My Birthday Begins Yesterday

Yesterday on the way home from school I mentioned to Finn that I might make a cake - I've been thinking about a root cake, some sort of variation on a carrot cake - maybe parsnip and apple with chestnut flour or a beetroot, Teff cake, maybe a hazelnut sweet potato galette? Hmm.....

'Actually', said Finn, using one of his favourite words, (another is recommend, as in 'I recommend that you should try homeopathy' to the hospital registrar when he had a brief stay. Needless to say, the registrar nearly fell off his chair)

Anyway, 'Actually, I was going to make a cake this afternoon' said Finn thoughtfully.
'A late birthday cake for Daddy', whose birthday was indeed only a couple of weeks ago.

We stopped in at the health food shop to stock up on ingredients and there ensued a heated debate on what this cake was going to involve. Finn knew it was going to be lemon, almond and vanilla, with some sort of icing and 'Happy Birthday Daddy' written across the top in something, but he couldn't work out what.

'Finn, that sounds like an awful lot of sugar in that cake, could we forgo the icing and use raisins for the letters?' - ah, no.

Not smarties, or date syrup, definitely not raisins, letters formed out of chocolate or a honey butter mixture than Finn is particularly fond of. By now the patient shop keeper’s smile was starting to crack around the edges, so we just got the cake ingredients and agreed to work it out at home.

Once home, I had to find a way of helping Finn that also allowed him to feel that he had both created the recipe and made it himself. I did this by continually asking him for confirmation.
'Finn, do you think I should add this much ground almonds?' - yes.
'And three eggs?' - yes.
'Does this look about right to you?' - yes that looks fine...

So he taught his Nana to suck eggs like a pro and was convinced that he had indeed summoned up this recipe from the depths of his cake knowledge, and popped it in the oven with a job well done smile, all on his own.

Twenty eight minutes later a golden sponge emerged from the oven, wafting its vanilla scented fingers under our hungry noses. As it cooled I had an epiphany regarding the decoration. When Finn came in to finish his cake, I handed him a small sieve full of finely ground palm sugar and pointed to the magnetic letters scattered over the fridge.

I wasn't allowed to watch the next part, Finn insisting that Nick and I stand holding hands with our eyes shut while he arranged things on the table. So it was with complete surprise that I opened my eyes and saw that the cake said, 'haPPy BirtHdaY naOmi'.

Although my birthday isn't for another couple of months yet, I have been known to stretch it out almost that far. So we celebrated the early coming of my March birthday by slicing straight into that dense, eggy, almondy, sponge. Cake in hand, I wiped away a happy birthday tear and thanked fate and the universe, for bringing me this beautiful family, flawed and wonderful, and utterly irreplaceable.

Finley's Moist Almond Sponge serves 8

This is great as a plain cake, but you could also add some lemon zest and drizzle over some lemon syrup or serve it with some baked fruit and a thin crème anglaise made with real vanilla.

Juice of 1 lemon
125g unsalted butter or coconut oil melted and cooled
3 large eggs
125g palm sugar or light muscovado sugar
125g ground almonds
25g tapioca starch or arrowroot powder
45g rice flour
1 1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract

a large pinch of sea salt

Line an 8in (20cm) sandwich tin with greaseproof paper. If you only have very shallow sided tins, go for a deep sided cake tin of the same diameter or you'll be cleaning the oven for weeks! Alternatively, make a paper collar to catch any enthusiastic cake as it peeps over the top of the tin.

Preheat the oven to 160ºC fan.

Pour butter or coconut oil into a heavy mixing bowl, add lemon juice, salt, sugar, vanilla and eggs. Beat with a handheld electric whisk or old fashioned elbow grease version, until thick and creamy.

Sift all the dry ingredients into the bowl, pushing any little balls of baking powder through. Tip in the almond bits that won't go through and fold gently into the egg mix.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes. It should be tinged golden brown on the top, well risen and slightly springy to touch. Cool on a rack and sprinkle some icing sugar over the top or drench with a sharp lemon syrup, after piercing with a skewer all over.