Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Snaps: It's my Birthday!

So it's my birthday today! Yesterday, which was actually St Patrick's day, I had a bit of a birthday party. My apartment isn't very big so it was pretty cosy with 10 people or so. It was an old-person themed party and it was at 5pm: early-bird special. I get a little carried away with parties.. as some people may know, and I love to make food from scratch and try new and wonderfully tricky things! My idea was to make puff pastry myself (and make beetroot and fetta cheese puff tarty things), potato salad with home-made mayo, crunchy noodle salad (always a winner, a recipe which my aunty found on the back of the noodle packet), a dessert which was probably going to be my fail-proof chocolate cake (but which ended up being an apple and rhubarb crumble), sun-brewed iced tea, and the icing on the birthday cake: a bombe alaska. This particular bombe alaska is one I saw on Masterchef 2011 and is basically two flavours of ice cream, wrapped in sponge, covered in Italian meringue and blow-torched.

Hardly anything went to plan! I made a huge food plan with when I was going to make everything because obviously making the puff pastry and the ice cream were things that needed to be done in advance. First thing: the puff pastry. It requires lots of rolling and folding and refrigerating and I wanted to make it gluten free so my friend Katherine could eat it. I've made this Pierre Herme puff twice before and it has worked perfectly and been unbelievably delicious (in an "if you are what you eat then I'm butter" kind of way). Two time success means I'm a pro at this puff now, right? WRONG! It just wouldn't work, when I tried to roll out one of the mixtures it kept sticking to the rolling pin even if I floured it yet even though it was sticky the whole square of butter dough kept coming apart. So after trying a few things to rectify this I decided that it was all the gluten-free flour's fault, not mine, and thought that I could make it successfully the regular way. WRONG again. I don't know why it didn't work for me but it just didn't. Pastry is a splendid but difficult entity and maybe it was the weather, or my too-delicate, or not-delicate-enough, touch.. but it just failed. I ended up punching the dough into oblivion in a fit of rage and leaving it stuck to the kitchen bench for a few hours whilst I cooled down doing non-puffy things. I had to resign and buy the pastry.. =(  This "Careme" pastry is actually very good and even though it's more expensive than stuff you can find easily in supermarkets it really does pay off in taste.

The iced tea was a huge success and super tasty. I've decided that I will make it often now because it makes such a nice refreshing drink and was really easy. I wanted to brew the tea in the sun because I'd read it on the "A Beautiful Mess" blog and it sounded like a beautiful way to do it. I had a few mason jars I got from Ikea a while ago, filled them up with cold water, put 5 plain old Woollies English Breakfast teabags in each and closed them. I then left them on my sunny balcony to brew for a few hours. For me it definitely needed sweetening so I added some agave syrup (much better than granulated sugar!) and then for some extra flavour and prettiness I put in a sliced lemon, oranges and mint. I think in the future I'll experiment with a number of different flavours and perhaps let the fruit infuse in the tea a bit longer too.

Now most of the other things that went wrong happened in the making of the bombe alaska birthday cake. Luckily they weren't too major and I think I managed to rectify it. I used this here recipe but instead of the coconut ice cream they have there I used a Neil Perry recipe for "Toasted Coconut Ice Cream" from his Balance and Harmony cookbook, which I've made a few times and received great reviews on. I stupidly had the coconut ice cream on to churn for an hour or so and then realised that I hadn't put the cream in... I'm a nong. But I just added the cream later and I think it was fine.. The so-called cherry sorbet ended up being raspberry sorbet because although there's this great place called Frozberries that stocks frozen cherries (along with so many other cool things), I didn't have the time to drive a 1.5 hr round trip to get them. So I used raspberries and although I thought it might not work, it turned out really well. The sponge was the next hurdle and I stuffed this up in an even nong-ier moment than forgetting the cream in the coconut ice cream. Basically I mixed up my reading of "egg yolks" and "egg whites" and had to waste a bunch of eggs and start again. Also I had lots of egg whites lying around but I wasn't sure exactly how many so I may not have used the correct amount. Next time I think I'll use a more standard sponge recipe and see how that goes. In any case I managed to line the mould, which was 2.8L instead of the required 2.25L..., with sponge, then coconut ice cream, then raspberry sorbet, then the sponge round "lid" (maybe none of this makes sense?). Anyway, I realised a lot later, after it had already been in the freezer for a good few hours, that I should probably have greased the mould. So when the time came for the birthday cake to be finished off I was worried it wasn't even going to come out; but with the help of hot water and my friend Campbell's coaxing it finally landed with a satisfying thud on the plate. I then smothered it with Italian meringue and blow-torched it. I was worried about the sponge being frozen and gross but somehow it wasn't.. I am so proud of this cake being a success in the end! After all the worry and stress, it being my birthday cake and all, I was so happy that it not only looked cool, but tasted cool (literally). The ice cream was delicious, the sponge was tasty, and it all worked nicely (although next time I think I want a thinner layer of sponge and more raspberry sorbet).

The party went really smoothly and everyone enjoyed the food and each other's company. I'm so lucky to have a lovely group of friends who, although many didn't know each other, all got along and enjoyed themselves. We played Killer Bunnies and everyone got into the granny-dressing theme. I had slippers for everyone at the door, there were balls of yarn and knitting needles everywhere and we all went by our grandparents' names. So although I had some character-building moments in the kitchen, it was all worth it for the enjoyment had at the party. I'm so grateful =)

(Special mention to my dear friends Michael, Berny, Hayasa, Brendan and Flora who I would've loved to have been there but were unfortunately unable to be in Sydney).

P.S I got spoiled with lots of awesome presents one of which is a Zoom recorder (which I really wanted). I'm going to be using it a lot and am looking forward to learning how to use it and sharing some audio of me with you.

P.P.S I didn't read back over this post so I hope it makes sense. And if you any of those recipes posted then just put a comment down the bottom and I'll do it (it just would've taken up too much space in this post).


  1. Aww it looks like you had a great birthday! The bombe alaska looks AMAZING and the tea looks so lovely steeping in the jars. And yay for Zoom!

  2. Such a lovely night nicole! I will crave your bombe alaska every day for the rest of my life.

    <3 jen