When I asked my friend A what she wanted for her birthday, her answer was: ‘those cookies you made for my birthday last year were really good’ so cookies it was. The ones I made her last year are a firm favourite of mine – cardamom shortbread – but I couldn’t really bake her the same ones this year, could I? I was thinking maybe a few different sweets, with different tastes and textures, assembled in a nice box. A box was found – baby blue, which made A exclaim ‘That looks like a Tiffany’s box!’ Lucky for me, she wasn’t too disappointed that the goodies were of the edible rather than the diamond kind.
Of course there had to be something chocolate-y – I do have my Belgian-ness to live up to after all – so I decided on truffles. Coffee-cardamom truffles to be exact. Which I made, ironically, with British chocolate. But only partially; I used Belgian chocolate as well. Besides, it was dark espresso Green & Black’s chocolate, and there simply is no excuse necessary, ever, for Green & Black’s chocolate. Half the truffles I coated in unsweetened cocoa powder, the other half in the cocoa nibs I finally found at Wholefoods on my last trip to New York – after various unsuccessful shopping expeditions all around London in search of the elusive cocoa nib.
And whaddyaknow, now that Fresh & Wild here in London has been taken over by Wholefoods, they sell cocoa nibs. I’m not sure I still like the shop – it seems so much more soulless, there is much more plastic packaging and lots of fruit & veg are flown in from faraway places like Kenya and Peru, rather than the locally sourced produce they used to sell, but they do seem to have more products on offer. Like cocoa nibs. And jars of lovely caramelised shredded peppers, that go perfect with brie and basil on ciabatta. Mmm, getting hungry now … but I digress. Back to the birthday baking.
Apart from the chocolates, I also made lemon squares. I had been itching to try Mary’s recipe, and this was the ideal occasion. Unlike Mary – lucky woman – I don’t have a Meyer lemon tree in my garden, so I had to make do with ordinary supermarket lemons, but apart from that I followed her recipe to the letter. And boy, it was good.
Now, since odd numbers almost always work better, I needed a third sweet for good measure. Something soft and cakey would go well with the other two I thought. Madeleines were my first choice, but those are really only good straight out of the oven methinks. If need be, they are still ok a few hours later, but the longer you leave them the more of their yumminess they lose. So no madeleines this time. Browsing through Claudia Fleming’s Last Course, I found a recipe for almond-brown butter cakes, a financier-like cake baked in mini muffin tins, which sounded perfect. Again, I didn’t change anything about the recipe (mainly because S is always chiding me about changing recipes the first time I make them) though I was a bit apprehensive about the ginormous amount of sugar going into the batter. Indeed the finished cakes were sugar-coma-inducingly sweet, so next time I will substantially lower the amount of sugar. Also, American mini muffin tins must be much bigger than European ones, because I ended up with almost double the amount of cakes stated in the recipe. The finished cakes looked a bit plain I thought, so I brushed them with rose syrup.
And there I had it. A home-made birthday present for my friend, which she loved and enjoyed. Although I bet she secretly would have preferred if it had been a Tiffany’s box – but then what girl wouldn’t? Of course I made way too much of everything for the one present and the leftovers stretched far. They accompanied me to a picnic with friends (their only comment was ‘mmmm’), S took some to work (the comment there was ‘please ask your girlfriend to give me the recipe’) and finally I took some into work as well, where they disappeared faster than the speed of light. The only thing the sweets haven’t got yet, is a virtual recipient. So what better than to take the little blue box to Meeta’s monthly mingle, where she can virtually enjoy them for her big birthday bang. Although maybe she would prefer a Tiffany’s box as well…
my own recipe
250g dark chocolate and Green & Black’s espresso chocolate
150ml whipping cream
5 cardamom pods, black seeds only (crushed)
unsweetened cocoa powder or cocoa nibs, for finishing
Chop/grind chocolate into tiny pieces or powder. Bring cream with cardamom to a boil. Take off heat as soon as it starts boiling, cover with cling film and let flavours infuse for about 10 minutes. Add chocolate to cream and mix until the chocolate has dissolved completely. Put in fridge overnight or until firm. With a teaspoon (or melon baller) shape into truffles and dunk into cocoa powder or cocoa nibs.