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It’s Rosh Hashanah and regular readers will know that I have a real love for holiday cooking. Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples and honey, and one of the traditional dishes is a dark and moist honey cake. Some people don’t like honey cake because bad versions tend to be dry. It can also be very heavily spiced with cinnamon and cloves, which I find a bit overwhelming. So in thinking about honey cake, I wanted to start from a recipe I knew would be good and moist and I also wanted to think about ways to alter the flavours a bit to my own taste.
I began Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which she herself adapted from Marcy Goldman’s Treasure of Jewish Holiday Baking. But I wasn’t keen on the idea of whisky and I wanted a rather different flavour profile. So instead of the traditional spices, I made a chai masala – the aromatic spice mix that goes into Indian tea. Chai masala has some of the same notes as a spiced cake – cinnamon and cloves – but it adds to them cardamom, mace, ginger and nutmeg. I love masala tea and its blend of peppery and perfumey spices with sweet tea seemed like rather a good combination for a cake. I also replaced the booze with apples, partly to keep tea the predominant liquid flavour and partly because I wanted to add a bit of New Year apples to the mix. Read the rest of this entry »
Regular readers will have noticed that I’m not really a dessert person. First of all, I don’t have an enormously sweet tooth but mostly I am just not a baker. I completely subscribe to the idea that the world is split into cooks and bakers and I’m massively impressed by anyone who can do both. My grandmother was a baker: family lore has it that she was frustrated by my grandfather’s culinary conservatism and channeled all of her creative energies into the medium of cake. As a child, I loved going to her house because there was always a freshly made coconut cake or an Albert cake on hand. My mother, by contrast, is a cook: her lasagne is legendary and she makes a pretty good chicken korma too. I’ve inherited my mother’s love of cooking but whereas she can actually make a lovely dessert, I am terrified of the entire world of baking. I never know what things are supposed to look like at each stage and it all seems so unforgiving. That’s why I love this beautiful Seville orange cake recipe, which seems entirely idiot-proof… Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes the universe is just in a good mood. Yesterday, a total stranger stopped me in the corridor to compliment my dress, instantly raising my spirits. And, if that wasn’t enough, someone I don’t know terribly well brought me a gift back from Taiwan of green tea and pineapple cake. It was such a lovely gesture and of course, tapped right into my love of Asian foods.
Since I was already wearing my posh frock, it seemed only correct to have tea and cake when I got home yesterday. The tea is amazing looking, with big clusters of whole, dark green leaves. (It looks a lot like some other kind of dried green leaves, not that I’d know about that…) I wasn’t sure exactly how much tea to put in the pot, and I think to be honest I overdid it a bit since the tea was rather on the strong and bitter side. But it had that distinctive heady aroma of good Chinese teas and I’m sure it will be delicious when I make it a bit less like the Chinese equivalent of builders’ tea.
The cakes, which are a Taiwanese speciality called feng li su, were a revelation. The outer cake is actually a bit like shortbread, but softer and chewy, more buttery than many Asian desserts. Inside is a thick and sweet pineapple jam. Sometimes, Asian sweets don’t entirely appeal to me – this is one of the few areas in which I agree that the French really do win the day – but these little mouthfuls of pineapple, butter and sugar are actually pretty damn good. And, of course, they were made even sweeter by arriving so unexpectedly. Sometimes, it really is the little things that count…