Recipe: Isabelle’s blood orange cake

Birthdays mean one thing to me: cake. I like birthday cake. At the risk of sounding a bit like Marjorie Dawes, I like cake in general. I like eating it. I like making. l like making cakes especially for people even more. And this week it was a good friend’s birthday, so, unsurprisingly, I decided that there should be cake.

“I love you like a fat kid loves cake.” – 50 Cent

And Isabelle (or Nana, as we call her, not cause she’s old -trust me, she’s a smoking 30-something-year-old, but she’s wise) deserves cake. She’s someone who should always be swaddled in cashmere and fed buckets of good Sancerre while she plumbs her ocean-deep dreamy depths to draw from her seemingly infinite well of old-before-her-time wisdom. Basically, she’s a good pal who deserves a good cake.

And good cakes mean they mean something to the person who’s eating them, whether it’s a flavour profile that reminds them of a banging holiday or an ingredient that they find irresistible.

So I asked her the following:

Pick a flour: “I love a bit of polenta”

Pick a spice: “cardamom

Pick a fruit/aroma: “orange blossom or pears”

Pick a nut: “almonds”

Pick a country: “something with Middle East vibes”

This could, of course, have gone horribly wrong if she’d decided, for example, that she liked peanuts and pineapples with a taste of Mongolia flavoured with rose water using spelt. Luckily for me (and her, probably…maybe peanut and rose water pineapple is a thing) she picked something I could work with: an orange polenta and almond cake with cardamom syrup and blood orange mascarpone icing.

There’s a lovely light, floral nature to blood oranges that works so well with cakes. Plus, that rosy, just-pink blush it lends white icing is a thing of beauty. And cardamom, too, with its almost-medicinal, mouth numbing tingle is something that gives a rustic, poor man’s polenta cake edge. All in all, this was a genuine joy to make.

Happy birthday Nana.

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Orange polenta and almond cake with cardamom and blood orange icing

Ingredients

for the cake
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
4 large eggs
120g polenta
120g ground almonds
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 orange
zest and juice of 2 small blood oranges

for the cardamom syrup
handful of lightly crushed cardamom pods
200g caster sugar
100ml water

for the icing
150g mascarpone
300g icing sugar
zest and juice of 1 blood orange

Method

  • Preheat oven to 140 degrees centigrade in a fan oven (160 if it’s not fan) and grease and line a 9″ cake tin with baking parchment.
  • Cream the butter and sugar for the cake together before adding the eggs one at a time until combined.
  • Zest and juice the oranges for the cake and pour into the butter mix.
  • Add the dry ingredients and mix gently with a metal spoon. Pour into the cake pan and bake for around 45 mins-one hour. Check the cake after 45 mins by sticking a knife into the centre: if it comes out clean, it’s ready. If it’s still a little liquid in the middle, cover with foil and put back into the oven for the remaining time so the surface won’t get any browner.
  • While it’s cooking, make the syrup by putting all the ingredients into a pan and heating over a medium heat for around 15-20 minutes until the water has reduced and the mixture goes thick and sticky. Don’t be afraid to add a little more water if it burns down too quickly – you can’t muck up syrup as it’s basically just sugar. Pick out the cardamom pods, but leave the crunchy black seeds in and set to one side.
  • When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. While it’s still warm, pour over the cardamom syrup. It will soak in to the top layer and harden, giving a sugary, spicy crunch under the icing.
  • To make the icing, blend the ingredients together in a bowl – the blood orange will give it a delicate pink hue, while using mascarpone instead of butter keeps it a little lighter and easier to spread.
  • When the cake is completely cool, spread the icing over the top and sides and decorate with slices of fresh citrus.

NOTE: The canny-eyed among you will notice I used eucalyptus leaves to decorate with fresh citrus slices…don’t. I was going for a lush, forest, woodland creature concept and assumed that eucalyptus would be fine considering we use the oil medicinally. Turns out (after a cursory google search not the way to the pub), it isn’t. The tree sap is toxic to babies and the leaves poisonous to adults when consumed in large quantities. 

Awesome.

I did fall into paroxysms of fear-guilt-dread when I arrived, slyly sloping off to pick all the foliage and fruit off before it was served. And even then, even when I knew no sap had been anywhere near the cake, I was still imagining headlines like “Londoner massacres entire party with lethal polenta cake” or some sort of Game of Thrones Joffrey death scene on the floor of a Peckham Pub.

Happy to report, however, that no foaming of the mouth occurred and no party-goers where harmed in the eating of this cake.

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Recipe: Three-ingredient, no-churn ice cream

“When I’m not longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.” – Snoop Dogg.

You should always have ice cream in your freezer. Always.

I mean, can you imagine if you had an ice cream emergency only to discover you were lacking? What if, for example, you went through a stereotypical American sitcom heartbreak. How could you adequately console yourself without a tub of the stuff?

What about all those times you whip up bitter chocolate soufflés and fondants post-work and pre-bed and don’t have anything sweet to serve alongside them? Well, then my friend you’d have egg on your face wouldn’t you.

“Ice-cream is exquisite – what a pity it isn’t illegal.”  -Voltaire

And don’t even think about hosting a slumber party/girl’s night in/movie evening/Saturday night pity party for one without it. The thought is madness. MADNESS I tell you!

Ok, so, ice cream isn’t exactly one of life’s necessities, but it is one of life’s loveliest frivolities, and having a creamy slab of the homemade stuff on hand is a wonderful thing.

I don’t have an ice cream maker or the patience to stir my mix every few hours to prevent ice crystals forming, so this recipe, which is barely adapted from Mary Berry’s original no-churn offering, is a life saver.

With only three base ingredients, it’s so stupidly easy to make, you should try making a couple of batches at a time and adding a few different flavours and textures.

I’ve noted my two very favourite variations on classic vanilla: sticky, crunchy honeycomb and swirls or tangy lemon curd.

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INGREDIENTS

4 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
300ml double cream

METHOD

  • Line a metal loaf tin with greaseproof paper or dig out a plastic tub to store your ice cream.
  • Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with an electric beater until they form stiff peaks.
  • Slowly whisk in the caster sugar until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed.
  • Gently fold the cream and beaten egg yolks into the meringue mixture until combined.
  • Pour into your prepared container and freeze overnight before eating.

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Honeycomb ice cream

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INGREDIENTS 

a little vegetable oil, for greasing
200g golden caster sugar
4 tbsp honey
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

METHOD

  • Lightly grease a big sheet of greaseproof paper and place it over a large wooden board or heat-proof surface.
  • Pour the golden caster sugar and honey into a heavy-based saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Once melted, turn up the heat and let it simmer until it’s turned into a deep, oozing caramel.
  • Take of the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarbonate of soda, mixing furiously. It will start to foam and froth up. Pour the marshmallowy mixture over the greased paper and leave to cool and harden for around 45 minutes.
  • When it’s cool, cover with another layer of paper and smash into shards with a rolling pin. Sprinkle on the base of your ice cream tin in layers, covering each layer with a thick slop of ice cream so it’s evenly spread. Finish with some larger shards on top before freezing.

Lemon curd ice cream

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INGREDIENTS

1 jar of homemade lemon curd

METHOD

  • Fill your ice cream container a quarter full of the ice cream mixture. Dollop over five or six teaspoons of the lemon curd, gently swirling with the tip of a knife.
  • Repeat until the container is full and finish with a final swirl on top before freezing.

Recipe: The best lemon curd

I’ve eaten a lot of lemon curd in my time.  A lot.

I think the obsession started with my granny, who used to make jam tarts with her lip-smackingly sweet homemade raspberry jam every time my brother I would stay with her.

Don’t get me wrong, my granny was not a spectacular cook. I’ll never forget those beige, viscous curries devoid of all spice (because who would want “that foreign muck”), the vegetables boiled into greyish, sodden submission, and my whole family may still bear the scars of those unidentifiable stews she would slop out to sustain us after our long drive from Hampshire to Dorset. Oh, how we dreaded those.

She could, however, make a bloody fantastic tart. I remember the smell of burnt sugar in her little 70s kitchen down in Bridport. The smears of flour she would leave around the counter top and on the rumpled edges of her old jumper as she pushed butter through the powdery dough. I remember sitting for hours after the hot, flaky, sticky things had been eaten, still sucking at the last few stubborn seeds that would always find their way behind my milk teeth.

Most of all I remember those sacred days when she would make a lemon curd alternative – jaw-paralysingly sharp-sweet, sunflower yellow and wobbling around seductively in thick golden pastry. They were my favourite,  made all the more precious by their scarcity and probably started a lifelong gluttony for all things citrus. As a grown up, I still find it hard to resist lemon curd. I don’t care how it comes: slathered on buttered toast, spread between layers of Victoria sponge, swirled through vanilla-spiked ice cream of ladled straight into my mouth. basically I’m a sucker for lemon curd.

So it was about time I found a good recipe for it, really. Slightly less sweet than most supermarket-bought brands, this zingy one-pan preserve is so easy to make I’m struggling to call it a recipe as such. All you really need are good, fresh lemons (I like checking a few pinkish tiger lemons for a softer flavour) and a strong arm as there’s a lot of whisking and grating involved.

edible woman lemon curd

Make sure you’ve got an hour set aside to make this, however, as it’s one of those temperamental things that demands undivided attention. It can be a right bastard and, if you neglect it, it can ruin itself in an instant.

INGREDIENTS

6 small, sterilised jars plus wax paper covers and labels
6 unwaxed  lemons, zested and juiced
300g unrefined caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, chopped
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks

METHOD

  • Set a metal mixing bowl over a pan of gently simmering water on a low heat on the stove.
  • Add the butter, sugar and lemon zest and juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Whisk the eggs and yolks and add to the mixture, whisking until completely combined
  • The curd needs to ‘cook’ now for around 10-15 minutes. Make sure you stir it every few minutes, whisking all of the zest up from where it will settle on the base of the bowl so it gets evenly distributed.
  • It’s ready when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

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  • When it’s cooked, take it off the heat to cool completely before you pour into your jars. Stir the mixture occasionally while it cools as it helps whisk out any lumps that might form and leaves you with silky smooth curd.

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