A few weeks ago I was invited to a friend’s house. It was already sweltering hot but the day before, as a result of my Facebook status at the time, and a special request for it, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. I never ever regret baking, especially for others and it’s only good manners to take something with you when someone welcomes you to their home. And you know the drill, for good friends I would do that and more. Another friend of ours made the most delicious rice salad I’ve ever had, with the freshest mozzarella and seafood. Bringing dessert was the least I could do.
A very good friend of mine came over to London for a short work-related visit. I hate not having a cake or some cookies standing by for days like these, but, as is so typical of me lately (don’t ask me why because I have absolutely no idea), I found myself frantically flipping through countless cake recipes and notes, not knowing what to do. After a few deep breaths and one lemon and ginger tea, it became as clear as day. The solution was simple: lemon cake. I love this recipe and I knew it was going to work. It brings so many memories of when I first started this blog. Enough nostalgia though and on with the baking.
- 125g unsalted butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- zest of a lemon
- 175g self-raising flour
- pinch of salt
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 100g icing sugar
Tin: 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin (or similar), properly greased and lined
Preheat your oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. When you line your tin with baking paper make sure it comes up to around 1cm or a bit more to the sides (see photo). This will make unmoulding much easier.
In a large bowl whisk together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and lemon zest and beat well. Fold in the flour and salt (you can leave the salt out if you want), and add the milk. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and place it in the oven. In the meantime prepare the syrup (see method below). Bake for around 45 minutes, or until golden and check with a skewer or knife to make sure it’s done.
Prepare the syrup by placing the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small pot over the heat and swirl the pan gently until the sugar dissolves. Puncture tiny holes in the cake and pour the syrup over the cake while it is still in the tin. Make sure the middle part absorbs as much liquid as the sides.
When the cake is completely cold, you can lift it up from the loaf tin onto your serving plate. If the cake is still warm it might crumble.
Incidentally my friend brought me a big bag of Mediterranean lemons from the tree in her garden. These will be very happy days, with many many baking days ahead! Enjoy! R xx
(This recipe is adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson.)
I am not a big fan of apples. I buy sacks of them but it takes an effort to eat them all. The fact that J doesn’t like them much either doesn’t help. However they will always be forever present in this house, just because they are good and healthy. Any extras will undoubtedly end up in pies or cakes.
I am aware that I should make the most of the wonderful juicy apples here. They grow almost everywhere in England. Although all is not as rosy as it seems. A long time ago there were approximately 1,500 varieties of apples in this country. Now there are only around 500, and we are eating a lot less than that. It seems that we are only buying what looks good on supermarket shelves, many of which are imported from other countries. Pity.
There are many recipes out there for apple cake, but I chose to try one from Nigella’s Domestic Goddess book, or a variation of it anyway. (Turns out that Nigella’s recipe is a twist on one by Anna del Conte.) The original recipe calls for walnuts, listed as an optional ingredient. The thing is though, I did have the walnuts, way above the amount stated. I took the package out of my pantry and placed it right in front of me. However, as is typical when in a rush, or when there’s no peace of mind, I totally forgot about them and ended up with a plain apple cake. Typical. It was delicious anyway but I think it did lack something and I missed them. It would have been better to have them in the cake. There’s always a next time though…
I made this apple cake during the Christmas holidays, since I wanted an easy alternative to the traditional fruity one which can be a little bit too much for two people. This one struck the right balance. (Next time I will try to use baking powder instead of the bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartare.) You will need:
- 100g sultanas
- 75ml rum
- 150ml vegetable oil
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 2 eggs, large
- 350g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 450g apples, peeled and cut into small cubes
- zest of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon lemon oil (the original recipe doesn’t have this so don’t worry if you don’t have it.)
- (100g chopped walnuts, optional)
- Preheat the oven to 175ºC, and grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin. In a small pan with a heavy base, place the sultanas and rum on the hob. When they start bubbling away, take them off the heat and set aside to cool.
- In a large bowl add the flavourless oil and sugar and start beating, while adding the eggs one by one. Add the flour, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda, cream of tartar and mix with a large metal spoon. The mixture will be quite stiff here so you do need some elbow grease I’m afraid! Fold in the apples, lemon juice, lemon oil and walnuts if you are including them (you really should I think).
- Tip the cake batter into your prepared tin and bake for around 1 hour. Always check if it’s cooked through with a knife or skewer. Eat it warm and make sure to wrap it in foil to keep it moist.
Good with a cup of coffee. Enjoy!
Pretty weird as a title I know, but that’s how I felt when I baked this little beauty. My chocolate bakes which I have promised you will be posted soon, but today I thought about writing about a simple Madeira style cake which I love to prepare when I’m really up against it. I can never *not* have anything good to eat in this house, and neither should you – not that you must listen to everything I tell you but it’s nice to be prepared! Also there’s no need to remind my lovely readers that J eats for four, e di più!
I have been meaning to post this recipe for quite a while (I think I made this for the first time in the beginning of summer) but never came round to writing about it. Here it is today though. My inspiration comes from a recipe which you can find in Nigella’s HTBADG for Cherry Almond Loaf Cake. It’s a fantastic cake because you can replace the dried cherries with any other dried fruit you fancy. It’s as simple as that really. I love it because it’s easy and good for those days when chocolate won’t do either – a rarity, but it can happen. I used cranberries which worked really well. They are my favourites! One thing I will say is that since this cake is very moist, it has a tendency to take a bit longer than usual to bake completely. And it might remain moist in the middle, especially if you accidentally pierce a berry, but on the whole, a skewer or knife should come out clean. OK, here we go:
- 200g dried cranberries
- 250g plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 225g soft butter
- 175g golden caster sugar
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
- 100g ground almonds
- 6 x 15ml tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 3. Grease and line a loaf tin.
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar till they become creamy and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs slowly, then the vanilla extract.
Sift the flour and baking powder together and slowly fold them into the egg mixture, with the ground almonds.
Fold the dried cranberries and the milk and pour this cake batter into the prepared loaf tin. Don’t worry if the mixture seems thick. It’s supposed to be that way.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, but most importantly when a skewer comes out totally clean. Leave in the tin on a wire rack until the cake cools completely.
I love cookbooks and I use them often. I also review them. I’m no food expert, which is something that I say again and again, but I love to try out new recipes whenever I can. Recently I received messages from quite a number of people asking me about my favourite books/chefs/authors/food writers and though you can get a pretty good idea if you look through my links page, I’ll gladly post some right here. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, because I don’t own every cookbook ever published. (For more inspiration you can see the one Stylist compiled here. It was a good list, but they did leave out the classic stuff, e.g. Escoffier.) The following are my current favourites, old ones and very new ones but it’s all good. Please note that this is just the first part. I don’t want to make one long post – it would be too tedious. And no book will be numbered (as in order of preference.)
How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (1999, Chatto & Windus). I know what you’re thinking. She has to mention Nigella, doesn’t she? Yes, of course I do (and there’s another one coming a bit later). I have to start with this though. It covers everything, from the basic sauces to pastry in the first chapter, to feeding children. It’s such a good introduction to Nigella’s cooking, well shall I dare say to cooking in general? Nigel Slater described this as his “book of the decade”. How to Eat is like an encyclopaedia, but refreshingly non-patronising and unassuming. Very charming trait indeed. Plus it’s nice and thick, and I love my paperback version, which makes things a little bit easier when carrying it around the house just for a read.
I can never rave enough about James Ramsden’s Small Adventures in Cooking (2011, Quadrille), and the whole New Voices in Food series. Which brings me also to another nifty little book by Niamh Shields’ Comfort & Spice, same series, same publisher, same year. These two (not just the books but James and Niamh themselves) are delightful. With exciting but uncomplicated recipes, they will definitely guarantee a wow from all your friends. Definitely my two constant companions this summer.
Now I don’t mind a bit of a challenge sometimes. A recipe with a longish list of ingredients won’t be necessarily dismiss. However I would only give it a go when I have some time to spare in the kitchen. This is not always possible. So here comes my other favourite James. I bought James Tanner Takes 5 (2010, Kyle Books) on an unplanned trip to the bookstore with my mum. The idea behind this is simple: you need five ingredients for each recipe, plus the usual salt, pepper and pantry staples. Nothing complicated, which is just what you need, especially during the summer months. There’s also a good mixture of dishes and it’s a book which will continue to be well-loved by me because of it’s practicality.
If you’re a bit of a baking buff like me, then you will guess what the next book will be. I’ve said many times that How to be a Domestic Goddess, another Nigella book, (Chatto & Windus, 2000) is one of my favourites. It’s not the only book I go to for easy baking ideas, but I find myself grabbing it from the shelves nine times out of ten. It’s not all about cakes, so it’s not for you if you want just your sweet things. I must admit that I haven’t tried any of the savoury recipes, perhaps because I already had good recipes to work with when I bought the book. However there’s no need to say that the cakes and sweet pies and muffins and brownies, and whatever else that remains from HTBADG (my abbreviation) I baked, were yummie.
During my many hours on the internet looking for the newest publications, I came across A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell (2012, Harper Collins). And when it came through the post around three weeks ago I couldn’t help but feel excited and yet afraid. Why? Because this book was not an easy feat. Before I opened the book I said: it’s either going to be really really really good, or it’s going to be a disaster. Thank goodness it is such a good read! Not everyone could do this. Sitwell did. Hats off. So A History of Food has to be included in my list…in any list if I may say so. Please note that this is *not* a recipe book in the classic sense of the word. Most of the recipes cannot be replicated (especially those that go back to 1958BC) but I just love all the history. I don’t think the chapters are meant to be read in order, which makes it an ideal reference manual, and they are short, which is always a joy. It is, and it’s for everyone. I didn’t know that Virgil probably had one of the first recipes for roast goat…