big parties has been that I might make other parents feel they’ve got to match up. I hope they don’t – I just want their kids to dive in and enjoy it all while they’re here.

Parties can be a very expensive business too, but I avoid commercial themes and we try to make stuff, recycle and reuse, borrow and lend. Our children have made great things at school that we’ve been able to use – I saved about 50 metres of skull and crossbone bunting from the school bin and rescued 20 sets of fairy wings the kids had made. I also love researching online, compiling and creating ideas and then pulling it all together, down to the littlest details.

Of course this world of party madness isn’t for everyone; but whatever your particular approach, try and find a way to make these occasions special and memorable.

sweet party decorations

The majority of our themed parties have been for Elsa, because actually Alice isn’t one for big parties.  But while Alice’s celebrations are a lot more, well… small, she still likes (and expects) all the trimmings and plenty of cake.

So this year we began as ever, with decs galore. Of course having started on decoration heaven all those years ago, we have a high standard to live up to so it’s become the norm for Danny and I to be up ’til 3am the night before a birthday party. As the years wear on this increasingly takes its toll, so consider upfront what you’re letting yourself in for! It’s so worth it though and I hope we’re creating really great and enduring memories for our girls and their friends, come to that.

birthday banners

Alongside the decs and atmosphere, the party games really matter, but I don’t find them nearly so easy. There’s a pressure to keep everyone entertained and happy that I find quite hard at times. However, over the years we’ve tested lots of party games, so here are some of our favourites – some classics and one or two that are not for the faint-hearted:

1. The chocolate game: essentially the children have to try and eat pieces from a large chocolate bar using a knife and fork while wearing a selection of hastily added clothes. Assemble a pile of clothes such as a wig, hat, gloves, scarf, sunglasses and ear muffs. There must be some oversized gloves and ideally everthing should be bright and/or ridiculous. The children sit in a circle and take turns to throw a dice until someone throws a six. That child must don ALL the special clothes provided and then start trying to eat the chocolate using only the cutlery. Meanwhile the rest of the children continue to throw the dice. When another six is thrown the next child dons the clothes and so on…

2. Lucky (face) dip: Three washing up bowls containing a number of sweets and each filled with a sticky, gritty or other suitable substance. E.g, Bowl 1 is full of squirty cream, bowl 2 contains feathers and bowl 3 is full of sugar. In turn the children dip their head into each bowl in an effort to retrieve the hidden sweets. By the end they are effectively tarred and feathered! Towels and wet wipes essential.

Girl with face smeared in cream

3. Musical statues with poses: a classic with a twist. While the music is playing tell the children that when it stops they must strike a pose in the style of… It could be an animal, an emotion, a job, a famous person etc. The poses can be tailored to fit any theme. The poses are usually great fun and mean interim prizes can be awarded, otherwise I think musical statues can be disappointing for the first few out.

4. Pass the Parcel: no party would be complete without it. As often as not one of us has to dash off in the middle of the party to wrap it ‘cos it got forgotten amid the chaos. We’ve often done it with dares/actions between the layers which works really well. Oh, along the way I’ve seen parents rig Pass the Parcel in the birthday child’s favour. Please don’t.

5. Edible nappies: one of the best, undoubtedly. Kids who’ve come to our parties talk about it to this day. Open up about six disposable nappies and (in the microwave) melt a different chocolate bar into each one. The children have to identify the chocolate bars by whatever means: sniffing, proding or even tasting the oh-too-realistic chocolate poo. This game results in equal measures of hilarity and disgust. I often bring the opened poo-ey nappies out on a silver tray. You can give each child pencil and paper (or divide them into teams) and have them write down their answers, or just make it a revolting free for all!

nappy game collage

6. Cheese ball relay race: two teams, a straw per person, two bowls of cheese balls and empty bowls at the other end of the room. Suck the cheese balls onto the ends of the straws and transport them one by one to the other bowl, in a relay race. Shrieking and cheating usually ensues. Great with extra long straws if you can find them. Other relay races work well too. We played ‘sandy pants’ at our seaside party; kids donned swimming trunks over their clothes into which they scooped handfuls of sand to carry from one bucket to another. At Halloween we’ve transported handfuls of goo between cauldrons…

The final element of course is the birthday tea. Over the years we’ve done all sorts, from make your own pizzas to a pirates feast and an ice cream parlour, but this year Alice asked for a classic old-fashioned birthday tea; tiny triangular sandwiches; white bread (crusts off, natch) lightly buttered and filled with thinly sliced cucumber, marmite (Nigella’s tip: smush the marmite and butter together before spreading), egg and cress and cream cheese. Also crisps, twiglets, jelly and ice cream and cake, LOTS of cake.

Alice loves cake. Which is fortunate since I quite like making it.

First, in Alice’s honour I massacred a sophisticated coconut and marscarpone cake by Dan Lepard. He baked it beautifully for his very own wedding and I wrecked his lovely creation by baking it in brightly-coloured layers. The garish sponges were tinted to match the 10 owl birthday candles on top and then hidden beneath a delicous cream marscarpone icing.

owl cake

Colourful? Yes. A surprise for Alice? Yes. A big hit? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Recommended? Yes. Sophisticated? No. Sorry Mr Lepard.

striped birthday cake cu

And was this the most kitsch offering on the birthday tea table?

Nope. That accolade would go either to the jelly or the cupcakes.

I found a giant jelly baby mould online and in order to make it chewy like the real thing added lots of jelly babies to the packet of proper jelly. Actually I ordered some special chewy Japanese konnyaku jelly but it didn’t arrive in time so this was my solution.  We loved this and I think Mr Giant Jelly Baby may become a new tradition in our house – wibble wobble, wibble wobble… Sorry ’bout the pic, it doesn’t do him justice.

giant jelly baby jelly

And so, finally, on to the cupcakes. Bubblegum cupcakes. I woke up in the night dreaming of these. Next day I discovered they’ve been done before (of course), but unperturbed I made them anyway. Classic vanilla cupcakes piped with bubblegum buttercream and flavoured with a few drops from a little bottle of magic bubblegum flavouring. Oh how I love the interweb.

bubblegum cupcakes

They were glorious; more bubble-gummy than bubblegum itself, and surprisingly delicious, considering I don’t like bubblegum. Mind you one is definitely enough. Two would certainly necessitate a lie down.

And lie down we did at the end of the weekend – happy and tired. Alice proclaimed it one of her best birthdays yet – hooray!

And then, the very next morning

I kid you not.

Alice came downstairs

Aged 10 years and 1 day

And she said to me,

“I’m going to walk to school on my own today”.

“Oh. Okay…”

Alice walks IMG_5695

Gulp.


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