For there upon the table was The Feast That Horace Made,
A wondrous spread of cakes and buns and jugs of lemonade.
And in its midst a Centrepiece of Grand Design was placed,
That left no doubt young Horace had superb artistic taste.
The Eleventh Hour, Graeme Base
I have long been a fan of Graeme Base's work. I loved poring over the illustrations in Animalia (both the book and the puzzles - we had the I, J, K and L pages in puzzle form, from memory), looking for hidden items and objects I'd previously missed. When I was ten, I received a copy of his mystery story The Eleventh Hour, and spent long nights under my duvet with a torch, trying to work out which of the guests could have stolen Horace's tremendous feast (Sam the crocodile? Alexandra the cat?). I fought the urge to cut open the sealed answers section at the back, committed instead to deciphering the anagrams, codes and clues hidden in each beautiful illustration.
Half of Horace's feast
It turns out my brother-in-law and I share a love for this book. And so, during my recent trip back to Australia, we celebrated his PhD graduation ceremony with a replica of the chocolate sponge layer cake in the picture above (next to Oliver the pig's right elbow). And I have no doubt, given the rest of the feast laid out on the table, that I'll be returning to The Eleventh Hour on this blog again.
Ps. Did anyone ever discover the name of the swan?
Chocolate and Raspberry Sponge
3 eggs, weighed in their shells and then the same weight of:
2/3 plain flour and 1/3 cocoa powder (eg. if the eggs weigh 210g, use 140g flour and 70g cocoa)
2tsp baking powder
200g icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp caster sugar
Two 18cm sandwich tins
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat your oven to 180C and grease your sandwich tins, then line the bases with greaseproof paper. Weigh your eggs and then the other cake ingredients, as for a Victoria Sponge.
2. Beat the butter and sugar for the cake in the mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time (if the mixture starts curdling, add a tablespoon of flour). Sieve the flour, cocoa and baking powder a couple of times and then fold gently into the mixture.
3. Divide the mixture between the two tins, level the top of both cakes with the spatula and place on the same shelf in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from the oven once the cakes spring back when touched and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
4. While the cakes are baking, you should have time to make the icing and the jam. To make the jam, place the raspberries and tablespoon in sugar in the saucepan over a very low heat. Raspberries are quite delicate, so the heat will do much of the work - you don't need to squish them around too much. Stir every so often until the fruit reaches a soft jam-like consistency.
5. To make the icing, place the butter in the (washed up) mixing bowl and beat until light with the electric hand whisk. Add the icing sugar gradually, continuing to beat on high speed. Add the milk and vanilla after the icing sugar and beat for a further five minutes. Don't reduce the time here - the icing will become more beautifully light and creamy the more you beat.
6. When you have taken your cakes out of the oven, leave them to cool in their tins for five minutes, then turn out onto the cooling rack. Allow them to cool.
7. Once the cakes and jam are cool, you can assemble your cake. Place one cake on your serving plate and spread icing over the top. Spoon the jam over the icing. Spread the base of the second cake and place it (icing-side down) on top of the first. Finally, ice the top and gently push the whole raspberries into the icing. Serve.