My little girl is growing up. For her 6th birthday, instead of asking me to make a 3D cake, or a pink 'princessy' cake, Sugababe 1 graciously told me that she was fine with anything I chose. This, coming from a girl who has always been a 'girly-girl', insisting on pink, or princess themes, when faced with a choice on anything.
"Anything you like, Mummy" she said.
It wasn't just about the cake. This year there was no list of demands, and she was even happy not to have a birthday party but to just spend a day out with us.
It's a change that has been happening for some time, this realisation that she doesn't always need to insist on her way, but that she can give way to others, and make room for other ideas of what is good, or what is beautiful. That it's okay if she doesn't have the only available pink cup or crayon (is it only in my household that girls would fight over this?). That she doesn't always need to be in a dress, but that jeans and a T-shirt are fine too. That it is okay for her sister to have, wear or enjoy something that is 'nicer' than hers, because she is not any less special for not having the same thing.
Such are the rewards of a parent when you see glimpses of your child maturing into gracious and beautiful inner attitudes and behaviour.
I have always delighted in meeting my kids' birthday cake demands, no matter how much work it took to bake and build those 3D confections.
But this time, given free reign to bake for her what I chose, I had joy of a different kind.
I decided on this Chocolate Tweed Angel Cake, because she loves the soft texture of angel cakes, and also anything with chocolate. But mainly, I loved that this was such a beautiful cake, its chocolate-speckles against white bringing to mind the elegance of Chanel tweed, and a princess of a different kind. Yes, not a make-believe fairy tale princess with pink frou-frou and ribbons and bows. But a REAL princess - sophisticated, gentle and gracious.
Recipe for Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake
by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Serves 14 to 16.
1-1/2 cups, divided superfine sugar
3/4 cup cake flour, lightly spooned and leveled off (or 1 cup, sifted into the cup and leveled off)
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 large egg whites, at room temperature, or 2 cups
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
fine-quality unsweetened or 99% cacao chocolate, chilled, finely grated, refrigerated
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: One ungreased 10-inch (16 cups) two-piece metal tube pan or 1 long-necked glass wine or soda bottle, or a large inverted metal funnel that will fit into the opening at the top of the pan. (Have this ready before baking and weight it by filling it with sugar or marbles to keep it from tipping.)
PREHEAT THE OVEN: Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.
PREPARE THE SUGAR, FLOUR, AND SALT: In a small bowl, whisk together half the sugar, the flour, and salt until evenly combined. Sift the remaining sugar onto a piece of wax paper.
BEAT THE EGG WHITES INTO A STIFF MERINGUE: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer off, add the cream of tartar. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Gradually beat in the sifted sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until very stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Beat in the vanilla until combined.
MAKE THE BATTER: Dust (lightly sprinkle) the flour mixture over the beaten whites, 1/4 cup at a time (if using cake flour, sift it over the whites). With a large balloon whisk, slotted skimmer, or large silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture quickly but gently. It is not necessary to incorporate every speck until the last addition. Fold in the grated chocolate until evenly incorporated. Using a long narrow spatula or silicone spatula, spread a thin layer of batter onto the sides of the prepared pan to ensure smooth sides. Empty the rest of the batter into the pan. In a 16-cup pan, it will be 1/2-inch from the top of the rim. Run a small metal spatula or knife through the batter to prevent air pockets and smooth the surface evenly.
BAKE THE CAKE: Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown, a wire cake tester inserted between the tube and the side comes out clean, and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. (A wooden toothpick will still have a few moist crumbs clinging to it.) During baking, the center will rise about 2 inches above the pan, but it will sink to almost level with the pan when done. The surface will have deep cracks, like a souffle.
COOL AND UNMOLD THE CAKE: Invert the pan immediately, placing the tube opening over the neck of the bottle to suspend it well above the countertop. Cool completely in the pan, about 1-1/2 hours.
Loosen the sides of the pan with a long narrow spatula and remove the center core of the pan. Dislodge the cake from the bottom and center core with a metal spatula or thin sharp knife. (A wire cake tester or wooden skewer works well around the core. To keep the sides attractive, press the spatula firmly against the sides of the pan, moving the spatula up and down as you go around it.) Invert the cake onto a flat plate covered with plastic wrap that has been coated lightly with nonstick cooking spray and reinvert it onto a serving plate. Allow the cake to sit for 1 hour, or until the top is no longer tacky. Then cover it with a cake dome or wrap it airtight. It keeps for 3 days at room temperature and for 10 days refrigerated. Freezing toughens the texture. The cake is also lovely decorated simply with a light sprinkling of cocoa or lacy drizzles of melted chocolate. Do not serve this cake with sauce as it would fall apart.