RECIPE: Superman birthday cake

dsc_0036.jpg Daniel’s 5th birthday party fell on a public holiday again. Five seems to be an age where kids love to show off their strength, lightning speed and superhuman powers. So naturally we had a superhero and pajama party (a few adults dressed up too, but swapped the spiderman mini-juices for wine).

We usually get a bit carried away and invite too many people, but it was a little more hectic than normal this year. I’m working fulltime as an acting magazine editor for six weeks, so it meant I only had weekends to run around and source cake decorations and ingredients. Then Craig’s flight was delayed for hours the day before while the house/cake/cupcakes/garden were meant to happen. No pressure. It’s why I wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt on the day and felt the part.

dsc_0004.jpg I deviated from the usual beer box cake recipe because I was given a new Kitchen Aid cake tin with smaller dimensions (23 x 33 x 5cm) and wanted to put it to the test. It made just the right size of cake to accommodate Clark Kent’s buffer alter ego. My cake rose too much in the centre, but I just piped butter icing in the cracks and kept spreading. Fortunately Superman needed a puffy chest.

The party was a blast, with granny baking cheesecake and gingerbreadmen, Hannah beautifully icing the cupcakes, and I sorted out the cake decoration late at night. In attendance: four spidermen, a superman-batman, dinosaur and a maiden or two. A few days later when I asked Daniel if he’d expected a superman cake (it’s a surprise until we bring it out), he said sort of, but he was hoping he’d have a cake with Superman’s kryptonite. Right …

Versatile and flop-proof, butter cake is the foundation for many recipes. The cake batter is easily modified to include other ingredients and flavours.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes
Skill level: easy
Makes: 1 two-layer cake

Ingredients: Double the recipe for the large tray bake variation below
125 g butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla essence
560 ml (2¼ cups) cake flour
12 ml (2¼ tsp) baking powder
1 ml (pinch) salt
150 ml milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 2 round 20 cm cake pans. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and creamy. Add essence.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add dry ingredients, alternately with milk, to egg mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave in pans for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

-Oil cake: Substitute butter with cooking oil.
-Large tray bake cake: Double the recipe. Bake mixture in an oven pan of about 24 x 34 cm for 35 – 40 minutes.
-Chocolate cake: Mix 60 ml (¼ cup) cocoa powder with 60 ml (¼ cup) warm water and add to the cake batter.

dsc_0048.jpg BUTTER ICING
(Multiply the recipe according to the quantity required)
100g soft butter, cubed
300g sieved icing sugar
2.5 Tablespoons milk
lemon juice to taste

  1. Beat together butter and icing sugar until soft.
  2. Beat in the milk and lemon juice. Add colouring.
    Tip: buy cake decorations and ingredients, including bottled red, yellow and blue gel food colouring, Spiderman cupcake icing faces, and catering packs of smarties (sort them into red, yellow and blue colours) at CAB Foods.

dsc_0063.jpg Superman S design
I photocopied the S emblem from a T-shirt, enlarged it to size, and cut out inside the letters to create an icing template. I was surprised I managed to pipe in the yellow and red design using a fine icing nozzle. The blue surrounding icing was easily spread with a knife. Extra smarties stuck on the board with piped white icing blobs. We don’t do plastic icing, so it’s never on the cake itself. But Superman needs a red cape …

Also see Daniel’s 4th birthday Peter Pan cake

Find the original beer box recipe here at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

ON A PLATE: Healthy 2011 kickstart: Justine Drake

Justine Drake has the solution to healthier eating after the festive excesses. Simply Good Food is her fifth cookbook.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in January 2011. justine-011.jpg

How does your love of food translate into earning a living? I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to wield a wooden spoon. I currently edit the Fresh Living consumer food magazine. I’ve hosted Just in Africa, a culinary travelogue TV series, and I coordinate the restaurant line-up as director of the Taste of Cape Town and Taste of Joburg food shows annually.

Describe yourself. Outspoken, loyal, honest, fun-loving, food-mad.

Healthy eater or prone to gourmet binges? Hmm, I suppose for the most part I’m a pretty healthy eater – low fat, low salt, no preservatives. But I do love Sauvignon Blanc and my job is prone to gourmet binging. Enough said.

Suggestions for over-indulgence sufferers? Lots of water and milk thistle. Mind you, a good spicy Bloody Mary and a bacon sandwich go a long way too!

Always in your grocery bag? Lemons, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, assorted fresh herbs, free-range chicken, Sauvignon Blanc. And a recent discovery, Primitiv Vodka produced locally from spelt grown in the Cederberg.

A “good” eating day at home? I presume you mean healthy and well behaved. On a regular weekday it’s homemade Bircher muesli, an office lunch of Ryvita, chunky cottage cheese, tomato and Danish herring. Dinner of chicken breasts stuffed with anchovy, lemon and herbs, with baby potatoes and salad. Or spaghetti Bolognaise, or maybe grilled fish with a curry rub, raita and basmati rice.

Favourite Cape Town restaurants? We mostly eat in our neighbourhood – so Il Leone for great, modern Italian, Manos for heavenly Prego rolls, Posticino for good, affordable pizza. I love Bizerca Bistro for friendly “posh” food, and Carne for meat in another league.

Is Simply Good Food for dieters? Yes and no – it’s for healthy eaters and anyone who wants or needs to eat better. It caters for weight loss, diabetics or those with high cholesterol, and provides salt-free recipes for high blood pressure. Sometimes people need to change their cooking and aren’t sure how to go about it. Eating bland, unexciting food often means they binge because it didn’t satisfy. Simply Good Food aims to change that.

What sorts of cooking suggestions are provided? Desserts using xylitol or Sugar-lite – I dare you not to find the low-fat crème caramel utterly delicious! Stabilising yoghurt so it doesn’t curdle, then using it instead of cream. And the age-old trick: adding lots of herbs and spices to make up for the lack of salt and fat.

Which ingredients were vetoed by dieticians in the book? Salt – almost entirely - and sugar. They are bigger killers than fat and far more frequently used. You know when you’re eating saturated fat – and feel appropriately guilty – but you don’t feel the same when tossing loads of soy sauce on a platter of sushi. I used to use a lot of stock powder, but I took to making my own salt-free chicken stock. It was the only way to get around the fierce dieticians – bless them!

Simply Good Food is produced by Lannice Snyman Publishers and retails at R162.50. ISBN Number: 9780620474016.

Gift wrapped: Antonia Labia

Antonia Labia of Casa Labia café explains why visual appeal is important in her family’s exquisite heritage building turned cultural centre in Muizenberg.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Dec 2010

History of Casa Labia on Muizenberg’s beachfront? My grandfather, Count Natale Labia, was the first Italian ambassador to South Africa. He built Casa Labia in 1929, modelling it on Palazzo Labia in Venice. All the art, gilt ceilings, silk wall panels, chandeliers and marble fireplaces were shipped by designer Angelo Zaniole. Eighty-one years later I’ve restored that original splendour.

What is inside the Casa Labia house? We’ve created the café in the original living room, with reception rooms leading off so the public can wander and admire the interiors. We have a boutique and a contemporary art gallery. We call it a cultural centre. It’s a beautiful space where we host events such as poetry readings, music concerts and workshops.

The café menu? Few can do food simply like Judy Badenhorst. She’s an experienced chef, combining Italian classics with proudly South African ingredients in her unique way. The food is tasty and visually appealing. You might eat roasted tomato and pepper soup, aubergine and orange salad, and spinach and ricotta pancakes. Her rich, moist Italian-style cake is delicious. dsc_0010.jpg

How did you create the luxe café feel? Flock Design created our contemporary café with old-time elegance. We use damask linen and roses on tables; Princess chairs with original brass chandeliers and marble fireplaces. Although Italy is in our hearts, South Africa is in our soul. Our mostly-local customers are a mix of ages. Due to its seaside location, the café is a destination. It feels special without being pretentious. The food is good enough to bring people back.

Describe yourself? Somebody aesthetically-minded. I worked in public relations and later studied interior design. Food, wine, art and travel are passions. Italian food is my favourite – I love the pastas, fruit and vegetables. And on the French side I love Champagne – I’ll find any excuse to drink it.

Casa Labia Tel 021 788 6062.

French flair a la Cape: Marlene van der Westhuizen

Chic South African Marlene van der Westhuizen is inspired by French flavours and classic techniques. When in Cape Town this industrious woman whips up gourmet meals, while in France she hosts tasty tours.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Nov 2010

What keeps you busy in food? I’m a classically trained chef and I’ve produced a few cookbooks. I own a space I call the Food Studio in Green Point. Three times a year I host cooking holidays for foodies in Charroux, Auvergne in France.

Please explain the concept of the Food Studio. It’s a venue where we strive to cook excellent food at affordable prices. We offer lunches or dinners for 10 to 22 guests – I pair my dishes with wines on request - or host small groups of friends or colleagues for stress-free cooking classes.

How did you transform the Food Studio space? We renovated a semi-detached Victorian building in 2007. Upstairs my open-plan kitchen leads to a terrace and a dining area, plus guest bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s decorated with a few serious antique shop pieces plus some easygoing, fun items. I love the antique Murano chandelier I found in an Italian shop in St Germain in Paris.

We’ve heard tasty rumours about dinners on offer. Yes, I have capitulated under pressure from clients. We opened the Food Studio for individual dinners every Friday at eight. We’ve been running these since 19th October, charging R280pp for three courses. It’s a set menu and people can bring their own wine. Booking is essential.

What could I eat at the Food Studio? Comfortable “brasserie luxe” food. Onion soup, coq au vin, osso buco, oxtail, tarte tatin, orange pudding… Served with bread on the table while I cook with a glass in hand! All recipes are from my cookbooks: Delectable, Sumptuous, Lazy Lunches, Decadent Dinners, Kuierkos vir die Middag and Kuierkos vir die Aand. dsc_0001.jpg

You recently went to France to lead your gourmet tour. What happens? Guests stay with me at Bagatelle, our home in the medieval village of Charroux. We shop at local food markets, cook, walk and cycle. During a weeklong experience, we might browse for antiques at the Sunday brocante, eat at a local haunt, cook some more and taste wines.

Ingredients always in your fridge or pantry? Fresh eggs, full cream milk, tomatoes and ripe Brie. Collectively these make a perfect meal.

Your treasured foodie collectables? I love napkins… large antique ones. I have more than is strictly proper. And I have heaps of silver and bone cutlery.

Catering, Friday dinners and Charroux gourmet tour details at Food studio Tel 021 433 2259.

Hemelhuijs and heritage: chef Jacques Erasmus

Food artist Jacques Erasmus takes on the roll of consulting chef, food stylist and conceptual designer of kitchenware at his new cafe. He says he contextualises old-style food as it suits modern lifestyles.

This appeared in Indwe inflight magazine in Oct 2010

Why call yourself a food artist? I qualified as a chef at the Institute of Culinary Arts, but I don’t like putting people or things in boxes. I like doing so many things, from cooking to food styling for magazines to decorating interiors. I designed the cookery school interiors at African Relish in Prince Albert, for instance. I’m designing my new Hemelhuijs homeware range too.

As consulting chef at Cuvée at Simonsig Estate, you recently introduced an old-style menu in the mould of our great-grannies. Explain? We’ve returned to the old Cape with wholesome goodness and honest food, steering clear of bite-size plated art. The essence is how older generations cooked, given a contemporary twist. It’s fine food but not fine dining. A place to relax and unwind in the Winelands.

At Cuvée you can order half or full portions, paired with farm wines by the glass. Suggestions? It’s heritage food such as roasted shoulder of saltbush mutton on puff pastry with preserved Cape green figs – our great-grannies would’ve served it with a fine sauce. Lighter options include bobotie samoosas with Malmesbury yoghurt and Antoinette Malan’s Muscat jam. Or tasty white fish in orange leaves enriched with artichokes and a dill butter sauce.

What else is on the cards? A Cape Town concept café called Hemelhuijs opening in mid October. It’s serving breakfast to tea in the business district. If they like, people can have scrambled egg for lunch from the all-day menu. It’s simple food using organic and smaller suppliers. I’ll have a range of artisan jams.

What’s different about Hemelhuijs? People eat off the homeware range I’ve designed and manufactured locally. They can buy to take home too. It’s very dark and sexy charcoal crockery, incorporating a new way of drinking hot beverages from tea bowls.

Any trends for late 2010? Simple farmstyle food is still in the spotlight. Instead of tipping the entire salad draw into a dish, we’re taking the lead from farm ingredients but rethinking their positioning. For example, sourcing goat’s cheese from one farm and a row of carrots from another farm. You don’t want to spoil such quality with many sauces or garnishes. We’re also in an era where readymade meals are so bland. People want lucid food: vibrant flavours and colours; sustainably farmed or caught produce.

Your idea of a simple lunch? A wonderful bruschetta with marinated artichokes, fresh tomatoes, real mozzarella, good olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar.

Cuvée, Simonsig Wine Estate, outside Stellenbosch. Tel 021 888 4932. Hemelhuijs, 71 De Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tel 082 412 5194.

Pic of Jacques Erasmus by Micky Hoyle

Burgundian delight: Waterkloof’s Gregory Czarnecki

A Burgundian chef talks about a taste for travel that landed him in the Cape.

waterkloof_chef_gregory_czarnecki_low_res_3.jpg People say Waterkloof is like dining in a glass box 300m above the Atlantic Ocean. Other special features? Waterkloof is about transparency: there is an open kitchen with nothing to hide. What you see on the menu is pretty much what you get, no crazy explanations. Something elegant but not stiff. A good bottle of wine, a good meal, an amazing view in an amazing building.

Something people won’t know about the restaurant? Water is on the house - we filter farm water and add bubbles or serve it still. We don’t believe we should charge and it’s also good for carbon footprint. Owner Paul Boutinot says he’s in the wine business, not the water business.

Something they won’t know about you? I love heavy metal bands such as Slipknot; been listening since the age of 16. I do strange stuff - I’m cycling the Argus tour without any training. My wife and her father have done it about six times. I’ve cycled downhill from Waterkloof and up the 300m hill twice; I like a challenge! I’ve done a lot of sporty holidays: cycling tours, paragliding off a mountain, canyoning and rafting. I never prepare for these things. If somebody says I won’t manage, I take up the challenge.

Profession if not a chef? I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I love the job. I’ve been here seven days a week for the last 16 weeks. Otherwise I might be an interior architect – I love creating new things. I re-upholstered an antique sofa myself. It took me six months.

I met my wife… 11 years ago in Saldanha. My father was working there as an engineer in a factory.

Before I started cooking… I travelled the world for 18 years. I’m from Burgundy but I didn’t really grow up in France. I’ve lived in Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Hong Kong and China. So many places have something different to offer. It was easy to pack a big suitcase for South Africa. This is my third time living here. I’d like to see more of the country but I’ve made a start - I camped for two weeks in the Cederberg. As an adult I worked in Burgundy and Paris mostly. In Paris employed by a three-Michelin star restaurant, I visited their venues in Belgium, Tunisia, Geneva and Lyon.

waterkloof_balcony_table_setting_view_lr.jpg Casual or fine dining? To South African tastes Waterkloof is fine but not pretentious dining. I love a dish we created today: glazed pork belly with quartered boiled beetroot, Granny Smith poached in Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc and fresh black figs. It’s simple, earthy and the flavours match. In international fine dining restaurants you often see lobster, foie gras, turbot… I’m bored with that. I love the forgotten vegetables: beetroot, cabbage, fennel and butternut.

Quick meal out on a day off? I’ve learned a good Afrikaans word gatvol - I’m gatvol of cooking on my day off. I usually go for sushi on Sundays with my wife.

WATERKLOOF, Sir Lowry’s Village Road, Somerset West. Tel 021 858 1491, waterkloof
Open daily for lunch, for dinner Mon to Sat. Three courses at R250 to R300 per head.