I’m having a bad skin day. I have contact eczema, which is usually kept under control but sometimes flares up with no warning. Today it flared up for all the reasons: detergent, nail varnish, cleaning products and heating. I didn’t use these products for the first time today or yesterday, but they must have all kicked in at the same time. Bad skin days don’t happen often, but when they do, my first inclination is to blockade myself away from the world until it eases up. I know this is not the answer, so I am taking inspiration from my sister. Grace has suffered from terrible eczema since she was a baby, but has never let it stop her from being a social butterfly and enjoying life. Rather than dwelling too much on the state of my epidermis, I am going to drink lots of water, write and then go out. Take that, eczema!
It’s that time of year when the old familiar faces are disappearing. This happens all the time in Brussels, but nowadays it feels like there is a goodbye party every weekend. Two weeks ago, it was a relief to welcome back a dear old friend, even if only for a couple of days. After living in Belgium for 7 years (3 of them with me in Chatelain), Clare headed off to Aberdeen and is now based in London, but part of her heart will always be in Brussels.
To celebrate the almost joint Brennan birthdays, we had a lunch, with salads, cheeses, breads and copious amounts of prosecco and other bubbly liquids. My contribution was a birthday cake in the form of a Devil’s Food Cake. There was almost an incident on the walk over, as the top and bottom layers began to slide in opposite directions, but reconstruction was possible with the extra icing. It is a rich cake, but the fluffiness of the icing makes it feel a lot lighter than it is.
Devil’s Food Cake
225g butter (with extra for greasing)
100g plain chocolate
325g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
500g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 ml buttermilk
200 ml boiling water
225g caster sugar
2 egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp orange juice
Preheat the over to 190 degree Celsius. Grease and line 2 round tins/one large swiss roll tin.
Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Sift the flour and bicarbonate into a bowl.
Cream the butter and sugar in a separate bowl, then beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs, one at a time. Beat well after every addition and add some flour if the mix starts to curdle.
Mix in the melted chocolate until well blended, followed by the flour. Finally stir in the buttermilk and boiling water.
Divide the mixture between the prepared tins (or put it all into the swiss roll tin) and smooth the surface. Bake for 30 minutes or until it is springy to the touch. Once baked, cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you are using the swiss roll tin, divide the cake in two so that you can make a sandwich with it.
For the icing, put all the ingredients into a large bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Beat with a hand-held electric whisk until thick soft peaks form. It will be like a meringue mix. Remove from the heat and beat again until it is cool.
Sandwich the cakes together with some of the icing. Smooth the rest over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate as you want: I had some of these gold sprinkles, but you could also use crystallised orange rind to match the citrus in the icing.