I have recently moved into a new house. A desire to do a bit of nesting, coupled with just having bought yet another cookbook, the baking book Honey and Jam, led me to make a cake.
Whilst trying to orientate myself in the surrounding streets of very similar grand Georgian terraces, I popped into the local corner shop. I went in with pretty low expectations, banking on just getting milk and eggs. However, I was confronted with quails eggs, cashew nuts and several different types of brie. So I bought some duck eggs, my favourite brand of local butter and some cashew nuts for good measure.
The flavours in this cake were inspired by some ice cream I had recently at Swoon Gelato: caramelised fig and mascarpone. The duck eggs gave it a richness, and the butter tinged it yellow, and I added some ground almonds to the sponge. I topped the cake with sliced figs, fig jam and mascarpone cream.
I recently heard of the concept of a ‘house-cooling’ (from the infinite wisdom that is Kinfolk magazine). This is pretty self-explanatory, being the opposite of housewarming: it involves saying a fond farewell to a dwelling that has provided so many memories, and welcoming in the transition and all its exciting new developments. My friends Alex and Heather have lived on a houseboat for the past 3 years. The time has come to say goodbye to the converted Dutch barge, and they are moving out of the boat onto dry land.
I made this dark and sticky ginger and date cake to take to the ‘boat–cooling’ gathering. I felt that feeling something stodgy and spicy might be in order, not least to fuel the impending sorting and moving of an entire boat-worth of stuff. We ate the cake huddled in the warmth of the boat, feeling the calm sway of the water and remembering all the many previous days and evenings spent there. This time felt poignant given the shift in seasons too – saying farewell to the boat and farewell to summer. There was a definite fizz of excitement around the anticipation of the next exciting phase, of things to come.
Gooseberries are tart little devils. I remember summers spent at the pick-your-own farm, enduring the torturous wait until they had been carted home and stewed with copious amounts of sugar to eat them. The ones used for this cake came from my friend Nicola’s garden –actually more accurately from her freezer, where they have been stored for the winter months ahead. As did the blackberries, and given the choice several freezer-dwelling fruits, we chose these two as a match.
Fruit and cake is a winner in my book. And you can kid yourself that it is somehow healthy, and can therefore be justifiably eaten for breakfast. The sourness of the gooseberries is offset by more forgivingly mellow blackberries, and the sweet, almondy sponge. Upside down cakes like this one, where the fruit is placed at the bottom of the cake tin, and the batter on top, always provide a satisfying moment when turned over to reveal the fruit underneath. For some reason, I’m always slightly surprised to find it still there, thinking that it might have been consumed by the cake batter.
Having a cake around is dangerous: I get to the stage that I struggle to have a cup of tea without a slice of cake, or more accurately I have a cup of tea as an excuse to eat cake. This cake disappeared in about two hours – and not only (although almost only) due to me. And I had a large slice for breakfast the next day, covered in natural yoghurt – because if something has yoghurt on it, then it’s breakfast, right?!
What I love about Bristol is its vibrant, constantly changing food scene. New restaurants are constantly popping up all over the place. There’s always a new street food craze or pop up restaurant just around the corner. I live near a pretty incredible string of independent restaurants serving food from every corner of the world, as well as many promoting fantastic local produce. The most exciting and eagerly-awaited restaurant opening (at least for me) is Katie and Kim’s Kitchen. Katie and Kim’s Kitchen started life as a food blog (www.katieandkimskitchen.blogspot.co.uk). Through being an avid reader of their blog since I moved to Bristol, I have followed the exciting developments in the duo’s life. They won the British Street Food awards last year, serving cheddar and rosemary scones out of a converted horsebox. Katie and Kim’s Kitchen is their latest venture – a permanent residence in Picton Street, Montpelier.
For the sake of food blogger networking, and general curiosity, I thought it was high time I checked it out. I wandered down with my housemate, Izzy. We were initially just going for coffee and a bit of cake, but one glance at the daily changing menu chalked up on the blackboard and we ended up having lunch. We went for the cheese and rosemary scones that put Katie and Kim on the map, served warm with bacon, poached eggs and spinach. The scones were absolutely incredible: rich, buttery and crumbly, with a tangy undercurrent of cheese and a delicate whiff of rosemary. Combined with salty bacon and perfectly cooked, oozing poached eggs, it was a pretty sublime experience.
But we didn’t stop there. There were freshly baked chocolate éclairs and wobbly custard tarts piled high on the counter. For the sake of research, we had to try both. The chocolate éclairs were delicious – just the right ratio of cream, feather-light pastry and smooth chocolate ganache. But it was the custard tarts that won it for me: buttery pastry with a rich, trembling custard filling. We were given an extra one each to take home too, and they were just as good the next day. Katie and Kim are both lovely – naturally welcoming and generous, with a gentle wit and an infectious passion for food and local produce. They have already built up a loyal following, having only been open for a few weeks. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but I will be coming back again and again, as much for Katie and Kim’s welcoming spirit as for their delicious food.
Blood oranges, for some reason, are so much more exciting than regular oranges. I always find the vermilion flesh a surprise – somehow I’m never really expecting it to be so bright. Blood oranges live up to their name by spurting out copious amounts of red liquid when squeezed. They have a pleasant grapefruit-like tartness, and seem to deserve much more of a fanfare than the common orange.
Sometimes I get a real hankering for cake. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I need to do something. What I love about syrupy drizzle cakes like this one is that there’s no tedious wait for the cake to cool: you can just tip the syrup over and dig in. There might be people who would suggest waiting until even this cake has cooled before you eat it, but i’m going to choose to ignore them, in favour of the nirvana that is oven-warm cake. Luckily, I had some willing volunteers to help me eat it, so I didn’t end up eating the whole thing myself, which would have been entirely possible.
I decided to go down the same route as lemon drizzle, but with blood oranges and honey, simmering down a syrup of blood orange juice and honey to pour over the warm cake. I added an extra sliced orange to the syrup, which goes marmalade-y and sweet when simmered with the honey. Using ground almonds in the cake as well as plain flour helps the cake soak up the flood of syrup that is poured over it.
I am currently unemployed. The café that I was working at has changed hands, so I took it as an opportunity to move on, move out of home and get on with my life. However, for now I am still in fully-fledged holiday mode (which will only last a little while longer, or so I’ve told myself). This leaves lots of time to sit around in my onesie watching trashy daytime TV, eating toast and trying not to think about life. One of my many distraction techniques is to spend ludicrous amounts of time on Instagram. For the uninitiated, Instagram is like Twitter, but with photos. For those still dumbfounded, it’s an app that lets you post photos on a live feed, and follow other people doing the same.
One of the things that is (horribly 21st century word) ‘trending’ on Instagram at the moment is bee pollen. It is especially prevalent among the health-obsessed Instagrammers, the type of people who see a spinach, kale, kiwi and avocado smoothie as a desirable breakfast. Things like porridge topped with chia seeds, hazelnut butter and bee pollen (and yes, I did just quickly pop onto Instagram to do a search for ‘♯beepollen’) are appearing. Bee pollen is formed by bees when they gather nectar- apparently they roll pollen into balls then discard it. It’s supposed to be very good for you, allegedly containing all the nutrients that humans need, which balances out the large amount of butter and sugar in the cupcakes ever so slightly.
I thought I would sprinkle some bee pollen on top of these cupcakes, definitely more for aesthetic appeal than for taste. It’s fair to say it looks much nicer than it tastes – it has a pleasant chewy texture but tastes oddly savoury. I also used honey rather than sugar for the drizzling syrup, to stick with the bee theme and to give a sticky moistness to the cupcakes, which is complemented by the slight sourness of the yoghurt icing.
My job involves being around cake for eight hours a day. Apart from the occasional bit of cheeky ‘tidying up’, I try not to give in to temptation and eat any. If started eating cake at work, it would be an inevitable and terrifying downward slide into obesity.
However, I do get the occasional particularly intense craving to eat some cake myself, rather than just seeing it pass under my nose to a customer. Luckily, this craving was well timed, as it coincided with a tea party. I took the photographs when the cake was at its photogenic best – after having travelled in the back seat of my car for twenty minutes, the icing had started to slide off and the carefully arranged pecans had dislodged, making it look much less appetising. But it still tasted good, if I do say so myself.
This cake is a nod towards a ‘healthy’ cake, if any such thing exists. It started off well, with fruit and nuts, but then I decided to add caramel icing. I was going to be abstemious and leave off the icing, but I’ve got a bit of a thing for homemade caramel. So maybe not that healthy after all.