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Gaia’s Courgette Birthday Cake
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Gaia’s Courgette Birthday Cake

Jane: It was my niece Gaia’s 5th birthday and her mum, my sister Joanne, decided to make a tempting but healthy batch cake for the party. That meant introducing one of the mandatory five-a-day veggies (though a dietician I recently talked to suggested nine a day was more like it) into the cake. Carrots were out (five-year-olds can spot them a mile off), so Jo thought to tap into the latest craze – courgette cake. Subtle, green and mysterious.

Actually it’s not so green, more an ordinary Victoria sponge colour with bits in. Jo’s just had a stove and oven put in after years cooking with a Baby Belling and microwave and is enjoying her new culinary freedom: she cobbled together a big batch recipe from various online sources, and decorated it with Smarties and five candles which Gaia blew out beautifully. It was a great cake. Most of the kids gobbled it up though a few headed off towards the chocolate brownie plate instead.

But the big surprise was how much the adults loved it. Mothers came up to Jo afterwards, saying ‘Ooh, its lovely, so moist and delicious.’ Most people think courgettes are dull (though I adore them – especially grilled with oil and lemon juice sprinkled on). But in this recipe you couldn’t taste them at all – just a general yumminess and lightness of flavour that made eating the cake a delight.

The next day Jo was in Crouch End, N8, in an artisan boulanger called Coffee Cake on Broadway Parade. Among the fantastical piles of meringues in the window she saw a single plate of chocolate courgette cake, exquisitely glistening. Like buses, two courgette cakes always seem to come along…

To make Gaia’s courgette cake

180g raisins

750g courgettes

375ml vegetable oil

450g caster sugar

6 large eggs

675g self-raising flour (for a chocolate version, substitute 125g of the flour with cocoa powder)

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder 

Soak the raisins for a few hours until fat and plump. Drain. 

Grease a batch tin 33 by 23 cm, and heat the oven to 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 4. 
Wash the unpeeled courgettes, dry, then grate them finely. Push through a sieve to drain off any excess water. Put to one side. 
Cream the oil and sugar and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the courgette and raisins. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 45 mins. Check after 40 mins – a metal skewer should come clean, and the cake should be lightly browned. Leave to cool in the tin, then ice.

For the icing:

300g cream cheese

150g to 200g icing sugar

Juice of one to two limes

Smarties to decorate
Beat the cheese until smooth; add 150g sieved sugar, beating well, then the lime juice to taste. You may need to add more sugar to get a spreading consistency. Layer on to the cold cake with a palette knife. Just before serving, decorate with Smarties or other sweets (they will go soggy if you do it earlier). Cut into squares.