Nico’s Birthday Cake

Today (well it’s already the 30th in the UK) my wonderful number 2 son turns 23.  There were times in the past when I wondered if you would even reach this advanced age, let alone whether we would all be talking.  Well, my brown-eyed boy, you have and we are.  You have conquered your demons and have achieved so much.  You’ve finally come to terms with being the middle child, being The Greek One and being the one who wasn’t born in the UK; in fact, you have embraced it all and grown into a fantastic person.  The man you are now is the man we hoped you’d be when you were, as Andrew used to call you, a semi-mobile smile.

You showed early signs of your slightly obsessive nature when you were Robin Hood for about six months.  I will never forget your interrupting my household chores to go down on one knee, take my hand and declare ‘Marry me, Marion’.  The next six months were dedicated to being a tyrannosaurus rex, a part you played really well as you held your arms to your side with three fingers sticking up and roared around the flat.  Sometimes you were Bert from Mary Poppins, though we eventually had to stop you watching that film because you treated the furniture like the scene with all the chimneys and leapt from armchair to sofa.  Calamity Jane was another favourite and we sang The Deadwood Stage on our way around Waitrose.  You would then descend from the shopping trolley to sing and dance to I Just Blew In From The Windy City, much to the amusement of the other shoppers.

Dad and I are so proud of the way you’ve turned your life around, and rebuilt and strengthened the fractured relationships with the rest of us.  The academic achievements are wonderful but I am prouder of the person you have become.   I could have managed perfectly well without the ramifications your life path took, but the result is pretty much perfect.

Embarrassingly I didn’t know what today’s recipe should be.  Roast lamb was the obvious choice but I know that you can already cook that better than I can.   I’ve done hummus and you make excellent melitzanasalata.  It was Suzy who reminded me that she has made this for you twice as a birthday cake, and I couldn’t believe I had forgotten it.  I am not great at making pastry so will give you two versions – one with a biscuit base (which I can make), and one with a pastry base which is your preferred choice, and why Suzy made it for you.  Today’s recipe is of course Lemon Meringue Pie.

Lemon Meringue Pie – Ingredients

(serves 6)

Pastry base – Ingredients

  • 150 g  / 8 oz plain flour
  • 1/4 level tsp salt
  • 75 g / 3 oz butter, cut into small cubes and from the fridge
  • Cold water to mix, from 1 to 1.5 tsps per 25 g / 1 oz flour

Method

Sift flour and salt into a bowl.  Add the cubes of butter and cut into even smaller pieces with a knife.  Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips.  My Domestic Science teacher taught us that if there was flour in our palms, we hadn’t done this correctly.  When rubbed in properly, the mixture will look like breadcrumbs.  When you think you’ve finished, tap the bowl a couple of times and any remaining large lumps will come to the top and you can rub them in.  Make sure your hands are cold.  Part of the reason I’m not good at pastry is that I have hot hands.

Sprinkle some of the water over the crumbs.   Use spatula to mix together.  Add more water until it is a stiff crumbly-looking paste. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead gently and only until it is smooth and crack-free.  Do not overwork the pastry.  Wrap in cling film and put back in the fridge to rest for at least 30 mins.

Roll out the pastry and line an 18 cm / 7 in fluted flan ring.  Prick the pastry with a fork (not right through to the tin), line with tin foil (this stops the pastry from rising) and put the flan ring on a baking tray.  Bake in a moderate oven / 200 C / 180 c (fan assisted) / 400 F / Gas mark 6 for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and put back in the oven for another 15 minutes (or until golden).  Remove from oven.

Biscuit base – Ingredients

  • 100 g / 4 oz digestive biscuits
  • 40 g / 1.5 oz butter

Method

Crush the biscuits.  I put them in one of those sealable sandwich bags and, after making sure that as much air as possible has been removed, I seal the bag and hit it with the rolling pin.  Once the biscuits are in large pieces I then roll the bag until they are completely crushed.  Put the biscuit crumbs in a bowl and add the melted butter.  Mix together and put into an 18 cm / 7 in loose-bottomed buttered flan tin.  Press down firmly and put in the fridge to chill.

Lemon Filling – Ingredients

  • 2 level tsps cornflour
  • 50 g / 2 oz caster sugar
  • Finely grated rind of two large lemons
  • Juice of 2 large lemons
  • 150 ml / 1/4 pint water
  • 2 standard egg yolks
  • 15 g / 1/2 oz butter

Method

Put cornflour, sugar and lemon rind into a small bowl.  Mix with a little of the water until a smooth paste.  Heat the remainder of the water with the lemon juice.  When warm (not boiling), remove from heat and add flour mixture.  Stir well and return to heat.

Bring to the boil, stirring all the time.  This is really important – you do not want your mixture to be lumpy.  Now is not the time to change the music on your iPod.

Simmer for three minutes.  Turn down heat and beat in egg yolks and butter.  Cook very gently for another minute, and then pour into the pastry case / onto the biscuit base.

Meringue Topping – Ingredients

  • Whites of 2 standard eggs
  • 50-75 g / 2-3 oz caster sugar
  • 1 level tbsp granulated sugar

Method

Put the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk until light and fluffy.  The peaks of the egg whites should be stiff and stay in place when you pull the whisk through the mixture.  Carefully fold in the sugar with a large metal spoon.  You are not beating this, you are cutting the mixture so that the air you’ve just beaten into the egg whites stays there.  You must use a metal spoon, and try to do this in as few moves as possible.  Put the meringue mixture on top of the lemon filling, and sprinkle the granulated sugar on top.

There are a couple of ways of baking the meringue – it all depends on how you want to eat it.  If you want to eat the pie cold later, then you have to cook the meringue slowly in a cool oven to dry out the meringue.  If you don’t, the meringue will droop and the sugar will drip out as a syrup – tastes ok but doesn’t look great.  For this you need to cook the pie in a very slow oven / 110 C / 225 F / Gas mark 1/2 for 1.5 to 2 hours or until firm and golden.

For a hot pie, bake in the centre of a slow oven / 150 C / 300 F / Gas mark 2 for 20-30 or until pale gold.

And by the way, Nico, 23 years ago today I was feeling very pleased with myself.

Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Nico’s Birthday Cake

  1. I remember whilst on a teaching practice Mum had to make me ‘Blue Peter’ pastries. I went back with numerous poly bags with the pastry at every stage! I always taught classes to wash their hands in cold water prior to rubbing-in.

    A food processor does it very well too but be very careful not to over process and of course fp’s are a devil to wash up.

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