It’s officially September! Although I’m always sad to see the evenings get darker and cooler, to see the high, summer grass start to wilt and the leaves to brown, there’s so much I love about autumn. I love the scent of woodsmoke that starts to creep through the chill air in the evenings. I love the high, blue skies and brisk clouds. I love the old-gold colour of the sun, the saffron-yellow leaves, jumpers and boots and long walks that end in pubs with open fires…
And of course, then there’s the food. After weeks of salads and tarts and “light” summer dishes (in my book “light” still means immoral quantities of cheese), it’s exciting to be able to indulge in some heartier, cosier meals. And for me, autumn means one unmissable thing.
I love blackberries. In crumbles, in cakes, eaten straight from the hedgerows… Not the flavourless, seedless plump shop-bought ones. You can keep them. I love tramping through meadows and straddling ditches, half-falling into hedgerows to pick small, deep, purple-black berries, so ripe they burst on your hands until you’re covered in juice. Wild blackberries have a flavour that’s impossible to replicate: sweet but mellow, perfumed and somehow darker than other berries. I like to think it’s because blackberries ripen as the nights grow shorter: they come along hand-in-hand with these plummeting late-summer twilights.
So without further ado, here’s one of my favourite recipes for them, which I hope captures the flavours of coming autumn. I’ll be posting more blackberry recipes over the next few weeks, so get out there and get berrying!
Hazelnut Cake with a Blackberry Sloe Gin Glaze
For the cake:
- 175g butter, very soft
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 free-range eggs
- 140g self-raising flour
- 40g ground almonds
- Handful of hazelnuts, chopped
- 100g fresh blackberries
- 7 tbsp sloe gin
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla bean extract or 1/2 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped out (if you can afford it, this stuff is so much better than standard vanilla extract)
- Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Grease and line a 450g / 1lb loaf tin.
- Place the chopped hazelnuts in a dry pan and toast over a low heat for around 2 minutes. (Watch out, they catch and burn very easily). Tip onto a plate to cool.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Stir together the flour and almonds in a bowl.
- Beat the eggs, then add a third of them to the butter mixture, along with a third of the flour and almonds and stir gently to combine. Repeat with the remaining thirds, being careful not to over-mix.
- Stir in the cooled hazelnuts.
- Tip into your prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top.
- Bake for around 40-45 minutes or until risen and golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out mostly clean. (A few crumbs are fine).
- Place 100g blackberries into a saucepan, along with 4 tbsp sloe gin, the sugar and the vanilla extract. (Save a few whole berries for decoration and surreptitious eating).
- Stir together and cook over a low heat until the blackberries can be crushed with the back of a spoon and the liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes.
- Place a mesh sieve over a bowl and strain the liquid, smooshing the berry-pulp with a spoon to get all the gorgeous, purple juice out.
- Return the liquid to the pan and reduce over a low heat again until thickened, another 4-5 minutes or so.
- Set aside and stir regularly: you’ll need to use this quite quickly before it sets, so have that cake ready.
- Prick holes in the top of the cake whilst still warm and drizzle over the remaining 2 tbsps of sloe gin.
- Remove from the paper and place on a wire rack. (You might want something underneath – this bit gets messy).
- Spoon the glaze over the cake whilst still warm, pushing to the edges with the back of a spoon. Decorate with the remaining blackberries and bask in the ruby, sticky deliciousness that has now stained your entire kitchen.
This recipe first appeared on the much-loved, much-missed Domestic Sluttery.