I was sitting in a coffee shop earlier this week with my work friend Jan (we were having a 'meeting'), discussing cake and the emotional connotations that it has. Whilst doing so, we were scoffing the leftovers from my birthday tea party which we had spirited into Cafe Nero, knowing full well that anything that they had to offer couldn't in any way compete with the sheer, moorish heaven of what I had produced. I know this might sound a little arrogant, but I consider myself nothing more than a vessel in which to carry forth the God-like baking genius of messr's Ottolenghi and Fearnley-Whittingstall.
I am not the first person to have blogged about Ottolenghi's Apple & Olive Oil cake - it has been reprinted and salivated over by many others. But never has a cake been more worthy of the adulation that it recieves. For a start, it was a joy to make - one of those occasions, when one feels really certain that the outcome will live up to its promise. The cake itself was almost panettone-like - so light, with huge shards of bramley apple piercing it's surface. And the maple syrup icing mixed up beautifully and spread on the cake in luscious perfection. The above photo barely does it justice (my 'cameraman' was absent that day). When I served it up on Sunday, there was literally no sound in the room for around 10 minutes, other than a kind of low gurgle of appreciation. And the leftovers were recieved at work with equal enthusiasm, as the last slice was fought over.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Honey & Orange syrup cake is a more humble affair, but every bit as lovely - so clever in that you can literally taste every ingredient - the cloves, nutmeg, squash and of course the sweet yet citrus-y syrup that hits your tongue right at the end. It also improves with age, so by the time I took it into work, it was probably at the peak of its powers. One women came over and announced solemnly that it was 'the best cake I've ever eaten' (I'm not sure why she was so solemn - I like to think it was in reverance for my skill and generosity in sharing it!)
For the tea party, I also made my 'signature' light chocolate cake, and Dan Lepard's hazelnut brownies (again - I love those babies) - both delicious, though the brownies may have been left in the oven a tad too long, due to me being distracted by Strictly Come Dancing during the baking process.
I have realised that my favourite recipes generally have one common feature, irregardless of which one of my baking crushes has devised it: They all keep the sugar content to a minimum - not free (which would be horrid), but allowing the other ingredients to shine through.
Which brings me back to the coffee shop, and the overly sweet muffins and pastries that are generally on offer, certainly at the 'chains'. It was probably my dissatisfaction with these sickly treats that actually got me baking in the first place - a yearning for something with a bit of subtlety and finesse.
PS I will soon be adding all the recipes that I've mentioned so far in these postings, and apologies for not getting round to it yet.