Do all little girls these days plan futures that are centred around walking down the aisle in a white gown with their Prince, then go on to produce multiple children? I hope not. I certainly didn’t. I saw myself in a safari suit, long dark hair tucked up in a bush hat cutting my way through rainforests to meet lions and tigers (yes, I’m now aware that’s the wrong terrain) and bumping into a Greek God figure looking very similar to a young David Attenborough in ZooQuest. How I ended up fifty or so years later with a large ‘extended’ family, I’m not quite sure. But I have no regrets. I love the celebratory scrums that we have congregating around birthdays and Christmas. With four children and soon to be five grandchildren, those events are likely to happen more frequently as the years’ pass. It’s a marked change from my own 60s childhood in Salisbury, a then sleepy market town that knew nothing about the world of spies or nerve gas.
For my last years at school, family just meant the two of us, my grandmother and me. My mother had departed for Guernsey and a new relationship and my brother had left home to marry early. But at best, he and I had had a distant relationship. Five years older than me, we had never much in common. Family wisdom had it, that he as a very pretty boy, was at the age of five unhappy about the arrival of a lumpy, noisy stranger into the household, usurping his princely position. A jealousy, apparently, so strong that my mother was forced to take him away to acclimatise him to the competition. Of course, I remember nothing of this. But there was the odd incident throughout my childhood of wanting to tag along with my brother and his friends and being repelled on all fronts. By the age of five a survival mechanism had dug in, as I manipulated the blame onto my brother for things that were blatantly my fault. Against the plump cheeks and winsome curls of girlish innocence, my brother with his dirty knees and awkward angles didn’t stand a chance.
It’s a parent or perhaps a mother’s worst nightmare that her children won’t get on. You can’t get away from having a certain competitive element amongst family members, depending on the pecking order. “It’s not fair” was the meme of my daughter’s teenage years, mostly against something their youngest sister was allowed to do. My son, the eldest, avoided most of this by being at boarding school. Man, with his Calvinistic Dutch parents, had always remarks with admiration how equally he and his brother had been treated; what was done for one was always done for the other. The philosophy is so ingrained, that Man divvies up the coffee and rolls in the morning by measuring their equality. Maybe that’s workable with two children, but four? Life, as they say, is too short. I won’t go into the details, but I can tell you, from personal experience of bringing up three girls, that not all pain au chocolat have equal amounts of chocolate in them.
At times I might have wondered what will happen when I’m not there to corral my tribe. But the older they get, the more reassured I am as to the strength of their sibling support. This is often demonstrated at family gatherings where food and lots of it is required. I am blessed that all my children cook well, mainly I feel because they always have enjoyed eating. My son, with a few years of restaurant training under his belt, takes the position of Chef de Cuisine. The rest of us compete for Sous Chef or for a Chef de Partie position, depending on what type of dish we’re commanded to make. At one point, having supplied my son with desserts for his small ‘gastro’ pub, I might have assumed that I would maintain the position of Pastry Chef, but these days I have severe competition from my daughters. Luckily for me at the recent birthday of my eldest daughter, the Chef de Cuisine decided his sisters could help him turn out some of Olia Hercules delicious salad recipes from her Mamushka book, whilst he barbecued platters of chicken. I was given ‘cake’. With my patisserie position secured, it took me a few days to decide what type I was going to bake. Elder daughter’s standby favourite has been for a couple of years a carrot cake with cream cheese topping, but as her own repertoire expanded and improved, so has her tastes. To protect my reputation, I felt something different was needed, fruity, seasonal and at the same time impressive.
With the advent of biomass glasshouses into UK market gardens, local summer fruits have been making their appearance earlier and earlier in spring. I snapped up some large, not too dark, raspberries from Harry Hall in West Sussex in my local M&S Food Hall. I wondered whether I could weave these flavourful fruits into a cake with white chocolate. It’s a wonderful combination that I use regularly for a baked cheesecake, but for a birthday I needed something firm enough to take multiple candles. What is a birthday, without candles to blow out? Online I found a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine by Tamsin Burnett-Hall, for a blueberry and white chocolate loaf. I used her ratios and methodology to convert the loaf into a raspberry and white chocolate cake with cream cheese topping. The problem of doubling the amounts and baking it in a 23cm round tin rather than a loaf tin meant that the cooking time needed to be adjusted. It was a heart stopping moment and I have to confess I didn’t get it right the first time around; cake one sank spectacularly. Fortunately, the second effort was a success. Moist, creamy, with a hint of chocolate but full of fruit. I might, later in the year, double the number of raspberries when they become less expensive. Credit for the marbled effect of the raspberry puree on the topping has to be awarded to my youngest daughter, who has a steady hand and a creative eye.
White Chocolate and Raspberry Cake with Cream Cheese topping.
200g good-quality white chocolate, chopped
200g soft salted butter
300g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
350g plain flour, sifted
50g ground almonds
4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
300ml pot soured cream
3 x 225g pack raspberries
For the Cream cheese topping
3 x 180g tub full-fat cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 tbsp icing sugar
Grease and line base and sides of a 23cm loose bottom tin. Heat the oven to 180°C.
Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water then set aside to cool. Sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in a bowl and put to one side. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Lightly beat the eggs together and then add to the mix a little at a time, beating well in between. You can add a spoonful of the flour mix if the mixture starts to curdle. Then add in the vanilla extract and the cool white chocolate.
Then add half of the flour mixture and half of the soured cream, beat until you have a smooth mixture. Add the remaining flour mixture and soured cream and beat again until all combined.
Spoon half the cake mixture into the tin, push 225g raspberries firmly into the mix– don’t worry if they touch the bottom of the tin. Spoon the rest of the batter on top and level before placing another 225g raspberries into the top. Bake for 1 and half hours, until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove from cake tin, and upend onto a wire rack to cool, removing the greaseproof paper.
Depending on when you want to serve, make the topping elements. Put 100g raspberries into a small pan with 4 teaspoons castor sugar and 2 teaspoons water. Cover and cook gently for 3-4 minutes until soft and starting to disintegrate. Press through a sieve to make a purée (discard all the seeds left in the sieve), cool and put to one side.
For the topping, whisk together the cream cheese, vanilla extract and icing sugar, and chill. You may need to whisk again just before serving if the mixture has separated.
To serve, spread the topping over cake, drizzle with the raspberry purée, then place the fresh raspberries and candles on top.