Thursday, 27 September 2012

Too much of a good thing

When I stumble upon something delicious, I will happily go on eating it.

And eating it. Until I light on something else.

Take mashed avocado on toast, for example – I munched through it for breakfast throughout August, sprinkled with dried chilli and salt, and good slugs of olive oil. I extolled its virtues and hangover-busting benefits to anyone within earshot. I squeezed my way around every single one in the supermarket, only to be frustrated upon returning home to find that my ‘perfectly ripe’ ones were actually grenades disguised as avocados, at which point I would hopefully shove them in a bowl with some reluctant bananas and wait.

It is good though, you should try it - if I haven’t forked it into your mouth already.

Last week we went to Spain for a holiday with friends, culminating in a beautiful, intimate wedding in a white Castillo on top of a hill. Every element of the celebration was laid back and like an old romantic film: the perfect reflection of our friends.

From the minute we got off the plane into the startling heat all I could think about eating were big red Spanish tomatoes, the kind that make a salad all on their own. During the week we had them every which way, accompanied by onslaughts of garlic and olive oil, and punctuated by the occasional slice of jamon or a grilled sardine (a lovely place on the beach called Neptuno did the ones in the picture over a firepit in an old boat – worth a pic I thought). One of the best ways was pan con tomate, the bread lightly toasted and then rubbed with garlic and tomatoes until they shredded away, leaving a faint tomato smear and a few pips.

The BSG’s mum has gamely put up with us now for the best part of a month, whilst the dust in our house flies around. The other night she made a sort of romesco salad, with tomatoes, red peppers, toasted peeled almonds, basil and garlic and it has been sitting out stewing in its oil, accumulating flavour ever since. Well, until just now that is, when I put it onto my toast for lunch, closed my eyes and was briefly transported to that Spanish hilltop. Bliss.

I think I’ll just pop down to the shops and get some more for tomorrow. And the next day…

pan con tomate

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Clem and Rich’s Lemon Butter Wedding Cake

The BSG and I are in charge of the cake for my sister’s wedding. Just to clarify: we are making it, filling it, icing it, decorating it and then driving it the two and a half hours to Norfolk where we will assemble it.

Nervous? Not a bit.

Perhaps it has something to do with us having absolutely nil experience in that department. Some might call this a disadvantage, but it has meant that at every turn we have researched, checked and double-checked. Now, for example, I know not to put a freshly baked and cooled cake in the fridge. No sir, the fridge environment is the nemesis of a light and airy sponge, making it dense and claggy. I will now be storing my cake, sealed in a tin or box, in a cool, dry place. Eureka!

This zilch experience also means that we’ve never reached the end of the process before, only to have the finished article collapse/melt/get dropped/consumed by the family pet, which means that we’ve had a pretty impressive unblemished 100% track record thus far… Perhaps that’s why Clem and Rich have trusted us with such a task.

It’s not a traditional fruit cake, but a lemon cake (so we’re hoping people will actually eat it: it has to taste good). Dan Lepard’s Lemon Butter Cake to be precise. We tried a few out – like one on the Nigella forum from a US reader which, while delicious, should have carried a health warning for butter content (the batter looked like buttercream icing). Though we tried a drizzle cake whereby the lemony syrup permeates the cake, with the large volume of sponge we are working with you’d need more of a deluge to inject any flavour whatsoever. This recipe beat the rest of the field hands down for taste. I don’t know much about Dan Lepard, (except that he is Australian-born). Short and Sweet, his book on baking, is clear and written with authority; it dares you (well, me) to try things you mightn’t otherwise, including breads. It was so packed with good new things to bake that I gave it to my sister-in-law Jemima, who probably knows all there is to know on the subject.

Though the cake looked a little dense when we cut into it, it was light and m…. (I won’t say that word on here) and the condensed milk holds in the moisture whilst giving a delicious flavour – a humectant, apparently. We ramped up the zest by 1 lemon, and seeing as we will be scaling up the recipe even further, there might be a bit more tweaking to be done still. We’ve baked a small trial version which we’ve filled with lemon buttercream, covered with ready-rolled (hallelujah!) fondant icing and are keeping as a control for 4 days. Fingers crossed it stays fresh.

If it does, we’ll be scattering it with crystallised rose petals that we’ve thieved from a few pretty gardens. Tonight we try rolling out enormous blobs of fondant as the ready rolled doesn’t come in extra large.

How hard can it be?! We’ll let you know…


PS: For the recipe, please visit the Guardian page on the link above which says Lemon Butter Cake. It appears that I got into trouble with the cyber-police for reproducing it here to my enormous readership.
PPS: The cake was cut, eaten and served to the very happy wedding crowd, all of whom are still with us. So that's a relief.