Happy Birthday Jesus: Italian cake
Birthdays are a celebration of one’s life. The birth of Jesus is one of the most important dates and celebrations of the liturgical calendar. On December 25 we mark the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem around 6 BC to Mary and Joseph. Every Christmas we are called to remember that the story of Christmas is one of love. Where there is hope, love, light and life, the plan and purpose of God will reach people.
There are many symbols for Advent and Christmas. The Advent wreath is a symbol of God’s never-ending love, with no beginning and no end. Candles remind us that Jesus is the light of the world, and that we should strive to be like him and be a light to others. Candy canes take the shape of a shepherd’s crook, which is used to bring lost lambs back into the fold. The Saviour is often thought of as the Good Shepherd who guides us back when we might stray.
Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas, whose feast day we celebrate on December 6. St Nicholas, a bishop in Asia Minor in the 4th century, went from home to home giving gifts and celebrating the saviour by showing love. And Christmas presents remind us that God gave us the gift of his son, and that Jesus Christ gave us the greatest gift of all. Giving presents is meant to be a symbol of love and kindness.
The star represents the one of Bethlehem that shone on the night Jesus was born. That night the angels announced the news of the Saviour’s birth to shepherds and sang “Glory to God in the highest”, proclaiming the good news that first Christmas night.
A birthday celebration isn’t complete without cake. After all, “a party without a cake is just a meeting”, as the cook Julia Childs once remarked.
For this birthday celebration, I have chosen a vanilla sponge filled with two flavours of crème patisserie (or custard): chocolate and vanilla. Roasted almonds are coated around the sponge, and it’s finished off with a glacé icing. You may even decorate with berries and chocolate shavings. This cake can be made round or any other shape, depending on the cake tins you have available.
Preparation: 120 min • Servings: 8
Sponge: •5 large eggs separated •190g caster sugar • 12,5ml lemon juice • 120g cake flour • 5ml salt
- Separate the eggs. Whisk the whites to stiff peak stage. While still whisking, add 125g of the caster sugar and lemon juice.
- Without rinsing the whisk, in a separate bowl whisk egg yolks until foamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk till thick and light in colour.
- Fold the whisked egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture. Sift the flour and salt together, then sift layer by layer over the egg mixture. Fold into each layer lightly. Repeat until all the flour has been used.
- Line the bottom of a large cake tin. Bake at 160°C for 30-40 minutes until golden.
Remove from the oven and let the cake cool, then remove from tin.
•500ml full-cream milk • 4 large egg yolks • 8 tsp cake flour • 8 tsp sugar •1 tsp of vanilla essence or extract • Rind of one lemon • 3 tbsp cocoa
- Beat egg yolks and sugar together. Add the flour, milk, vanilla essence and lemon rind.
- Cook in a medium-sized pot until thick, continuously using a whisk so that no lumps form.
- Remove the lemon rind and place half of the custard in a bowl.
- Make a paste with the 3 tablespoons of cocoa and a few drops of water, and add this to the pot with the custard. Stir and bring to a boil, then remove and cool.
- Cover the two bowls of custard — vanilla and chocolate — with clingwrap so that no skin forms on top. Of course, this recipe can be doubled.
Assembly: 100g chopped roasted almonds • 150g icing sugar • 2 drops almond essence • 10ml cold water • Optional: Brandy, whisky or rum (alternatively diluted rum or brandy essence)
- Cut the sponge into three layers. If you are opting to use the liquor or diluted essence, sprinkle it onto the sponge layers now.
- Add the chocolate custard to the first layer and spread evenly. Repeat the next layer with the vanilla custard.
- For the top of the cake, mix the icing sugar with almond essence and a drop of water to make the icing. Spread evenly.
- Cover all of the sides of the cake with the chopped almonds. You will have to use a bit of custard to coat the edges of the cake, so the almonds will stick to the sides. If you would like to add berries and chocolate shavings you can do so once the icing is a bit firm.
- Place the cake in the fridge till it is required. It’s best served at room temperature. The flavour of the cake improves with time.
- Enjoy with a Christmas prayer.
This recipe is one of many in Grazia Barletta’s cookbook Delicious Italian Moments. Order it at R200 plus p&p from . Follow her blog at momentswithgrazia.com