Last month I celebrated a milestone – my 50th birthday! No tears here….50 years and alive and kicking is something joyous to celebrate.

A few months earlier I had noticed that the annual over 40’s cricket competition was scheduled for the same weekend as my birthday. My husband loves to play in the this competition still believing he is the talented cricketer he once was. The festivities start on Friday night and cricket is played all day Saturday and Sunday. There are plenty of refreshing beverages to be enjoyed over the very male dominated weekend. In the preceding weeks he gingerly asked me if  we were doing anything for my birthday “like going away or something? You know, it’s the over 40’s cricket comp that weekend?”. Not wanting to say no but thinking he would figure it out for himself I replied “I won’t stop you playing. You make the decision”. So he did make the decision and he did join the team. Let’s say I was not pleased.

Leading up to the weekend there were many training and fitness sessions. Fresh from training and on our way to church with our young adult children, my husband told us that the draw had been announced. “And we got the raw end of the deal, we have to play 3 games on Sunday! Well, I’m not playing next year!” he declared. I couldn’t believe it…this year was the year to not play…I would be 51 next year…it wouldn’t matter! By the time we walked into church we all had our feathers ruffled. And the priest began his sermon like this…”I’m going to tell you a story about a woman who was turning 50 in a few weeks…..” We all looked at each other in disbelief. To cut a long story short, the woman in the story had a bad heart, collapsed and was in hospital the day before her birthday. On waking the morning from her birthday she discovered that her husband made the ultimate sacrifice by giving her his heart. It’s just a story but the irony was not lost on us.

The day before my birthday I too got a surprise. Delivered to my workplace was gorgeous arrangement of 50 red roses! Ahhh, he does love me!

Has he redeemed himself? Yes, I think so.

My birthday fell on the long weekend of the Australia holiday of Labour Day. So on the Monday we hosted a small family barbecue in honour of my birthday and I made my cake.

In keeping with my endeavour to bake through the amazing cookbook by Greg Patent, A Baker’s Odyssey, I prepared the Hungarian Walnut Torte for the occasion of my 50th birthday. It was a fitting celebration cake.

Hungarian Walnut Torte (adapted from A Baker’s Odyssey by Greg Patent)

dry breadcrumbs to dust the cake pans

340g walnuts, about 3 cups
85g fresh white breadcrumbs, about 1 1/2 cups loosely packed
12 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup castor sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
pinch salt

Mocha whipped cream
1/3 cup water
3 teaspoons instant espresso coffee ( I used Moccona)
1/3 cup castor sugar
3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
85g dark chocolate

to decorate
walnuts and choc chips

 You will need 3 x 23cm/9inch  round cake pans. Adjust your racks so that you can fit in the 3 cake pans and then begin to heat the oven to 170C/340F. Butter the pans well, fit the bottom with a round of non stick baking paper, butter the paper and dust the pans with dry breadcrumbs.
Finely grind the walnuts. Greg Patent suggests a manual nut grinder of a Mouli grater, of which I have neither. So, second best is the food processor but be careful not to over process. Process in 3 batches adding a 1/3 of the breadcrumbs to each batch. Pulse until the nuts are powdery and fluffy. I think I over processed my first batch. The walnuts need to be as fine as possible but not pasty.

Using a stand mixer beat the yolks using a whisk attachment until thick and lemon coloured. Lower the speed on the mixer and gradually add 1/2 cup sugar. Return the speed to high and beat well for about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest then scrape this mixture into another large bowl. Wash the mixer bowl and whisk attachment. In the clean bowl whisk the egg white and salt until thickened and white. Gradually add the remaining sugar whisking until firm peaks form.
Sprinkle a quarter of the nut mixture and add a quarter of the white to the egg yolk mixture. Fold in very lightly to combine. It is ok if there are a few streaks of white – it’s better not to over beat.

Continue add the remaining nuts and whites in 3 batches, folding in gently until no whites show. No mixture should be light and airy.

Divide equally between the three prepared cake pans and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Don’t overbake.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the mocha cream, heat the water, sugar and espresso powder in a pan over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Combine the cream, syrup and vanilla in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat with whisk attachment until cream thickens. Fold in the grated chocolate.
Place one layer of cake on a serving plate and spread over about 1 cup of cream, top with the second cake. Again use about 1 cup of cream to cover the top of the second cake and top with the last cake. Use the remaining cream to spread carefully around the top and sides. I had enough to pipe cream rosettes around the top edge and decorated it with walnuts and choc chips. Chill for several hours before serving.

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