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Cherry Vanilla Victoria Sponge Cake

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Cherry Vanilla Victoria Sponge Cake

This the perfect non-picnic picnic cake. It’s light with a cloudy vanilla sponge, and laced with fresh cherries which burst in your mouth and whose astringency perfectly cut through the smooth rich vanilla-cream. I keep the cherries fresh and unadulterated so as to keep the cake not too sweet, with a hint of cherry jam just to counter too much acidity.

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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

...& 14 Thoughts from the Kitchen Sink

From the moronic to the morbid, here’s an insight into what happens when I bake and let my mind wander:

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-      Drowning in a vat of sticky bread dough would probably be the worst way to die.

-      When you sieve icing sugar and it puffs into the air in clouds, how many calories are there in one mouthful of air?

-      Why do so many obscure meats taste like chicken and not beef?

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-      What is the significance of sometimes craving baby food - especially rusks, and pureed apple and banana?

-      Why do we delude ourselves that avocado on toast has been ‘smashed’?  I’ve never seen anyone smash an avocado.  I suppose ‘smeared’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

-      If I could subsist on one food for the rest of my life it would most likely be oats.

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-      Nandos’ ‘hot’ sauce is anachronistic.  It was created about 20 years ago and people’s (i.e.my brother’s and my) tolerance for heat has gone up.  They should downgrade it to ‘medium’.

-      What was the exact moment when someone decided to put sugar, milk, butter and flour together to make the very first cake?

-      How do you know nigella seeds are nigella seeds and not mouse droppings?

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-      If 2017 was the year of slime porn, why can’t 2018 be the year of dough porn? 

-      Earlier this year some pig farmers tried to halt the use of pig terminology as connotative of greed.  Imagine if other farmers were to do the same: we couldn’t exclaim something was cheesy, or call people ugly cows, or ask people with whom we’re angry if they want beef, or complain that bland people are vanilla, or exclaim that someone is mutton dressed up as lamb, or taunt cowards as being chicken…

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-      How many times in my life has a waiter spat in my food on purpose?

-      Why do I have six jars of preserved lemons in my cupboard when I only use a small shaving of one once a year?

-      The smell of freshly baked bread should be a perfume.

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That’s enough musing for one day.

Here’s the recipe for an exceedingly luscious cake. It is succulent, and filled with roasted strawberries so that there is at least one deliquescing in every bite. The berries on the surface turn almost jam-like in the oven.  Absurdly quick and easy to make, it is totally moreish. 

NB. This cake can be made gluten-free by substituting the flour for gluten free. 

Luscious Strawberry cake  

Serves 6-8 (depending on level of greed)

Ingredients

85g unsalted butter, at room temperature

160g caster sugar + 2 tbsp for the topping

1 large egg

120ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free equivalent)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

400g strawberries, after having been hulled and halved

20cm diameter round springform cake tin, either totally lined with baking parchment (if you’re feeling lazy and you don’t mind crinkly cake sides), or thoroughly greased with butter and the base lined with a circle of baking parchment

 

Method

1)   Preheat the oven to 180°C. 

2)   Either by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar together until soft, light and fluffy (which should take about three minutes).  Then pour in the egg, milk and vanilla extract and beat to combine. It may look slightly curdled but that is not a problem.

3)   Into the wet ingredients sieve the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients through until the batter is smooth and fully combined.  Pour into the prepared cake tin.

4)   Arrange the strawberries cut side down in the batter. You make need to overlap some or push some down to fit them all in. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp of caster sugar over the top and place in the oven. 

5)   Bake for 45-55 minutes (depending on oven), checking after 30 minutes. You may need to cover the top with aluminium foil if the surface looks at risk of becoming too dark. When ready, the top should be a deep gold and a cake tester should come out batterless (moisture from the strawberries will prevent it from coming out totally clean).

6)   Allow to cool on a wire rack and devour on the day, or within two days, of baking.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

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HUNGRY FOR MORE?

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Spelt Scones & Damson Jam

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Spelt Scones & Damson Jam

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Adorned with dew drops of glaucous fruits, the damson tree was innocent in its fairy tale perfection. Plump and firm, tart and succulent they were ideal contenders for picking. There seemed at first glance to be very few, but as the minutes rolled by, our bags heavier and the ladder creaking, the tree continued to proffer its bounty. The result: 6kg of damsons and a swollen stomach from ones that never quite made it into the bag.

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Our supply of sugar rather pitiful in the wake of the unsurpassed abundance, I heaved an Olympian quantity back from the supermarket. The one bag that decided to split has left a coating of sticky grit on any coins that I dig out of the corners of my bag.  

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Then on to the stove went the damsons, the heated sugar and a touch of water. They blistered, bubbled and broke out of their skins. The stones rose to the surface like witches on trial and had to be picked out one by one. Meanwhile the mixture boiled and thickened, giving off a foamy pink effervescence that I carved off as it supposedly tastes slightly bitter (although I rather enjoyed spooning it directly into my mouth). Then as it reached its rich amethyst depths and a satisfying viscose texture, I took it off and poured it into the sterilised jars: therapeutic and deeply satisfying…the first-time round.

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But as I tried to leave the kitchen I was bludgeoned with another 3kg worth of damsons. I was pelted, too, with threats of waste and rotting fruit if I didn’t make jam immediately. The kitchen became heated with the upset from my father who had cultivated and nurtured the tree for years.

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So, I gave in and became a slave to the damson tree once more, boiling, straining, stirring pouring. And now we have half a fridge thronging with jar upon jar of jam. And what does one do when he or she has a year’s supply of jam? Well, I find eating it straight from the jar perfectly acceptable, but others need a medium as an excuse. So I made scones. These are not the dry, stale and overly sweet ones that leave you desperately seeking a currant to relieve you from the accumulating doughy mass at the top of your palate. These are soft, light, moist and crumbly. Rustic in shape, they are best eaten immediately or on the same day (though it is unlikely they will survive longer). 

 

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Spelt Scone Recipe – makes 12

500g white spelt flour (can be substituted with plain)

4 ½ tsp cream of tartar

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

(optional: 2 tbsp sugar if would like them sweet)

1/2 tsp salt

125g cold unsalted butter, diced

300ml milk

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

 

6cm round cookie cutter

Large baking sheet, lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    Preheat the oven to 220°C.

2)    Into a large bowl sift all the dry ingredients. Add in the butter and with fingertips rub it into the dry ingredients until like damp sand. Pour in the milk and very gently fold in until just combined (there may still be pockets of flour).

3)    Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it lightly for about 10 seconds. Roll out to a 3cm thickness and then cut out as many scones as possible. Lightly re-knead the scraps of dough and roll out once more to cut out the last remaining scones.  Space them out on the tray and blush with the beat egg. Place in oven to bake for 8-10 minutes until they are shiny and golden.

Damson Jam Recipe (makes about 3kg, 9 jars)

NB. This recipe can be adapted for any number of damsons by maintaining the ratio

2kg damsons (slightly under-ripe and not too soft)

2kg sugar

200ml water

9 jam jars, sterilised

Method

1)    Pour sugar into an over proof dish and place in oven heated to a low temperature (around 120°C) while the damsons are prepared. Place a couple of small plates into a fridge to cool – these will be used to check the jam’s consistency later.

2)    Grease a large stainless-steel pot with butter to prevent the fruit from sticking. Then pour in the damsons and water and stew over a medium-low heat, stirring gently until the damsons’ skins break. Pour in the warmed sugar and stir over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

3)    Increase the heat to medium-high and allow to boil (controllably), stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking. After a few minutes, as the fruits break down, a pink foam will rise to the surface. Using a slotted spoon, siphon this off into a bowl. If some remains it won’t ruin the jam, it just doesn’t taste as pure as the rest. Then, as the stones begin to rise up, siphon off those too.

4)    After about 15 minutes of boiling, when all the stones have been removed, pour a teaspoon of the liquid onto a cold plate. Let it sit for about a minute then tilt the plate, if the liquid is no longer watery, with a viscosity between a sauce and a jam, and wrinkles when pushed with the finger, it is set. For the more scientifically-minded, it should be 105°C on a sugar thermometer. Pour the jam into the sterilised jars and allow to come to room temperature before sealing them with lids.

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