Probably 50 years ago we would live all in the same neighbourhood and we would meet regularly for our book club or for cozy afternoon teas. We would play card games in winter and we would gather for garden parties during summer with men barbecuing pork ribs and beef hamburgers. We would share recipes written in a neat hand writing on tiny pieces of paper, adding real bookmarks in our grease stained cook books. We would be good friends and we would celebrate with a perfect baby shower Emiko’s baby girl, who’s due within Christmas, the best gift she could ask for.
Nowadays we’re still good friends, though we live scattered all over the world: Italy, England, Belgium, Germany, Hungary and Australia. We make up special occasions to meet and spend time cooking, eating and laughing, being it on the seaside, in the countryside or in London. We chat on line a lot, we exchange long e-mails and, notwithstanding the distance, we support each other throughout all our life stages, plans and dreams.
If we were closer we would definitely have gathered to celebrate Emiko’s baby, choosing one of our kitchens and living rooms and sitting one next to the other at the table, with a cup of tea or a sparkling pink drink. The distance won’t stop us from celebrating today, so we decided to throw a virtual baby shower party for Emiko. Everyone’s invited, as long as you are in a good mood for celebrating and are not intimidated by a bunch of girls laughing and sobbing in commotion in front of Emiko’s belly!
– Tablecloth by Urbanara –
Everyone’s bringing their special gifts to Emiko. We have cookies, and you can even choose among vegan pumpkin chocolate chips cookies baked by Zizi and delicate rice cookies made by Jasmine. As this is a party for a special girl, we have also cakes, a flourless chocolate cake with pears – La Belle Helene – baked by Karin or a soft cheesecake beautifully made by Rossella. Muffins can not be missed, so Valeria made festive gingerbread banana muffins, while Sarka offers us something savoury, tempting mini tartlets. Wait, this is a party, we need spirit, at least for the father-to-be… Luckily Regula is bringing cobnut brandy!
As for me, I’m bringing a special cake. My special cake. Let me say this, if there’s a cake I love, something that represents family, love, affection, friendship, special occasions and every day life all shaken together, well, this would be a sponge cake filled with custard and chocolate and covered by a thick snow white icing. This has been my birthday cake since I can remember.
I have photos of me sitting in front of this cake from the Eighties, a thin girl with pigtails and polka dot dresses, from the Nineties, a chubby teenager with braces and a large smile. Then there’s my sister, my cousin, my parents, my grandma, my beautiful nieces… everyone sitting in front of the same cake, smiling, looking impatient at the custard oozing from the cake or blowing birthday candles.
Can you imagine a better cake to celebrate a virtual baby shower? I couldn’t, honestly, because if Emiko was here I would bake this exact cake for her baby girl… not that she would need a crazy aunt baking birthday cakes, since she will have the most amazing foodie mum and the most incredible gourmet dad, but cakes, especially birthday cakes, are never enough, aren’t they?
The original cake would call for simple cake flour, caster sugar and probably alchermes to soak the sponge cake, though I made it more mine using organic whole spelt flour, raw cane sugar and a pomegranate syrup. Do you know that pomegranates are considered a symbol of good fortune and prosperousness in Italy? How could I skip them in the cake?!
Sponge cake with custard and chocolate
For the sponge cake
- 4 free range eggs at room temperature
- 180 g of raw cane sugar
- 100 g of wholemeal spelt flour
- 60 g of potato starch
- 5 g of baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
For the custard
- 750 ml of whole milk
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 3 free range eggs
- 6 tablespoons of raw cane sugar
- 3 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 100 g of extra dark chocolate, finely chopped
- Interface For the wet
- 100 ml of water
- 100 g of raw cane sugar
- Zest of 1 organic orange
- 100 ml of pomegranate juice
For the frosting
- 1 egg white
- about 250 g of icing sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Make the sponge cake. Preheat oven to 180°C and grease a 20 cm round springform pan with butter. Dust with flour and set aside.
- Whip the eggs with the raw cane sugar for about ten minutes in a stand mixer or with your electric whisk, until white and thick. They'll be ready when lifting the beaters the batter will fall down making a ribbon.
- Sift flour, potato starch, baking powder, a pinch of salt and vanilla seeds. Fold into the beaten eggs very gently with a spatula, making slow movements from the bottom upwards.
- Scrape the batter into the baking pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and springy.
- Remove from the oven and after a few minutes unmould carefully the cake and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
- Make the custard. Heat the milk over medium heat with the the vanilla bean until simmering. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan until smooth and creamy.
- Pour the hot milk in a thin stream into the beaten eggs and stir with a whisk to avoid eggs from curdling. Put the saucepan back on low heat and cook stirring constantly with a whisk for about 5 minutes, until thick and barely simmering.
- Remove the custard from the heat and spoon it in equal parts into two bowls.
- Add the chopped chocolate in one bowl and stir until completely melted.
- Cover the custard and the chocolate spread with plastic wrap and let cool completely.
- Make the syrup. Boil the water with the raw cane sugar and the orange zest until the sugar is completely dissolved. Let cool completely, then add the pomegranate juice.
- Finally, make the cake. When the sponge cake is completely cold cut it lengthwise into three equal disks.
- Brush first disc with the pomegranate syrup and spread generously with chocolate custard. Lay the second disc on top, brush again with the syrup and slather with custard. Close with the third disc.
- Stack the cake in the fridge for at least half an hour.
- Meanwhile, make the icing. Whisk the egg white with a fork and gradually add the icing sugar and the lemon juice until smooth and thick enough to cover the cake without slipping.
- Spoon the icing on the cake and spread evenly with a spatula, letting it drop on the sides.
- Decorate the cake with colourful sugar, fresh fruit or chocolate curls and let cool in the fridge a few hours before serving.