Birthday Dinner – Fit for a Baroness

Mr. BT made me a lovely birthday dinner last week. I couldn’t have had any better at a restaurant. My dinner began with my surprise gift. After 45 years of life, I was presented with a dark blue Kitchenaid, something I have wanted for years. It has already made a two honey cakes, whole wheat bread, and some beautiful challah for Rosh Hashana.

Dinner began with a very artistically displayed portobello mushroom framed by grilled asparagus. It looked like the evil eye was protecting me for my birthday.

The next course was grilled fresh barramundi stuffed with a bunch of fresh tarragon and served with a porcini mushroom and shallot sauce. Barramundi is especially popular in Australia and is now also farmed at a kibbutz in the Negev. We buy it fresh from the kibbutz. It is a lovely sweet, white, flaky fish. Mr. BT served the fish with sauteed fresh spinach and steamed rice.

Dessert were two lovely homemade sorbets: Pink Grapefruit-Campari and Granny Smith Apple-Calvados. They were both delicious and the granny smith apple sorbet was like a whole apple orchard in your mouth. It has an amazing appley flavour accentuated by Mr. BT having left the peel on.

We drank a delicious and fruity white wine blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewuertztraminer made by our local boutique winery, Yekev Mond (website only in Hebrew) at Moshav Mishmeret, which is literally a five minute drive from our house. This winery has been producing wines for several years, but only started selling three years ago. Moshe Keren, the winemaker, gave us the grand tour lasting about two hours, most of which was taken up by tasting his wines and liqueurs. We began by tasting grape juice that had been crushed four hours earlier. It already had a lovely fruity flavour. He then gave us a taste of a Shiraz, also straight from the fermentation tank, that had been fermenting for the past 28 hours. It was obviously quite young, but you could already taste the alcohol and it had it a lovely fragrance.

From there we went to the tasting room and tried a Merlot, the white blend (see above), Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend of Merlot and Cab. However, the big surprises were a Muscat Alexandroni that had an absolutely intoxicating aroma of honey, a Port that wouldn’t have disgraced any Portuguese maker (and it’s the first Israeli Port we have tasted that is really worth drinking), a mulberry liqueur, and a mint liqueur. It is just as well the drive home was only five minutes on quiet country roads because we both happily skipped to our car.

Birthday Cake

It was my turn to bring goodies for my team’s weekly Kabbalat Shabbat, which literally means “Receiving Sabbath”. Kabbalat Shabbat is usually celebrated by reciting Psalms and prayers before Shabbat begins on Friday evening, but in Israeli companies and offices it has also come to mean a break on Thursday for colleagues to get together informally over savory or sweet munchies and drinks. Weather permitting, we have our break on the rooftop of our building where there are nice niches with tables and chairs to sit and look over the Sharon plain. Since my birthday was the next day, I decided to bring a birthday cake. Usually we bring coffee cakes or cheese and nuts, but when someone has a birthday, they try to bring something more special.

When I was a child, I always asked for a German Chocolate cake for my birthday. Talk about sickeningly sweet! I am not sure when I stopped asking for cakes with tons of frosting, but now I really dislike buttercream, or even worse, frosting made with shortening like they put on cakes in the States with cups and cups of icing sugar.

But I don’t mind the sour icing that is put on a carrot cake. Usually, it is icing made with cream cheese, but I found an interesting frosting made with mascarpone and fromage frais, which is a low fat cheese from France. It is similar to German quark. I decided to use labane, a yogurt cheese, that is readily available in the Middle East and is 5% fat. This carrot cake is a moist spicy cake that goes well with the sharpness of the icing.

The team enjoyed the cake and took seconds and thirds, but fortunately there was enough left to bring back to Mr. BT, who would have been disappointed if hadn’t got any.

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone, Labane, and Cinnamon Icing
For the cake:

300g (2 3/4 cups) self-raising flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of salt

4 eggs

335ml (1 2/3 cup) sunflower oil or other light vegetable oil

450g (2 1/4 cup) caster sugar

2 cups grated carrots

1 1/4 chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons hot water

Butter and flour for the tins

For the icing:

500g (1lb) mascarpone

400g (3/4lb) Labane, 5% fat (or drained greek-style yogurt)

1/4 cup icing (confectioner's) sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Lightly grease two 23cm (9-inch) spring-form cake tins with melted butter. Line the bottom of each tin with parchment paper. Butter the paper and then dust the tin with flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Separate two of the eggs.

In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the oil and the sugar. Slowly add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, beating well. Add the carrots, and then add the walnuts. Then add the flour followed by the hot water. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold them into the cake batter.

Divide the cake mixture between the prepared tins. Place the baking tins on a baking tray in the middle of the oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and then remove them from the tray and let cool on a baking rack.

For the icing:

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 1-2 hours, until you are ready to ice the cake.

With a palette knife, spread a layer of icing on one cake, then press the other on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Keep refrigerated.

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