Cardamom Layer Cake with Marmalade Mascarpone

Recently, I failed spectacularly at something. Not only did I fail, but I did so in front of one of my heroes. Want to hear about it? Of course you do. Schadenfreude is real. So get comfy, keep reading, and consider this a gift.

A few weeks ago I saw that my favourite bakery in London was in need of a new baker. Despite never having worked in a professional kitchen or having attended a cooking school, I decided to say what the fuck and give it my best effort. I composed the most thoughtful and succinct email I could and sent it off, never expecting to get a response.

Imagine my excitement when I received a reply inviting me to an interview and instructing me to bring along two different baked goods to taste. I thumbed through all my cookbooks for inspiration. I reread my recipes here. After days of waffling, I decided on a lemon chess pie or what I like to call a Blue Horizon pie and something completely new.

I wanted to bring in a layer cake as this bakery specializes in them, and while I do the classics rather well, I wanted this one to have a touch of the exotic. Cardamom sponge with marmalade mascarpone is what I made. The sponge was Melissa Clark’s from her Cardamom Cream Cake recipe featured in The New York Times (with omission of the rosewater), but the syrup to soak the sponge and the marmalade mascarpone were all mine.

The morning of my interview, Storm Doris was blowing up a gale. And there was a tube strike. I left the flat at 7:15 which I thought left me ample time to get to the bakery by 9 a.m. Keep in mind that my arms were full of an enormous cake box and a pie. Both of which I managed to carry north of the river and through three train stations without a hitch.

When I exited the last train station, I figured I’d get a cab the rest of the way. Nope. There wasn’t a single one. So I thought I’d do what any person living in a city in 2017 would do. I ordered a pickup from Uber. Due to the weather and the strike, traffic was terrible. The car took forever. My heart felt relieved when I got a notification saying it was arriving. Then, I got a notification saying it was cancelled.

The driver cancelled! I didn’t even know that was allowed. And I’d been standing in the rain. Holding a cake box and a pie. I didn’t know what to do so I just headed in the general direction I needed to go. That’s when I saw a cab. Who drove right past me.

I checked the time. It was 9 o’clock. I called the bakery to say I was so sorry but I’d be at least another 20 minutes. I kept walking. Finally a good Samaritan asked if I needed help. I explained everything to her and she said she was taking a bus to that area and I should follow her.

As I boarded the bus, a manchild with an enormous backpack pushed past me and I dropped my cake, I dropped my pie, and I almost started to cry. After picking them up, I reached into my pocket for my ATM card which is how I swipe in and out of public transportation these days. It wasn’t there.

I begged the driver to let me off. I took a minute and screamed like a madwoman in the street then I started to retrace my steps. Mercifully I found my card on the pavement three blocks back in the same spot where I had pulled out my mobile. As I stood there in my soggy coat, with my frizzy hair, and my busted baked goods, I thought about calling it a day and going home.

For whatever fool-headed reason, I decided to keep going. Call it my Elizabeth Warren moment because. . .

Nevertheless, she persisted.

When I made it to the bakery and they asked who I was I said I was the hot mess who was embarrassingly late to meet with the owner. Believe it or not, she ate my broken cake and my pie. She even had her staff sample them too and I got called in for a trial day. I didn’t get the job and if I’m honest, I never expected I would. Actually, I never expected an interview. But I am very proud of this particular failure. Without it, I wouldn’t have this story to share nor this recipe. I hope you enjoy them both.

Broken cake is the best cake.

Sponge ingredients:

170 g softened butter

330 g 00 flour

4 large egg whites

240 ml whole milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

300 g caster or granulated sugar

20 grams baking powder

the contents of 12 cardamom pods ground to a powder with a mortar & pestle

1/4 tsp salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/177°C/Gas 4.

Grease, flour, and line two 9″ cake tins.

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the egg whites, milk, and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cardamom and salt with an electric mixer on a low speed. Only about 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and 1/3 of the milk-egg mixture. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium and beat until everything is smooth.

Add the remaining milk-egg mixture in three batches.

Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the tins on a rack for 20 minutes before unmolding them.

While the cakes finish cooling, make the syrup.

 

Syrup ingredients:

The juice of 2 oranges

the contents of 4 cardamom pods

3 tbsp caster or granulated sugar

1 tsp water

 

Method: 

Bring all ingredients to a boil and simmer until reduced by half. Let the syrup cool completely before using it.

 

Marmalade mascarpone frosting ingredients:

500 g mascarpone

85 g cream cheese

85 g marmalade (I use my own homemade which is not as sweet as most commercial brands. Take this into account when making your frosting. If your marmalade is sweet, you will not need as much sugar.)

the zest of 1 orange

2 tbsp icing/powdered sugar

 

Method: 

Use an electric mixer to combine the ingredients together until creamy. Do not overmix. Taste it. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar but only a small spoonful at a time. If you want it a little sharper, add more zest and marmalade.

 

To assemble the cake:

While your cake layers are still on the rack, brush them with some syrup. Be sure to get their sides as well as their tops. Beware you don’t saturate the cakes. You only want to add some moisture, not make them soggy. Leave them for a minute.

Select a cake plate or a stand that you want to use.

Put wide strips of wax paper around the plate.

Place your first cake layer on top of the paper. This will make cleaning up much easier.

Spread some of the marmalade mascarpone onto this layer. I like it about half an inch thick.

Put the second cake layer on top. Repeat with the marmalade mascarpone.

I coiled a piece of orange shred from my marmalade and placed it in the center of my cake. You don’t have to, but I think it looks nice.

Remove the strips of paper and you’re ready.

 

 

 

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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

L’Shanah Tovah!

Today is Rosh Hashanah or Jewish new year.  And it has always been one of my favorite feasts.  Typical foods for the celebration include honey, apples, pomegranates, and fish.  Fish heads symbolizing the head of the year.

Recently Henry, my husband, wrote a piece for the Guardian about discovering his Jewish heritage.  You see, he didn’t know about his family’s past until his grandfather’s funeral.  He writes, “What I remember most is something my grandmother, Dorothy Jeffreys, said before the service. She was distraught and, I think, on some sort of tranquilliser and kept insisting Don wouldn’t have wanted the send-off to be in a church, it should have been a synagogue. I asked her why and she said, “Because we’re Jewish.”  

This revelation led to all sorts of questions.  He reached out to older family members who knew his ancestors’ lineage and remembered their stories.  With our two year-old in tow, we drove to see them to learn about our family’s past to better understand the present.

So this year, I wanted Rosh Hashanah to be special for Henry.  I wanted to give him a meal that would help him remember.  Here is what we had:

Pan-fried harissa sea bass.  I marinated the fish in harissa, cumin, and salt for a few hours before dredging with flour and frying until the skin went crispy.  At this point, I flipped the fillets and continued frying for another minute more.

harissa sea bass

Yotam Ottolenghi’s roasted aubergine and basil with pomegranate and saffron sauce

eggplant salad

Israeli couscous salad

2014-05-19-17-20-33

Roasted figs with honey and orange juice, orange yogurt, cinnamon and toasted almonds.  I halved the figs, dotted them with butter, and covered them with a mixture that was 2 tablespoons manuka honey plus the zest and juice of one tangerine.  I then baked them for half an hour at Gas6/200C/400F.  When I took them out of the baking dish, I removed whatever liquid was in there and boiled it down until it made a syrup.  I glazed the figs with this.  Then I mixed more orange zest with yogurt and topped each fig with this.  Next, I sprinkled chopped toasted almonds on top then gave them a dusting of cinnamon.

figs glaze figs roasted figs

 

Honey rum tarte tatin.  All I did was take the elements I liked best from several recipes.  For me, that meant a pastry dough made with sour cream and a deep caramel sauce with honey and Cuban rum.  After transferring the tarte to a plate, I boiled down whatever caramel and apple juice remained.  When it was quite viscous, I poured it over the tarte but only after topping it with toasted almonds.  Then I placed it under the broiler (the grill if you’re in the UK) for a few minutes to get everything really golden.  Of course, I served it with more sour cream.

tarte tatin whole meal

 

No Uscita

Last Tuesday warm wafts of star jasmine and lavender welcomed me to Palermo.  Though it was 93º Farenheit, a cool breeze kept me from knowing it.  There was a beautiful level of moisture in the air.  The humidity didn’t swallow me whole and I never felt sticky.  My hair just had more bounce and body than normal.  Then again, so did I after a few good meals.

San Vito Lo Capo  

lavender

sicily

Our first supper in San Vito Lo Capo was outstanding.  I had busiate which is the local pasta in Trapani.  The dried noodles look like this:

busiate

I ordered them alla norma which is to say with roasted aubergine the consistency of silk and topped with salty ricotta.  Henry had his noodles with urchin or as he calls them, the truffles of the sea.  Next up was a dish called tonno saporito.  It was grilled tuna with sauteed capers, olives, onions, tomatoes, oranges, and toasted pistachios.  Of course all this had to end with cannoli and eventually a walk on the beach.  

cannoli   

In Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, he writes, “Tancredi, in an attempt to link gallantry with greed, tried to imagine himself tasting, in the aromatic forkfuls, the kisses of his neighbour Angelica, but he realised at once that the experiment was disgusting and suspended it, with a mental reserve about reviving this fantasy with the pudding.”  This cannoli invoked all of that for me.  As did the late afternoon post-nap cherries and peaches I consumed.

Every day we were by the sea, I made sure to eat something from it.  Fish, octopus, squid, lobster, shrimp, you name it.  Then when we travelled south to Marsala and inland for a few days at a gorgeous baglio amongst the grillo vines, I ate scaloppine di vitello al marsala or al limone.  I snacked on olives and almonds from orchards I could see from our room.  I had prosciutto, melons, and blood orange juice at breakfast followed by espresso and chocolate muffins baked with roasted peanuts on top.

pesce

baglio pool vineyard

I watched England lose to Uruguay whilst sipping an aperol spritz and Italy to Costa Rica with a bottle of chilled frappato so evocative of pomegrante and blueberry I could hardly tell it wasn’t juice instead of wine.

I ate gelati like a school girl.

nocciola

I also wore respectable dresses when visiting churches and bared some cleavage when I wasn’t.

respectable

Madonna

outside the church

Sicily is full of magic.  It’s the kind of place where stray dogs and tiny street cats appear out of nowhere and lavish you with love for a few hours.  Crazy men passionate about life will let you sample their private stash of wine that tastes just as it would have when the English first discovered it centuries ago and thought we can manufacture this into something fortified and call it marsala.  Butterflies will land on your shoulder.  The sun will shine where you’re sitting.  And even when multiple road signs point in different directions but supposedly for the same place, you will find your way.  When you get there, there will probably even be a perfect scoop of coconut ice cream with your name on it.

I did lots of things in Sicily.  More than anything, I just sat in the sand or on a breezy hilltop and enjoyed my husband.  Five years and a demanding toddler later, we still like each other.  We still slow dance without any music when no one is looking.  And we still find the other fascinating and funny and still have things to say.  I know five years isn’t a long time but at home in London, a beloved spouse’s words are sometimes lost in the noise of everyday life.  It’s hard to hear over the din of a two year old.  But in Sicily the summer wind blew our distractions away.  All we could notice and revel in was each other (and the amazing food and drink, obviously).

beach hair

wine Tomasi

piccolo

honeymooners

Below is a recipe for a salad I made this evening when we needed a little Sicilian calm.  I followed it up with a chilli and crab risotto of Nigella Lawson’s I’ve come to love.  I hope you do too.

Sicilian Summer Salad    

Ingredients:

2 fennel bulbs, sliced

2 oranges, chopped

1/2 a ruby grapefruit, chopped

a handful of green Sicilian olives (I used Nocellara because they’re my favorite)

1 jar of the best tuna you can find (I like tuna in olive oil best even though I drain the oil)

a handful of fresh chopped mint

Method:  Drain the tuna and set it aside.  Chop/slice your produce and put it in a large dish.  Add the tuna.  Garnish with mint.  That’s it.  Sweet like the citrus groves and briny like the sea.  This is a salad that would be a pleasing side dish for any Phoenician queen.

tuna lid tuna

sicilian salad salad salad close up

 

The Fluffy Pancake Files

On Sunday, and quite by accident, I made the fluffiest pancakes ever.  I think the reason for this serendipity was because a) I was out of regular flour so I had to use self-rising and b) I added slightly whiffy cream to the recipe.  When some women feel experimental they drastically change their appearance, career, hometown or even add just one of 50 Shades of Grey to their bedroom.   When I feel experimental I add spoiled dairy to my pancake batter.  I’m crazy.  I know.  Well here I am to prosthelytize because the addition of that slightly whiffy cream was one of the best decisions I ever made in the kitchen.  The result was amazing(even better than my buttermilk pancakes).  Especially with my orange blackberry syrup.  If you fancy yourself a connoisseur of tasty, I recommend you make both.

Henry and Helena

Greedy Guts 1 and 2

don't talk with your mouth full

don’t talk with your mouth full

even caterpillar liked it

even caterpillar liked it

Ingredients:

for the pancakes:

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup cream that’s gone slightly off

4 tablespoons melted butter

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups self-raising flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

for the syrup:

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup fresh blackberries (or defrosted frozen ones and their juice)

the zest of 1/3 of an orange as well as the juice squeezed from that 1/3

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Method:

for the pancakes:

Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Now, in a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cream, butter, and vanilla.  Make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour the wet ones into it.  Whisk to combine but don’t over whisk.  Let the mixture sit a spell.  At least half an hour.  I left mine overnight but that’s because I tend to prepare things well in advance knowing that when my toddler awakes she wants breakfast NOW.  Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat for a few minutes.  Let it get really hot but not so it’s smoking.  Pour some batter into the skillet.  Wait until it starts to bubble then flip.  Continue cooking another minute then remove.  Transfer the pancake to a serving platter and butter.  Repeat until the batter is gone.

pancakes with orange blackberry syrup

pancakes with orange blackberry syrup

for the syrup:

Heat a small saucepan over low heat.  Add the butter, berries, zest, juice, sugar, and vanilla.  Simmer but do not boil.  The sauce will thicken.  When desired viscosity has been achieved, remove the syrup from the stove.  Pour it into a warmed ceramic jug.  Now get ready for some pancakes and a nap!

Orange blackberry syrup

Orange blackberry syrup

Kiwi Orange Blossom Popsicles

In May, my family rented a beautiful house in Céret.  Actually it was an old Catalan Mas and it sat in the most floral of settings.  Outside there was not only a cherry orchard and an assortment of herbs, but also lilacs and roses, and my favorite–an orange tree laden with blossoms.  The perfume from all those tiny white flowers was divine.  At the end of each long beach day and just after my husband and I put our daughter to bed, I’d sit on the windowsill with a glass of wine and take in that heavenly fragrance.

orange blossoms in the backyard in Ceret

orange blossoms in the backyard in Ceret

la mer at le Racou plage

la mer at le Racou

le Racou plage

le Racou plage

my favorite evening seat

my favorite evening seat

See the house where I grew up in Laurel Canyon also had an orange tree and its flowers always made our yard smell so pretty.  Sweet and delicate but with a citrus punch.  I’ve never forgotten it.  Whenever I go shopping for perfumed oils I only search out fragrances with notes of orange blossom.  It’s a scent that comforts me.

It’s also a taste I adore.

Orange blossom water is the perfumed distillation of bitter orange blossoms.  Its flavor is extremely floral and far more intense than that of rose water even though they are often used in place of each other.  What I’m saying is a little goes a long way.  Use sparingly.  Unless you’re not cooking with it and have opted to use it for morning ablutions instead.  In which case, pour it on!

My recipe for kiwi orange blossom popsicles is below.  How did I come to pair orange blossom with kiwi?  Through lots of experimentation.  But I promise you it’s a winner!

Orange blossom water

Orange blossom water

kiwi orange blossom popsicle

kiwi orange blossom popsicle


Ingredients:

the juice of 3 large oranges

5 peeled kiwi fruit

1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water

1/4 cup honey

Method:

Add all ingredients to the blender and purée.  Pour into popsicles molds and freeze at least 4 hours.