In the Netherlands, when you’re too late for school, there’s a widely (mis)used excuse: the bridge was open! There are a lot of channels here and if you have to cross one and the bridge is open to let a ship pass, it might take some time. (My poor kids do not need to cross any channels on their way to school and cannot use this).
Since this has been the longest I have gone without posting since starting this blog, I feel like an excuse is in order. I have several, you can judge which one is the lamest. Then I hope we can have a cake and be friends again.
Excuse number 1: At the beginning of the month I was at my parents’ holiday house, without internet access. (I think this one is as good as the bridge, don’t you think?). This was very good for my brain, but not so much for blogging.
Excuse number 2: after I came home, I’ve been very, very busy. You see, with a first book author’s naiveté, I thought that when I’d (finally) submit my manuscript, most of my work would be done. But – no. There are several rounds of editing after that, photos to choose, index to make ( I’m dreading this). I have also made watercolour illustrations for some of the concepts and garden designs I write about in the book and though this too was very time consuming, I enjoyed it very much. I no way consider myself an illustrator, so this feels more like play than work.
And now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the cake!
I turned forty at the end July and I’m proud to say I managed to do so without turning melancholy. In fact, it’s been a lot easier than turning, say, 33, mainly because I don’t feel as directionless as I did then. The past year has been a very good one and I got to fulfil two long time dreams: I wrote a book and we bought a plot to start a new garden (I’ll write more about that soon!). And of course, all the hugs and thoughtful presents from my family as well as the birthday cake helped to combat any birthday blues.
As far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of desserts worth eating: those with lots of chocolate in them and those with lots of fruit. The best, of course, are desserts combining chocolate and fruit and it’s therefore not surprising that my birthday cake usually falls into this category. But though the components were the same this year (chocolate, whipped cream and local fruit) the cake was quite different. Instead of a chocolate sponge, I made a chocolate pavlova. As for the fruits: my mom and Esther picked wild blueberries in the forest and I gathered raspberries and a few boysenberries in the garden. The result was beautiful and delicious and it was easier to make than any other birthday cake I’ve ever made – what else could you wish for?
Chocolate pavlova with summer berries
Adapted from Nigella Lawson: Forever Summer
6 large egg whites
300 g (1 1/3 cups) caster sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, sieved
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
50 g (2 ounces) dark chocolate, finely chopped or coarsely grated
500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
500 g (a very full pint) mixed summer berries (raspberries, blueberries…)
3 tbsp coarsely grated dark chocolate
Preaheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 F).
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then start adding sugar, a spoonful a time, beating well after each addition. When all sugar is used, the mixture should be stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over the cocoa powder and vinegar, then the chopped chocolate and fold in gently. Mound the batter on the baking sheet and use a spoon to spread it out into a circle of about 23 cm (9 inch) diameter. (Because the oven I was using was very small, I had to spread the batter into a slightly oval shape instead).
Place the sheet in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 150 degrees C (300 F). Bake for about one to one and quarter hours, until the top is dry and the edges look crisp. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and let cool completely.
When you want to serve, invert the pavlova on a large plate. Whisk the cream till soft peaks are formed and spread it out over the cake. Scatter the berries on top and sprinkle with the remaining chocolate, coarsely grated.