Orange Almond Rhubarb Crumble Cake

My in-laws live in a country suburb in John Betjeman’s bucolic Metroland. It is a place where “knickers” with an exclamation mark constitutes a swear and on summer weekends village cricket reigns supreme.  The local church is more than 1,000 years old and the local watering holes have appeared in Richard Curtis films.  Spotting the forked tails of red kites flying high is a common occurrence as are bake sales, car boot sales, charity fun runs, bonfire nights, Scottish Association sponsored dance nights, and dogs in the pub.  It’s wonderful and on the weekends there is no other place I’d rather be.

This past Saturday, we didn’t stay the night though we did stay for elevenses and lunch.  Helena chased around Charlie cat while Henry read the papers and my mother-in-law tended to her garden.  It really is the most magnificent garden I’ve ever seen.  The flowers are abundant as are the fruits and vegetables.  For lunch, we had salad and cherries.  Afterwards, I made a floral arrangement for the house.

When it was time to leave, I took a bunch a rhubarb with me.  Which brings us to today.  I have just made the most delicious cake with said rhubarb and below is the recipe.  Because it is not that sweet it’s perfect for tea, morning or afternoon.

bucks bouquet

My floral arrangment

Gifts from the Garden of Eatin'

Gifts from the Garden of Eatin’

 

Ingredients:

125 grams room temperature butter, unsalted

3/4 c caster sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c ground almonds

3/4 c milk

Enough chopped rhubarb to cover the top of the cake, for me this was 5 ribs

Crumble topping of your choice. I had leftover crumble in my freezer from Claire Ptak’s raspberry muffin recipe so I used that. Should you not have any on hand, crumble the following with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal: 1/4 c butter, 1/4 c sugar (I like to mix light brown, Demerara, and caster), 1 heaping tbsp flour, 1/3 c ground and flaked almonds.  Feel free to add some oats or desiccated coconut as well.

Method:

Preheat the oven to gas 4/180°C/350°F.

Prepare a 10″ cake tin by buttering it and lining it with paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale in color and fluffy.

Mix in the eggs one at a time.

Fold in the flour, baking powder, and almonds.

Incorporate the milk, vanilla, and zest.

Pour the batter into the cake tin.

Scatter the rhubarb pieces on top of the batter then sprinkle as much crumble as you like over that.

Bake for about an hour or until a skewer emerges clean when plunged into the cake and pulled out again.

Cool and serve.  Add Greek yoghurt or cream if you like.

cake

slice

Honey Marmalade Cake

My in-laws were recently in France sorting my husband’s late Auntie Marianne’s affairs. While there they made two discoveries.  One: Auntie M. took it upon herself to edit the books she read.  Incorrect spellings and dropped punctuation were fixed with her red pen. Two: She had vats of local honey sitting in the cellar.  Honey as thick and rich as creme fraiche caramels and flecked with bits of the forest from which it came.  Everyone got a kilo upon their return.

Honey is a staple in my home.  I love it.  Runny, set, manuka, clover, English wildflower, Scottish heather–I’ve got it all.  But this new honey, Auntie Marianne’s garrigue honey, really is the bee’s knees.  Other than enjoying it in my tea, I wanted to bake something special with it.

Last year, a dear friend of mine gave me an old cookbook called  More Honey in the Kitchen.  It was written by Joyce White who was a cookery demonstrator and lecturer in beekeeping.  The book was illustrated by her grandchildren and published in 1991.  It could not be any more charming if it tried.

Today I baked a honey marmalade cake from it and it was perfection.  Below is the recipe.  I’d like to think Ms. White would have been proud and Auntie M. would have approved.

honey close up of honey Scawby Hall beebook recipe marmalade cooling cake sugar cake sliced cake

 

My Mother-in-Law’s Coffee Cake

chicken cake

This recipe is what my mother-in-law calls a 4-4-4-2 cake.  That’s because it consists of 4 ounces of flour, 4 ounces of sugar, 4 ounces of butter, and 2 eggs.  When she attended the Domestic Science College in Aberdeen (or what she refers to as Do School) this was the ratio she learned for a basic sponge.  So the next time you hear someone complain about math and how none of what they learned in class is applicable to life . . . just ask them if they like cake.  If they say yes, point out that ratios are responsible for making that deliciousness happen.

 

Ingredients for the cake:

4 oz. all purpose flour

4 oz. caster sugar

4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature

1 level tsp baking powder

2 eggs

4 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water

 

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.

Grease, flour, and line 2 8″ cake tins.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

Mix in the coffee mixture then add the eggs one at a time.

Combine the flour and baking soda in a bowl then gradually add this to the mix.

Divide the batter between the pans.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.

Cool.

 

Ingredients for the coffee icing:

6 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature

3 to 5 oz. powdered sugar

4 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water

 

Method:

Beat the butter with half the powdered sugar to start.

Mix in half the coffee mixture to taste.  Add more if you like it stronger.

Same with the sugar.

 

To assemble the cake:

Put the first layer of sponge on a plate.  Spread it evenly with icing.  Top this with the second layer of sponge.  Ice that and decorate as you wish.

 

*Feel free to use strong coffee in lieu of instant coffee.  Stove top espresso is my preference, but I have written the recipe as my mother-in-law makes it.

 

 

Violet Cakes and California Stars

In 2009, I fell in love with an Englishman whilst on a vintage car rally in Sicily.  We got married and in 2010 I moved from Los Angeles to London. Enter Claire Ptak into my life.  Perhaps not immediately, but almost.

The change of location was a total shock.  The gray skies, the constant damp, the absence of an ocean or the year round availability of ripe exotic fruit.  I had trouble coping.  Within a few months, I’d lost a stone(14 lbs.) and was told for the first time in my life I had high blood pressure.  Then there was the incident at the grocery store.

Desperate for the flavors of home, I decided to make buttermilk fried chicken one day.  But I couldn’t find buttermilk.  Nor could I find peanut oil (because it’s called groundnut oil in the UK).  I also couldn’t find my favorite hot sauce.  My meal had failed before anyone had even taken a bite.

So I went home and did what any homesick California girl with Southern roots and empty shopping bags would do.  I listened to Wilco, wiped the tears from my eyes, and Googled “American bakery East London.”  And that is exactly when Claire Ptak entered my life.

Equipped with my husband’s James Smith umbrella, I braved the inclement weather and walked up Broadway Market, across London Fields, past the lido, down Greenwood Road, and finally found myself on Wilton Way.  Outside the door of Violet, I stood a soggy pilgrim (English rain blows in all directions.  Don’t be a fool and think a brolly will keep you dry).  Inside, I found my Promised Land.

Desserts were displayed in glass cases like gems at a jeweller’s.  The scent of fresh coffee (Coffee!  The drink of cowboys.), homemade vanilla extract and flower cordials filled the air.  I bought a box of cupcakes-red velvet, candied violet and Valrhona chocolate.  When I got back to the flat, I cut into my cakes.  Each one tasted like home.  Unlike the other American-style baked goods I’d had in London, these were perfect.  They weren’t too sweet.  They weren’t topped with too much frosting.  And most of all, they were moist.  I could tell there was buttermilk in them just like there was in the old country.  That afternoon, I fell in love.

A few weeks later, my husband surprised me with a chocolate birthday cake from Violet.  It came with a little banner that read “Happy Birthday Skwirl!” (Squirrel being my nickname, Skwirl being how I pronounce it as an American).  Then on Saturdays when strolling the market, I started treating myself to a macaroon.  Not a fussy French macaron in some lurid shade, but a good old fashioned coconut macaroon.  When I was pregnant in 2011, Mrs. Ptak’s chewy ginger snaps got me through.  In 2012 when my daughter turned one, we celebrated with a ginger molasses cake.  And whenever I’d meet friends for coffee at Violet, it was the banana buttermilk bread that I’d order.  Then in 2013, my family moved from East London.  I still make my pilgrimage to Violet, but only for very special occasions.  Which is why I am so thankful for The Violet Bakery Cookbook which is available as of today.

It’s a beautiful book full of gorgeous sweets and mouth-watering savories that provides practical instructions like “TASTE.”  Mrs. Ptak reminds us to taste everything we make, especially when using fresh fruit and vegetables.  As the piquancy of what grows in the garden changes from harvest to harvest, we as cooks, must make adjustments to our recipes accordingly.  The book is also full of helpful how-tos like how to make one’s own vanilla extract, candied angelica, citrus peel or jams.  She also tells us how to use smashed apricot kernels to intensify a bitter almond taste.

Mrs. Ptak’s final note is on foraging.  I was completely charmed by this. Not only because I too have been brambling at Hackney Marshes, but because like the many ingredients Mrs. Ptak uses in her recipes, this section felt organic.  Mindful consumerism is more de rigeur than ever, but many writers express their views in a way that feels like a political tirade or middle-class one-upmanship.  Mrs. Ptak writes about foraging in a way that feels so intrinsic to her recipes.  There is nothing contrived about her ingredients or the way she uses them to conjure cake magic.  It just feels like a way of life that has always been hers, a way of life she imported to England from California when she came over(like I did, for love) in 2005.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook is going to be a classic. While the photos in it, much like Mrs. Ptak’s shop, are full of vintage china plates and ditsy rose tablecloths, it avoids that Twee for Two feeling I have come to associate with bakeries and tea rooms across Britain.  The book is beautiful, the recipes seasonal and delicious, and more than anything representative of the flavors that got me through my first few really homesick years.  I look forward to raising my daughter on all of Mrs. Ptak’s recipes (particularly the strawberry, ginger, and poppy seed scones and the cinnamon buns).  I urge you to do the same.

happy birthday skwirlseptember 2010december 2012 ginger molasses cake helena's 1st january 2013 cinnamon buns scones cooling scones strawberry and ginger scones 2015-03-11 16.19.28

 

Party!

Last night, I had the privilege of attending The Young British Foodies awards ceremony which took place in gallery 9 of Tate Britain.  This is where the Romantic paintings live.  Nothing feels more magical nor more decadent than sipping a Stellacello Pompelmo Spritz whilst crossing parquet floors under the watchful gaze of Rossetti’s pre-Raphaelite beauties or John Singer Sargent’s grandes dames et petites filles.

Despite the oil-based magnificence that colored the walls, the main attraction really was the food.  Flavors and colors from all over the map convened for a few hours of gastronomic bliss.  Lebanese, Mauritian, Italian, English, nods to Asia and South America too.  Meat that came in cones and cakes that looked like art.  I don’t think there was a moment all evening when my husband didn’t have either a slice of beef carpaccio or some sort of charcuterie hanging from his lip.  Then again I don’t think there was a moment when I didn’t have a drink in each hand or at least some some sort of sweet.  The aptly named Maxwell House Arctic roll from Jesse Dunford Wood and Parlour was one of my favorite treats of the night.  Then again, I do have a soft spot for frozen treats.

Which is why I was present last night.  My lemon icebox pie piece got me into the food writing finals.  I am thrilled and so honored to say that I won.  Tracey MacLeod and Yotam Ottolenghi presented the award.  They were judges in the category as were Marina O’Laughlin and Fay Maschler.  As I said, I’m thrilled.

Thank you to the participants and judges of The YBFs.  It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a while and I will never forget it.  Hugo of Black Hand Food, I’ll never forget you either.  The sleeve of ham you gave me was divine.

Honestly.  Last night was the best.  This morning I woke up feeling grateful and hungover.  When does that happen?

OH.  One last thing.  Before leaving last night’s party, I took a soy honey caramel from Noisette Bakehouse‘s candy dish.  When I later ate it at home, it was no surprise to me that she had won the baking category.  This was confectionery perfection.  Jacque Genin in Paris has nothing on this woman.  That said, I really hope she doesn’t start charging 110 Euros a kilo for her candy otherwise I’ll probably never taste it again.

hall John Singer Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose John Singer Sargent's Madame X John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott rossettis in the background cakes by Ahh Toots Feast courgette cake orange and earl grey cake Yotam, Tracey, and Misti roses in my drinks walkin' after midnight

ham

 

 

 

 

St. Clement’s Cake

I named this cake after the first church in the nursery rhyme as it’s bursting with oranges and lemons.  Or clementines and lemons to be exact.  It also contains blackberries because I’m desperate for summer.  I know it’s only February but I’ve met my quota on gray and gales and sideways rain.  I’m a California girl.  I long for sunshine.  And I will take it however I can.  These days that’s mostly on a plate.

As the above mentioned nursery song is a bit morbid, I’ll leave you with some Eileen Barton to bake with instead.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

the zest of a clementine as well as the zest of a lemon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup olive oil (NOT virgin or extra virgin,  Just plain old olive oil.)

the juice of the lemon

the juice of the clementine

1 1/4 cups self-raising flour

3/4 cup ground almonds

1 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1 cup blackberries (I defrosted summer brambles I froze last summer)

oranges and lemons

Method:  Preheat oven to Gas4/350°F/180°C.  Grease your cake tin with butter and lightly dust it with flour.  Line the bottom with parchment.

Now get out 3 mixing bowls.

In the first bowl, combine the sugar, zests, and vanilla.

In the second bowl, combine the olive oil and the juices.

In the third bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Now add the eggs, one at a time, to the sugar mixture and beat on high until fluffy and pale yellow.

Then switch the speed to low and slowly pour in the olive oil mixture.  The mixture will look frothy.

Finally fold in the dry ingredients.

Pour 2/3 of the batter into the cake tin.

Scatter the berries evenly on top.

Pour the rest of the batter on top of that.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and allow to cool.

Serve with Greek yogurt.

cooling cake

slice