At my 18th birthday party, this very stylish friend of my mother’s sidled up to me. She looked me up and down from under her signature fedora hat, coquettishly tilted to the side of her head (this was in the days before Kate Moss and Pete Doherty made the fedora first cool – and then ubiquitous); and pronounced: ‘Darlin-k’. She spoke with a heavy Columbian accent and ‘darling’ sounded like ‘darlin-k’. ‘Darlin-k’, she said, ‘you must start lying about your age now’. The ‘now’ was said with a sense of genuine urgency. She meant business.
Of course, I thought this was all a great joke. And dined out on it for some years after. I was eighteen. I was wearing a mini skirt and barely a touch of make-up. And I thought that I would never lie about my age. I rather regret not taking her advice now: I’m turning thirty tomorrow. I’m not going to say that thirty is old, but it’s no eighteen. That is for sure.
My main complaint about growing older is that I don’t feel any wiser. I’m sure that you’re meant to feel wiser. There is so much more that I would have liked to have already learnt and done. That is the problem with life milestones – they fill you with feelings of woeful inadequacy. Unless, you’re eighteen – then you think that you can conquer the world. And party.
That said, where there is a birthday, there is cake. And a thirtieth deserves one hell of a cake. So, here we go: two layers of deep chocolate sponge, filled with a thyme scented blackberry compote, and iced with a cream cheese and thyme buttercream frosting. Sweet with just a pinch of fresh, woody herbs to really bring out the flavours.
With cake, thirty is not looking quite so bad after all. I can still party.
And I could always start lying about my age next year.
- FOR THE CAKE
- 900g butter, at room temperature
- 900g demerara sugar
- 700g self raising flour
- 200g cocoa
- 8 tsps baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 16 eggs
- 400 ml milk
- FOR THE BLACKBERRY AND THYME FILLING
- 600g blackberries
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 300g demerara sugar
- small bunch of fresh thyme
- FOR THE CREAM CHEESE AND THYME FROSTING
- 400g icing sugar
- 100g butter, at room temperature
- 600g cream cheese
- 4 or 5 stems of thyme
- fresh blackberries and thyme to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Grease and line two round 29cm cake tins and set to one side. In a food processor, add the flour, cocoa, self raising flour, baking powder and salt and blitz until powdery. If you are not using a food processor, sift the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Roughly chop the butter and add to the dry ingredients along with the sugar. Blitz until you have an earthy consistency. If you are mixing by hand, cream the butter and other ingredients together. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, beat and mix in to the batter, then pour in the milk and blend or mix until you have a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the cake tins, distributing it evenly between the two, and bake in the centre of the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 15-30 mins then turn out on to a wire rack.
- While the cakes are baking make your filling. Toss the blackberries into a heavy based saucepan, sprinkle with sugar, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the bunch of fresh thyme. Set on a medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit juices start running. Take off the heat and set to one side to cool.
- When the cakes are cool and ready to ice, you can make the frosting. Roughly chop the butter and put in a freestanding mixer, then spoon in the cream cheese and beat until pale, smooth and well combined. Sift in the icing and beat again until you have a smooth frosting.Tear the leaves off the thyme stalks and chop roughly, then beat lightly into the icing until well combined.
- Set one cake on your cake stand, and get your filling. Pick out the bunch of thyme, lightly press the blackberries with the back of a fork and spoon them on top of the cake. Then place the second cake on top, as you would for a Victoria sponge.
- Ice with the buttercream and decorate with fresh blackberries and thyme.