That’s Debs, lil’sis in the middle, and Emily in our garden in Kent many moons ago. Lil’sis’ birthday falls in the middle of August and, since I can remember, she had an ice cream birthday cake adapted by our mother from a Delia Smith recipe for her party.
It’s a classic Victoria sponge cake, split and layered with chocolate, vanilla & strawberry ice cream. The sides are held together with sugary sponge fingers, painted with apricot jam to stick them onto the sides of the cake, with semi-solid jelly (Jell-O for my American friends) poured over the top, and the whole lot bunged in the freezer to set. (Believe me, frozen jelly is YUM.)
Of course we had our own family twist on it. One year we had no strawberry jelly for the frozen top, so Muv used lime green, and although none of us actually like it, the radioactive jelly became a family tradition.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this cake is because I am off to Singapore soon, and that reminded me of the launch of my friend & ex-Wall Street Journal colleague Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s new book, A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family.
This is what she wrote to me about it: “The book is about a year that I spent traveling to Singapore to learn about my family by cooking with them. The book is filled with lessons (life, cooking and otherwise) learned in the kitchen, as well as a few recipes. (My grandmother’s pineapple tarts, my aunt’s braised duck etc.)”
“Part of what made my year so magical was the culinary anthropology aspect of it — so many of us have so little time to corner our grandmothers or mothers these days to ask them to teach us how to make that great cookie, dumpling or casserole we grew up eating. And if we don’t make that time to ask, to sit in the kitchen and help out and learn, these recipes will die out.”
To celebrate its launch, she has asked me to share a family recipe of my own on LLG. So, I give you:
Ice-Cream Birthday Cake a la LLG’s mother, after Delia Smith from her legendary Book of Cakes
You need to make this cake the day (or several) before it is needed. And you need to make the cake at least an hour before you start constructing it. (The sponge needs to be cold.) Do read the recipe thoroughly beforehand as although it is very simple, it does have several time-consuming stages.
1 standard Victoria sponge cake recipe (made in 2 x classic 7″/18cm tins)
1 and 1/2 litres of softened ice-cream (three assorted colours)
1 and 1/2 packets of sponge fingers (Boudoir biscuits)
1 packet of jelly (US: Jell-O)
2 tablespoons of jam (US: jelly)
1 x very deep 7-inch (18cm) round cake tin with a greased loose base.
Ribbon to tie around the middle
First make your sponge cake and let it cool completely. Take your ice cream out the freezer and allow to soften slightly. Carefully slice each cake in half horizontally – so you have four layers of sponge altogether.
Now fit one cake layer into the base of the prepared cake loose bottom tin, then spoon 1/2 litre (7/8 pint) of one colour ice-cream all over it, spreading it out evenly. Then, working quickly, fit another sponge layer on top – then a second layer of ice-cream, another sponge, a third layer of ice-cream and finally the last sponge.
Now quickly cover the top of the tin with foil and place the cake in the freezer overnight.
Next day make up the jelly, dissolving it in 1/2 pint (275ml) of hot water (it needs to be fairly stiff so don’t use any more water). Cool the jelly until it’s syrupy and about to set (this can take up to an hour), then take the cake out of the freezer and carefully spoon the jelly all over the surface – where it will start to set almost immediately. Don’t worry if any jelly starts to escape, it won’t show later.
Return the cake to the freezer, covered again with foil and let freeze for at least an hour. (You can store it in this state for up to a month according to Delia).
To serve, take it out about an hour before serving and have ready some jam (jelly) (the sort without bits in). Hold a hot dishcloth round the tin for a few seconds, then ease the tin gently upwards, slide a palette knife underneath and transfer the cake from the base on to the plate.
Now spread the non-sugared sides of the sponge fingers with jam and position them vertically all round the side of the cake. Keep in the fridge ’till needed. Just before serving stick in the birthday candles and tie a ribbon around the centre with a large bow, then light the candles before carrying the cake to the table.
Now do, please, go buy Cheryl’s wonderful book: A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family