Glazed Lemon Cake

 

IMG_1268

The cake

Parliament has gone into recess, a new Prime Minister is in place and the schools have broken up, so it’s probably not too soon to say that the political scene will calm down a little following the tumultuous four weeks since the EU Referendum result.  For this news junkie it will mean more time for neglected chores but more importantly, even though we’re not going away on holiday this year, for doing nice things with friends and family.

And now is when it starts.  It’s the time of year again when I make a birthday cake for my eldest son, who is 29 today, which is hard to believe.  For the last three years he’s shared his birthday with Prince George.  Two of his brothers and I celebrated his 26th birthday over lunch in a Cambridge restaurant and I recall that they were irritated with me because I kept glancing at my phone to see if there were any news alerts about the royal baby.  It had been announced earlier that morning that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone into labour.

I can’t remember if I made a birthday cake on that occasion, but I like to bake one for all my boys’ birthdays if it’s practical.  The eldest was on an expedition in Ecuador for his seventeenth birthday and there’s a great photo of him waking up in his sleeping bag to be presented by his friends with a cupcake bearing a single candle.  He lives in Cambridge and a couple of years ago, because we weren’t going to manage to meet up around the big day, I ordered him two cakes from that great Cambridge institution, Fitzbillies.  (If you ever visit, you have to try their Chelsea Buns.)  I couldn’t decide between the chocolate and the carrot so bought both (in the smallest size).  Extravagant, but I knew he’d be sharing them with friends.

When he was small I wasn’t really into baking and anyway, was working full-time and didn’t feel I had much time in my life for it.  But I did usually manage to make some sort of sponge cake and get my husband, who is more creative than me, to cut it up and shape it into whatever the boy was into that particular year, ready for me to slather it in buttercream.  For example, we made a train when he was two and a football pitch when he was five.

This year, not for the first time, I’ve made his favourite Glazed Lemon Cake from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  It’s not particularly quick to make, what with seven lemons to zest and a lengthy icing process, but worth it for an occasion and one cake goes a long way and keeps well in an airtight container.

We are all meeting up in London this weekend to celebrate the birthday.  I will be travelling up alone on the train and have to work out a way to get the cake there without damaging it.  I know it freezes well so I’ve decided to freeze it and let it gradually thaw during the journey.  That way it will be very fresh by teatime and also not too squishy while in transit.

Glazed Lemon Cake

You will need a bundt tin, greased, or a tube tin, as it’s called in The Silver Palate Cookbook, which is American.

Conventional oven: pre-heat to 160ºC

You want the lemon zest to be very finely grated.  I find a Microplane grater is best for this.

Ingredients

  • 7 lemons (you’ll need all the zest but the juice of only 3 or 4)
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 400g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 284ml buttermilk
  • 2 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon icing: see below

Method

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition
  • Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.  Add lemon zest and juice
  • Full disclosure: as you know, I’m a fan of the all-in-one method and it works for this cake too.  Mix thoroughly all the ingredients except the zest and juice and fold these in at the end
  • Pour batter into the prepared tin.  Set on the middle rack of a pre-heated conventional oven or on the rack on the bottom rung in the Aga baking oven.  Bake for 1 hour 5 minutes (conventional) or slightly less time in the Aga
  • For Aga baking I check the cake after 30 minutes and turn it, and then check it every 10 minutes to make sure the top isn’t burnt.  It shouldn’t take more than 1 hour in total.  It’s done when a skewer comes out clean

Lemon Icing

  • 450g icing sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tightly packed tbsps grated lemon zest
  • Juice of about 2 lemons
  • Place the sugar, butter and about half the juice in a mixing bowl and gradually blend them using a handheld mixer.  When smooth, mix in the remaining juice and zest.  Note: this icing is a lot runnier than buttercream icing.
  • When the cake has been out of the oven for about 10 minutes, gently pierce it all over using the narrow end of a chopstick.  Spoon over about a third of the icing and allow it to sink in for about 5 minutes before turning out the cake onto a cooling rack
  • Pierce the other side of the cake all over and begin spooning over the remaining icing.  It will slide down the sides and end up on your board/work surface but you just have to keep scooping it up and pouring it over the top again.  This is the boring, lengthy bit: it could take half an hour until the icing has stopped sliding off the cake and  has mostly sunk into it.  See slide show below:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Middle Eastern Cooking

Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging.  And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them.  I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients.  This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well.  This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co.  I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.

I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week.  It’s:

Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets

(serves 4)

Marinade

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad

  • 200g bulgar wheat
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 200ml boiling water
  • 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
  • 75g currants
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
  • 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
  • 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped

Method

  • Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over.  Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate.  You can do this overnight.
  • Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
  • Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
  • Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
  • Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
  • Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
  • Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds

 

IMG_3107

Social Life and a Quick Lunch

 

This blog has been much neglected in recent weeks.  Sometimes life simply doesn’t offer up the moments of calm needed to sit down and concentrate on writing.  For one thing, I’ve been totally absorbed in the political upheaval this country has been undergoing since the EU referendum result was announced on 24 June; and then we’ve also been busy (!) catching up with old friends at a couple of wonderful events.  First was Henley Royal Regatta two weeks ago; we try to attend most years.  My husband and I are both from that part of the world and I used to watch him row there when we first met.  In recent years our son W has been a competitor and it’s been wonderful to go along and support his crew.  We usually meet up with old friends and make a day of it and this year was no different.  The weather was absolutely awful: windy, cool and pouring with rain much of the time.  Only in Britain would you choose to put on a summer dress and spend the day in a field by the river in such atrocious conditions!  Hope the photos above give you a flavour.  There was respite to be found, of course, in the Pimms tent first and later in the lunch marquee.  We sat in the grandstand after lunch to watch some of the races and then at last, at ten past seven in the evening, it was time to watch our son’s race.  It had stopped raining by then and the sky had brightened slightly.  I broadcast the latter part of the race on Periscope but, luckily for you, I haven’t yet set up my blog to play videos so you can’t watch it and hear me screaming as his crew overtook their opponents and won.

The weekend after that we met up with the same friends at mutual friends’ daughter’s 21st birthday party, which was amazing.  We danced the night away, literally.  When dawn broke at about 4.30am we decided it was time for bed but our hosts kept going until 7.30.

So, back to cooking.  Unusually for me on a weekday, I cooked lunch on a Wednesday recently.

IMG_3425

 

It was Jamie Oliver’s spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, red onion, balsamic and basil and brilliantly quick and easy to make.  I needed to use up the tomatoes in a jar I’d opened a few weeks earlier.  It says to consume them within 7 days of opening but I rarely achieve this and don’t think I’ve poisoned anyone yet.

Anyway, here is what you do:

Jamie Oliver’s Spaghetti with Red Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Balsamic Vinegar and Basil

Ingredients

(serves 4)

  • 450g dried spaghetti
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped or sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 3 tbsps balsamic vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls of basil, torn
  • Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated, to serve

Method

  • Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water until al dente
  • While doing this, slowly fry the onion in a couple of lugs (Jamie’s word) for a few minutes (in the simmering oven if you like) until soft and tender
  • Stir in the tomatoes and balsamic and throw in your drained pasta
  • Season and toss together with the basil
  • Serve with the grated cheese

I adore fresh basil and at this time of year I keep a pot of it, bought from the supermarket, on my kitchen window sill and it does very well, as long as I keep it watered.

IMG_3364