Well, this is quite a ride, isn’t it? Waking up to political chaos, walking into work while it rains and taking a lunchbreak in the sunshine. I mean, it would be quite a ride, if turmoil and multi-season days hadn’t become the new normal for a British summer over the past few years. I’m excited to see what we’re going to vote on next June.
Another classic reaction to stressful situations in the UK is biscuits, and so today we return to shortbread, via fingers plunged into butter, bits of dough snuck into mouths before it can hit the oven, and the scent of freshly zested lemon.
-l-l. Lemon and lime loaf would have been a much more pleasing name for this easy-peasy cake, but we can’t miss out the gin drizzle. Really, even lemon, lime, and gin loaf isn’t its proper name – since I dreamt it up on a rogue afternoon off work, what I’ve called it in my head is Victorian malady cake, with scurvy and mother’s ruin in mind. And it’ll certainly have you saying, “Please, I want some more.”
It’s possible I’ve binge-watched too much Dickensian.
In a distinctly non-austerity move, this cake calls for real butter. Almost a whole block of it! I was pro-margarine before, mostly due to its significantly lower price, but you really can’t beat butter* for the flavour it gives, not to mention that oh-so-tempting yellow colour.
The gin, meanwhile, isn’t a boff-you-in-the-face taste, but more of a back-of-the-mouth hint. Just enough to subtly evoke summer days. If you want the gin flavour to feature more? Increase it in the drizzle by a tablespoon or two.
This cake is an easy flash-forward to sunny afternoons, a creation you can whip up without any real elbow grease at all. A beat, a mix, a fold, and a drizzle, and you’re done.
ell. This isn’t very festive, is it? There’s no way to make a lemon cake seem of the season, but it’s too good to hide away until the sun comes back.
There’s something inherently terrifying about making a layer cake – for me, knowing that a bake has a purpose and so has to be really good almost always means I mess it up.
There was the salted caramel crumble bars for dessert after a roast at a friend’s which turned out to be appley shortbready mush. The cookies that I tweaked, which resulted in a too-gooey dough. Before that, the chocolate birthday cake that was so loaded down with ganache that it could have been used as a weapon.
So when making this for my best friend’s birthday, working roughly off a loaf recipe and making the rest up as I went along, there were a lot of nervous frowns and shaky hands. I knew what I wanted it to be: a strong lemon flavour but not overridden by too-sweet curd; a creamy frosting that would be rich enough to be satisfying but still light. Read More
Last weekend, my mamma suggested that I try meditating. My very first thought was, so typically, “I don’t have time for that.”
I thrive on keeping busy, and have a creative mind that doesn’t rest even when I’m sleeping. I’ve been guilty before of juggling multiple projects, writing to-do lists broken down into many different sections, and realising too late that it’s worth taking a step back every now and then to avoiding burning out.
As Friday evening rolled around, the long weekend with no commitments stretched ahead of me, I realised that it had been weeks since I last baked, and weeks since I last didn’t feel on edge. And I remembered that, as it always has been, baking is my meditation.
So I baked, and baked some more, and then I had to find someone to take cookies off my hands. And now, my head’s in a more peaceful place.
Of course, it helps that there’s clafoutis in my fridge now too.
Before this weekend, I’d never eaten clafoutis, and to be honest wasn’t even 100% sure how to pronounce it. I’m that person who goes to an Italian restaurant and picks what to eat based on how easy it is to say: a lisp and a slight country bumpkin accent have set me up for a lifetime of pronunciation errors without even factoring ignorance in. It’s all kinds of embarrassing.
But with three empty days, and puddles to avoid as summer and autumn exchange pleasantries, the decision to stay inside and try something new came easily. Any ingredient list that includes sugar, milk, eggs, flour, and blueberries is guaranteed to pique my interest.
What came of it wasn’t like anything I had half-heartedly expected (having, really, no idea what to expect at all). I’d been fooled into likening the appearance to that of a cake; tricked myself into thinking it’d be like some bizarre sweet quiche. But clafoutis isn’t any of those things. It’s a smooth texture – hard to describe but kind of like a cross between a no-bake cheesecake, custard, and an English style pancake.
The addition of lemon gives the mixture a little lift, a zing right at the end of each mouthful like a full stop. Only it’s hard to fully stop because it’s so damn good. The recipe says it serves 6…but I honestly wouldn’t judge anyone who accidentally ate 2 servings in one sitting. (What? No, of course I didn’t. Maybe.)
95g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
2 large eggs + 1 egg white
Juice of approx. 1/3 a lemon
1) Preheat oven to 190C and butter a 25cm round dish.
2) Sift together flour and salt, then stir in the sugar and lemon rind, before forming a well in the centre. Beat the eggs and pour into the well, whisking to gradually incorporate the flour. Slowly add the milk, and then lemon juice, whisking continually until you get a smooth batter.
3) Spread the blueberries in the buttered dish, and pour in the batter. Bake on the centre shelf for around 40 minutes, until golden brown and just set in the centre. Allow to cool before dusting with icing sugar and serving.
– Frozen blueberries are fine! They’re what I used. If using frozen blueberries, allow them to defrost and transfer to the baking dish using a slotted spoon so that as little juice as possible is added with them.
– It may be worth putting a baking tray on the bottom of the oven to catch any drips or blueberries that spill over when the clafoutis rises.
– Pedant’s note: technically a non-cherry clafoutis isn’t a clafoutis at all – it’s a flaungarde.
A few days ago, my (food) world fell apart a little bit, with a friendly nurse in a cardigan and a swooshy skirt gently uttering six little words.
“You need to cut out carbs.”
Outwardly, I nodded solemnly as she clarified – because we all know that cutting out whole food groups is a bit ridiculous – “Well, maybe have them once a day, definitely not more than that.” But maniacal laughter echoed around my head through all the talk about BMIs and pasta, as I envisioned my life without starchy deliciousness. Stir fry without noodles. Poached eggs without English muffins. No more cake.
But this time, it’ll be more sensible – not like the disaster month that saw me shed a stone and almost a few friends when I did the Dukan diet (not even allowed fruit) and went a bit mental. It’s a good story, but one that illustrates why carbs are not optional for me.
So here we go. I’ve not really eaten much meat, until now – not because I don’t like it, but because both meat and my rent are expensive, and I am unfortunately contractually obliged to pay for the less delicious of the two.
But for now, let’s focus on biscuits. Obviously the best way to deal with all this is to make biscuits which contain both flour and polenta, as a last supper, if you like. If I was doing it properly, it’d be a last supper of something crazy like mashed potato toasties (I have no idea if that’s a thing people do. But I can’t try it out for the foreseeable future).
With the butter (£££) swapped out for margarine, these biscuits are a little cakey like a Viennese whirl biscuit, and a whole lotta delicious, thanks to the subtle addition of lemon.
110g plain flour
Zest of half a lemon
1 medium egg + 1 yolk
1/2tsp vanilla extract
1) Preheat your oven to 180C (170C for fan ovens, 350F, gas mark 4) and line two baking trays with baking parchment. Combine flour, salt, and polenta and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the margarine, sugar, and lemon zest.
2) When light and fluffy, add the egg and then the yolk, beating until just combined after each addition. Add vanilla, and then, gradually, the flour mixture, beating until combined.
3) Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, and pipe onto the baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
4) Bake until just going golden at the edges – about 15 minutes.