Birthdays and bitter-sweet memories….one doesn’t exist without the other; a package deal if you like. Some birthdays are keenly awaited – milestones marked by big celebrations with family, friends and in some cases the entire village. Others sneak up on you as you go about your daily business, making you stop albeit briefly, to raise a toast and tick off another year on the calendar. And then there are birthdays that remind some of us that from now on every birthday will be a bonus. But in between, are many forgettable birthdays that ironically, we remember because of failed plans, or because we spent them alone, because a special someone forgot or any number of forgettable reasons.
When I was young – between the ages of 10 and 16, most of mine were spent in boarding school, without any fuss whatsoever. The only concessions were that I could wear coloured clothes instead of my uniform and distribute sweets in my class. I missed my parents and all the normal things that most kids did on their birthdays. But I have no regrets and have more than made up for all missed celebrations on subsequent birthdays since! And maybe that’s why I like to make birthdays in my family special in some way. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate celebration but rather a day when the person whose birthday it is, is pampered a little and cherished a lot. Small gestures always make a big impact.
We celebrated my husband’s special day a few days ago. We went out with close friends for a delightful Italian meal accompanied by copious measures of a wonderful Shiraz and lip-smacking conversation. But the part that my son and I enjoyed the most was when we came back and as the clock struck 12, we surprised the birthday boy with a yummy cake, candles and all. Those few minutes, the joy on his face and and the satisfaction I felt were priceless. With age, I find that I relish these simple pleasures more than a raucous party (especially with all the clearing up that comes after). Although I do enjoy a good bash when it’s just good friends, great music and lots of dancing.
So all this song and dance is about the Orange Marmalade and Cointreau Cake that I secretly baked while the birthday bloke was away attending a lecture; and even managed to clean up leaving no clues (or crumbs) on the kitchen counter. I’ve had this recipe for a while but somehow hadn’t gotten around to trying it. The bitter-sweet marmalade and the delectable, dark chocolate drizzled on top make this cake sophisticated – like a perfect sweet melody balanced with the darkly subtle but essential bitterness of a bass guitar. And as kismet would have it, I had just the right amount of my home-made orange marmalade that was destined to go into this cake. The cake has Cointreau but you could use any orange-flavoured liqueur. I suggest you don’t omit it altogether because it does contribute to the rich fruity orangey flavour in a big way. Also this cake needs an extra dose of patience as it takes about 45 minutes to bake but good things are worth waiting for, right?
- 180 g plain, all-purpose flour
- 150 g butter (at room temperature, soft)
- 150 g light brown sugar
- 100 ml orange juice
- 2 tbs grated orange zest
- 3 heaped tbsps orange marmalade
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 3/4 cup Cointreau
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 60 g dark chocolate
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line a 20 cm springform pan with grease-proof paper.
- Bring the Cointreau and raisins to a light simmer in a saucepan, switch off the heat and keep aside to soak and cool.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer till light and fluffy. Beat in the orange juice, rind and marmalade followed by the eggs one at a time.
- Fold in the flour and then the raisins with the liqueur.
- Pour into the springform pan and bake for 45 mins till the cake is done. Cool completely in the pan before turning out onto a plate.
- Melt the chocolate gently in a double boiler and drizzle over the cooled cake.