Waiting for Agnes

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Faking it August 23, 2010

I’m not really a hoarder. Except when it comes to books. It is purely the threat of financial punishment, in the form of fines, that sees me reluctantly handing back library books. One of my ‘if you won Tattslotto what would you do?’ responses is invariably ‘go to Borders/Hill of Content/Sun Theatre Bookshop (so hard to choose…) and buy one of everything’. Even disliked, half-read, boring, technical, out-of-date, written-in-a-language-I-cannot-understand books still have homes on my overstuffed shelves. And anyone who has lent me a book would know that it can be a long long time before they make their way home (you know, when the guilt really kicks in and the beloved has asked about the book’s provenance pointedly at least three times). But I have an excuse – it’s a genetic problem. It must be. That is the only reasonable explanation why my aunt has a ten-year-death-grip on my mother’s copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book.

Australian’s will understand. Possibly even non-Aussies have heard of the fame of the AWWBC book. It is a legend, in book form. And if my sources are correct it is tragically out of print. I have hunted high and low. I have searched the site of my favourite online second-hand book purveyor (abe.com – very handy for book lovers). I even tried to wrest it from the clutches of my aunt. No luck. Mysteriously, even The Nanna doesn’t have a copy, which makes me suspect that one of her sisters pinched it from her. Last week, acting on a baseless rumour that it was back in print, I scoured our local shopping centre’s six book-sellers. No luck. All I found was an AWW Birthday Parties book, which had frankly terrifying suggestions on how to dress your six-year olds up as tarts and make them a handbag cake (or something similar, I kind of blocked out the whole awful experience). Not a patch on the original, with classics like the train, the swimming pool (for years I begged for that, but my mother, The Granny, is strangely averse to jelly), the doll-with-giant-cake-skirt, the rocket, and – most importantly – the number one.

When small was six months old I had decided that that was the cake I was making. I fought off The Granny and marked my cake-making territory with lots of stern phone calls. I thought I had plenty of time to actually lay my hands on a copy of the hallowed book. Wrong. A week out, still no book. I was saved by two things – the cake is really pretty basic and I actually remembered what it looked like (all those years of poring over it and harassing The Granny were not wasted!). So, there was nought to do but fake it…

The Small One’s Number One

250 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

200 grams of dark eating chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)

440 grams of caster sugar

330 mls of water

1 tablespoon of dry instant coffee (I used instant espresso)

110 grams of plain flour

110 grams of self-raising flour

25 grams of cocoa powder

3 eggs, beaten lightly (these I had to cadge from one of the LMF’s chooks, as ours are still slacking off)


200 grams of dark eating chocolate (here I used Whittaker’s 72% just to see what it was like)

160 mls of thickened cream

Smarties (evil, Nestle-produced, I know I know)

Grease and line your tin. Even in you have a Number 1 tin, as I do, that specifically says to grease with copha and dust with flour. Just line it anyway – far less pain in the long term. If you do not have a Number 1 tin, draw an outline of the shape you want, bake your cake (you may need double quantity) in square pans, allow to cool, put template over the cooled cake and cut out the shapes you need. Anything a bit dodgy can be glued together with icing.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees celsius (130 fan forced)

Combine the butter, chocolate, sugar, water and coffee in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat, without boiling, until butter is melted and the mixture can be stirred smooth.

Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for at least ten minutes.

Combine the flours and cocoa powder. Whisk into the chocolate mixture in two batches.

Whisk in the eggs.

Pour the mixture into the prepared (lined!) pan. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, depending on your oven. Start checking on it from around the hour mark.

Let it cool completely in the tin. Before you tip it onto your plate/cakeboard/breadboard/bench get a good sharp breadknife and slice off the risen bit (I sliced level with the tin sides but that would be madness if it had risen way above the tin) so that it will be sit steadily to be iced and sliced.

For the icing:

Combine the chocolate and cream in a medium size heatproof bowl. Place over a pan of just simmering water until the chocolate begins to melt. Turn the heat off and continue to stir until the mixture is smooth.

Stir (or whisk) until cooling and thickened. Do not wander off to breastfeed your child at this point as I did, letting it get too thick and meaning I had to stick the evil Smarties on like a speed demon.

Spread all over your cake and stud with Smarties as thickly as you like. I just did the top.

Almost the most satisfying moment of the day? The beloved’s cousin seeing the cake and exclaiming ‘I’m having such a de ja vu moment! That’s exactly the same as the cake I had for my first birthday! Mum made it from the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book’!


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