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Breakfast Martini Cake

It’s orange season! And I love it. My local greengrocer is selling HUGE navel oranges 4 for £1, blood oranges (my favourite) are back, and jars of marmalade are appearing in my vicinity with startling regularity.

Sadly, I’m not a marmalade fan. Something about the combination of sugar and bitterness just doesn’t work for me, which is weird, because I love other bitter flavours. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love orange and marmalade in stuff, including cocktails.

A classic Breakfast Martini involves marmalade, dry gin, triple sec and lemon juice. Someone once tried to make me one with just vodka and marmalade stirred in a glass, which I won’t recommend. But this cake combines tangy orange, sweet marmalade, buttery sponge and yes, some generous slugs of gin and Cointreau.

Breakfast Martini Cake

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 25ml milk (or milk alternative)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • Segments of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp marmalade (preferably thick cut)

For the martini topping:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau (you could replace with orange juice if you like)
  • 2 tbsp marmalade
  • Lemon zest, to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Grease and line a 20cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, along with tablespoon of the flour with each to stop the mixture from splitting.
  4. Gently fold in the remaining flour until it is just incorporated and no streaks are showing.
  5. Stir in the milk and the orange zest.
  6. Sprinkle the muscovado sugar over the bottom of the prepared tin.
  7. Spread the marmalade over the top, then layer the orange segments in a pattern, whatever you feel like.
  8. Dollop the batter over the top, smooth over and bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until it’s golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the tin for a few minutes before flipping onto a plate and peeling off the paper.

The syrup:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir together.
  2. Bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat, until the consistency thickens.
  3. Whilst the cake is still warm, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer and spoon over the sticky, boozy syrup so that it soaks in.
  4. Decorate lemon zest, make yourself a real breakfast martini to drink with it.

This recipe was first featured on Domestic Sluttery.

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At the Sauce Podcast

I was delighted to be a guest on episode 35 of At the Sauce; a brilliant food and drink themed podcast based here in Bristol. It was a joy to talk to Alex and Karis, especially knowing they’d recently interviewed one of my favourite food writers, Bee Wilson.

Check out the episode below. You can find other episodes with guests ranging from chefs to producers to other writers over at At the Sauce and you can also support their work via their Patreon. Thanks Alex and Karis!

It’s a heck of a newsletter this month, with a seasonal recipe perfect for Burns Night, news, a short story and more. Click below to sign up.

Short Story: The Unravelling of Walter Sinos

Getting 2020 off to a pretty flying start, I’m delighted to say that literary journal Short Fiction chose my short story, “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for their January Feature.

“He was unremarkable, an elderly man in a greatcoat worn to skeleton threads, and a pair of leather shoes that creaked with newness. He wore woollen gloves with the fingertips cut off, threads trailing like capillaries, leaking life. His eyes were yellowed, the irises a shock of blue. When he spoke, it was as if every word were being plucked from a box that was almost empty.”


“The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” is a rather strange piece, and one that I agonised over a bit; it’s quite different in style to my usual writing. Also – though this sounds like a cliche – it started out as a dream. I actually dreamed almost the entire thing, including the name “Walter Sinos” and saw the process of his unravelling. It didn’t fade on waking either, and so I felt I had no choice but to try and capture in words the sensations that had seemed so evident and crystalline and strange when I was dreaming.

I finished this short story back in August last year and wasn’t at all sure what to do with it. Genre-wise it sits somewhere between literary and magical realism; not genre enough for SFF magazines, perhaps too speculative for mainstream literary ones. So – after a few rejections – I am delighted that it found a home with Short Fiction. Overall, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in capturing Mr Sinos’s unravelling, but I’m glad I tried.

There are passages in the short story that attempt to describe the sound of Walter Sinos’ work, which – to my mind – is on the musique concrète end of things. Obviously, this made it particularly challenging to describe. Luckily, I have a resident sound designer on hand to help (thanks Nick), who recommended a few books and resources that were incredibly useful as I attempted to describe the soundscape of Sinos’ world.

The one I used most was Ocean of Sound by David Toop: ambient sound and radical listening in the age of communication. It’s described as a sonic history of ambient music, stretching from the 1889 Paris Exposition to the present. I highly recommend it, especially the new edition which has a foreword by Michel Faber.

Another big inspiration, and another recommendation was the music of Iannis Xenakis; the Greek-French composer who fought with the resistance in Athens during WWII and was subsequently blinded in the left eye when shrapnel exploded in his face during an armed conflict. He was later forced to flee to France after the right-wing government sentenced him to death for his part in the resistance activities.

For years I was tormented by guilt at having left the country for which I’d fought. I left my friends — some were in prison, others were dead, some managed to escape. I felt I was in debt to them and that I had to repay that debt. And I felt I had a mission. I had to do something important to regain the right to live. It wasn’t just a question of music — it was something much more significant.” – Iannis Xenakis

His pictoral scores are like nothing I’ve ever seen; the music itself is deeply unsettling, nerve-shaking. It was – and still is – ground-breaking work that asks demanding questions of what it is to experience music.

You can read “The Unravelling of Walter Sinos” for free over on the Short Fiction site, and while you’re there, please do consider donating a little their way, so they can continue to run the journal as they have been since 2006.

Blackberry, Bay and Hazelnut Galette

I’ve been obsessed with blackberry and bay ever since reading about it in Bee Wilson’s wonderful article about jam for the Financial Times. There, she wrote about London Borough of Jam in Hackey, where owner Lillie O’Brien makes a blackberry and bay jam that is “dark, rich and full of back-to-school autumnal promise”. It was only then I remembered that I had read about blackberry and bay as a flavour combination before, in Olivia Potts’ Vintage Chef column. (She makes blackberry and bay jam filled doughtnuts. Aaaaah).

The joy of a galette is that they are super easy to make, and even easier to stick in the oven and forget about for half an hour. The bay leaf adds a subtle flavour; a kind of grown-up, botanical muskiness to the jammy berries.

It’s also incredibly easy to make this recipe vegan, as most ready-made pastry uses vegetable fat. Just replace the egg-glaze with nut or oat milk.

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • 100g whole or blanched hazelnuts
  • 400g blackberries, defrosted if frozen
  • 1 large cooking apple
  • 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 6 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 egg or 2 tbsp of milk, to glaze
  • clotted cream, to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Take the pastry out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
  3. Place the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan and toast over a low heat for around 3-4 minutes. Keep your eye on them; they burn easily.
  4. If they still have their skins, tip into a clean tea towel and rub vigorously to remove. It doesn’t matter if some stay on.
  5. Use a hand blender or spice grinder to grind the nuts (I like to leave a few chunky bits) and set aside.
  6. Peel, core and roughly slice the apple. Place into a bowl with 200g of the blackberries, 4 tbsp of the muscovado sugar and the mixed spice. Toss together and set aside.
  7. Place the remaining blackberries in a pan, along with 3 tbsp of water, the caster sugar and the bay leaves. Place over a low heat, stirring regularly for around 8-10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and blackberries have broken down to form a compote-like texture. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  8. To assemble the galette, roll the pastry on a floured surface into circle slightly larger than a dinner plate. Transfer to the baking tray.
  9. Scatter all but 1 tbsp of the hazelnuts across the pastry, stopping about an inch from the edge, then scatter over 1 tbsp of muscovado sugar.
  10. Heap the apples and blackberries into the middle of the pastry.
  11. Take the bay leaves out of the compote, then spoon it over the mound of fruit.
  12. Fold the edges of the galette into the centre, leaving a hole in the middle.
  13. Brush the pastry with beaten egg or milk, then scatter with the remaining hazelnuts and sugar.
  14. Bake in the oven for around 40-45 minutes, until the pastry is golden-brown and the fruit is bubbling.
  15. Serve straight away, with a large scoop of clotted cream.

This recipe first appeared in the November edition of my newsletter. Head over here to subscribe for exclusive recipes, news, photos, sneak previews of books, and more.

Talking Food With… Katy Moran

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today, I’d like to introduce as my guest author Katy Moran. Katy is a former book editor who now lives in Shropshire with her husband and three children. Her first novel Bloodline was published in 2008 and was an epic adventure set amongst the warring kingdoms of the Dark Ages. After a series of successful Young Adult Novels, Katy has turned her attention to adult fiction. Her debut adult novel False Lights has been described as ‘Georgette Heyer meets William Boyd’ and as having ‘… a marvellously dark and compelling anti-hero and a truly gutsy heroine… a terrific read’. Katy’s latest novel, Wicked by Design, was published in September.

And if you follow either of us on Twitter, you’ll know that Katy and I were allies this summer in the fight against the never-ending courgette hoards.

LM: Hi Katy! Your latest book, Wicked by Design, is set in an alternate Napoleonic era. Do historical recipes and/or food history have a place in your research? 

KM: Yes, I think that because my books are set in an alternative Napoleonic universe, details like period recipes and the food that people ate have an important role in grounding readers in the world and making them believe in it. In Wicked by Design, I seem to focus in on details of what people are eating or drinking at moments of extreme stress. There is a moment in St Petersburg when one of my heroes, Crow, is really falling to pieces at the supper table under the combined effect of grief, opium and too much brandy. Somehow, zeroing in on the details of the creamed spinach tart and beef olives that everyone else is eating throws his state of disintegration into contrast. (There is a recipe for beef olives in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, published in 1747). Crow’s state and behaviour at this moment were also partly inspired by the music video for Johnny Cash’s cover of hurt, which features him surrounded by a feast; opulent but somehow repellent platters of rich food. 

LM: Any favourite examples of food in fiction?

KM: Yes, I always remember Sylvia Green’s tiny ham rolls that she ate on the train north to Willoughby Chase, and the awful contrast with her unnerving travelling companion’s rich confectionery oozing with violet icing. Actually, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken was one of the inspirations behind my alternative timeline: ‘This book is set during a period of history that never happened’.

LM: Can you share a little about your research process? Are there any tips, tricks or strange practices you find yourself following?

KM: I work in a second-hand bookshop and much of my research is driven by books I stumble on while filing new stock in the history section, so my advice would be to visit a shop like the one I work in, that has a varied and esoteric selection of books. It’s one of the best ways to get yourself out of a plot hole, too. I always find answers that I’d never have come up with by approaching the problem head on.

LM: What is it that draws you to the Cornish coast as a setting? Can you share a favourite historical fact or piece of folklore from the region?

Hell Bay, Bryher

KM: For one of the companion novels to Wicked by Design, I needed a setting in close proximity to an island. My husband’s father was born on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, so that’s why one of my heroines, Hester, was brought up on the island of Bryher, and that’s how I arrived at the more general Cornish setting, too.

LM: Some quickfire questions! First, coffee or tea?

KM: Coffee!

Chocolate or cheese?

KM: Chocolate.

Breakfast or dinner?

KM: Dinner.

What’s your favourite beverage to relax with?

KM: A Gin & Tonic.

If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

KM: I love baking and anything that involves the creative use of leftovers or hiding vegetables so that they are undetected by my children. Last night, I made a pie from the remains of a roast chicken and a baked ham, and the stock from the chicken is bubbling away in my kitchen. My kids spent the summer gorging on chocolate cake without a clue it was made with courgettes from the terrifying mountains that kept appearing in the garden. I’m not always this organised, though, and we’ll be having frozen pizza this evening.

LM: Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

KM: Another novel set in the world of Wicked by Design, but eight years further on.

Thank you Katy! You can find out more about Katy at: https://katymoran.co.uk/ and follow her on Twitter @Katyjamoran.

If you liked this post be sure to sign up to my newsletter which I send out on the last Friday of every month. Subscribers get first access to new and historic recipes, Q&As like the one above, historical research, offers, events, and original fiction.

Halwa Carrot Cake

I came up with this cake a few years ago for a friend from Pakistan who said he was missing carrot halwa (gajar ka halwa), and who also loves carrot cake. So, for his birthday I decided to try and combine the two… After a few test runs, and a lot of texting my friend Viv to ask about correct consistencies, I ended up with this; a take on a traditional carrot cake mixed with cardamom, saffron, pistachios, golden sultanas and a large helping of sticky, sweet halwa that’s good enough to eat on its own. This is one of favourite recipes, actually, and a perfect comfort food for dark, chilly winter nights. I’d be really interested to hear about other recipes or methods for carrot halwa too!

Ingredients

For the halwa:

  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 40g butter
  • Handful golden sultanas
  • Handful of cashews
  • 250g of carrots (about 4-5), peeled and grated
  • 200ml condensed milk (about half a tin)
  • Pinch of saffron

For the frosting:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 200g cream cheese
  • 150g icing sugar (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • zest of 1 orange

For the cake:

  • 200g butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 200g carrots, peeled and grated
  • 350g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • A generous grating of fresh nutmeg or ¼ tsp ground
  • Handful of golden sultanas
  • Handful of pistachios, roughly chopped (save a few for the top)

Method:

  1. First make the halwa. Smash open the cardamom pods, scrape out the seeds and grind them into a powder in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the cardamom. Stir for about a minute until fragrant.
  3. Tip in the sultanas and cashews, followed by the carrot. Stir together well, and gently fry over a medium heat, stirring often, for around 5 minutes or until the carrots are wilted and beginning to tangle together.
  4. Tip in the condensed milk and the saffron. Stir well. Reduce the heat and stir regularly until the mixture turns puddingy and almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
  5. Next make the frosting. Place the mascarpone and cream cheese in a bowl, and sift in the icing sugar. Stir or whisk together. Stir in the lemon juice and orange zest, saving a little zest for decoration. Cover and put in the fridge to firm up.
  6. For the cake, preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Line a 23cm cake tin.
  7. Place the butter and sugar together in a pan and stir together over a medium heat until both are melted.
  8. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Then, add a large spoonful of the halwa and the milk and stir to combine. Whisk in the beaten eggs.
  9. Place the grated carrots, flour, bicarb, and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix. Pour in the butter mixture and fold together until no streaks of flour are showing. Stir in the sultanas and pistachios.
  10. Tip into the cake tin and bake for around 40-45 minutes, or until golden and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. If your oven is browning the top too quickly, cover in foil to allow the rest to catch up. Cool on a wire rack.
  11. Assemble by spreading the halwa in a layer across the top of the cake, then spooning over the frosting. Decorate with orange zest and chopped pistachios.

This recipe was first featured on the Domestic Sluttery newsletter. If you haven’t heard of it, they deliver brilliant content to your inbox twice a week. You can sign up here.

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Talking Food With… Lucy Hounsom

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today, I’d like to introduce as my guest author Lucy Hounsom. Lucy is the author of The Worldmaker Trilogy. Her first book, STARBORN, was shortlisted in the 2016 Gemmell Awards for Best Fantasy Debut. Her fourth book, SISTERSONG, will be published by Pan Macmillan in 2021. She is a Waterstones bookseller and co-hosts the award-winning geek feminist podcast ‘Breaking the Glass Slipper’, which last weekend won Best Audio at the British Fantasy Awards 2019. She lives half the time in Devon with two cats and the other half in Skyrim.

And for people who don’t know… she is also my older sister. 🙂

LM: Hello, err, Lucy. (I won’t share our ridiculous nicknames for each other here). Let’s get started: what are some of your favourite examples of food in fiction?

Lucy: Definitely the descriptions of fruit in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. They’re so luscious and visceral; I especially love the way she dwells on each fruit in its turn:

Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy

– Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market (1859)

Another all time favourite has to be from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry is found on the Knight Bus and taken to The Leaky Cauldron. Cornelius Fudge sits him down in front of the fire with an enormous platter of hot, buttered crumpets. Every time I read the passage, I have this unreasonable fear that Fudge will devour all of the crumpets before Harry can even take one; I always want to yell at him to stop talking and start eating!

LM: Well, now I want crumpets. Can you share some of your strongest food memories, pleasant or otherwise?

Lucy: An unpleasant memory is undoubtedly the time I stuck my fork into a chicken kiev and it exploded boiling garlic butter all over me. I must have been about ten at the time, and I remember the exact top I was wearing. Even though it was washed, it forever after smelt of garlic…

A much better memory is from when we were younger, just about old enough to use the oven on our own. We used to sneak Linda McCartney pies from the freezer and cook them in the afternoon while Mum was at work, completely ruining our dinner. She must have noticed that they always went missing, but never said anything. After a few years we lost interest, partly because I’m sure they reduced the salt content… or perhaps it was just the illicit fun of cooking pies unsupervised and wolfing them down in secret.

LM: Do you ever use food to set the scene in your own work?

My new book, Sistersong, set in magical ancient Britain, actually uses a lack of food to set the scene. For example, at Beltane, in May, they celebrate the coming summer by eating the first strawberries, but it quickly becomes apparent that ominous weather will lead to a terrible harvest. In an isolated, tribal community, such as the one where Sistersong is set, the success or failure of the harvest is life or death, bound up with the prosperity of the kingdom. In a time of famine, everyone starves, even the King’s household.

On the other hand, the opening chapter of Starborn takes place inside a busy inn, filled with hot stews and pints of cider and ale, while rain pours down outside. I wanted to juxtapose the inclement weather with a deep sense of familiarity, comfort and security that will all too soon be threatened…

LM: No spoilers!

Lucy: Fine! I will say that inns in fantasy – and the food you find there – are tropes in their own right. Picture The Prancing Pony in The Lord of the Rings. Adventurers come in from the cold and sit by the fire with flagons of ale, a wheel of cheese, a hunk of dark bread and bowls of stew… “Unidentified Stew” is classic fantasy fare, and can range from delicious and savoury to downright disgusting.

LM: Time for some rapid fire questions! First, the eternal choice: chocolate or cheese?

Lucy: Cheese.

Tea or coffee?

Lucy: Aaaaah. Tea. For the varieties.

Potatoes, bread or rice?

Lucy: Bread.

Breakfast or Dinner?

Lucy: Breakfast. Brioche. Croissants. Muesli. Porridge with blueberries. Endless delights.

Favourite drink to relax with?

Lucy: Tough one. I’ll say prosecco or a nice Provence rosé.

LM: If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

Lucy: Probably jambalaya with prawns and frankfurters. Or anything with smoked paprika!

So, there we are – I hope you’re all now suitably hungry. You can check out Lucy’s work at https://lucyhounsom.co.uk/ or follow her on Twitter and Instagram as @silvanhistorian or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/lucyhounsom.

SISTERSONG will be published under the name Lucy Holland by Pan MacMillan in Spring 2021.

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Blackberry Madeleines

Autumn is now officially here; the tomatoes have turned orange on brittle stems, the courgettes are finally ending their reign, and now is the time for golden quinces, autumn apples, and a few last, late blackberries clinging to brambles.

It was when we were on our way home, the sun sinking low and golden, that we found the blackberries. Hedgerow upon hedgerow, heavy with fruit. They squashed between our fingers, on our tongues. I still remember their taste, perfumed and sweet. Not the bright, Mat sweetness of a strawberry , but deeper, more mysterious, as if they’d drawn the cold, smoky nights into their juice, as if they’d seen midnight. – From Where the Wild Cherries Grow.

I love working with ingredients that are simple, that sing to people’s memories. The taste of blackberries, to me, will always be picking them with my father, or the taste of my grandmother’s crumble, the scratches and the beads of blood that you always have to pay for the fruit with. There is no sense in buying blackberries; commercially grown blackberries are too big, too tart, and never have the musky, almost feral sweetness that makes them so timeless and evocative.

So here we are, a nod to my own memories, and to Monsieur Proust’s, and a recipe for Blackberry Madeleines.

Blackberry Madeleines

Ingredients

  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 100g plain flour
  • ¾ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp vanilla bean extract, or 1 vanilla bean pod
  • Large handful of blackberries (one for each cake)
  • Icing sugar, to decorate

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 200C / 400F / Gas mark 6. Brush your madeleine or bun tin with melted butter and dust with a little flour.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and caster sugar until light and frothy. 
  3. Melt the butter and leave to cool slightly, then stir in along with the flour, baking powder and vanilla bean extract.
  4. Leave to rest for a few minutes, then spoon into the prepared tins.
  5. Press a blackberry into the middle of each madeleine.
  6. Bake for around 8-10 minutes, or until risen and pale golden.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, dust with icing sugar, and serve warm.

P.s. If you don’t have a madeleine tin, you can use a shallow bun tin or similar. This’ll make 12-14, depending on the size. Just keep an eye on your cakes as they cook.

This recipe was first featured in the excellent Domestic Sluttery Newsletter. If you liked it, do consider signing up to my own monthly newsletter. It features original recipes, historic recipes, research, Q&As with some of my favourite people, and more.

Fig Cake with Fig Leaf Cream

In Tangier, at the very edge of the casbah overlooking the strait, is a house called Dar Zero. An old property, with white, crenelated walls, this is where Samuel Pepys lived in 1683, during the English occupation of Tangier (1661-1684), when he was employed as a secretary to George Legge, Lord Dartmouth, who had been tasked with abandoning Tangier and destroying its fortifications. In Dar Zero, Pepys wrote sections of his famous diaries, often seated beneath the shade of a huge fig tree that continues to grow in the garden to this day…

Dar Zero, in the Casbah

Dar Zero is very much an inspiration for Dar Portuna, the grand house in An Echo of Scandal. So, in honour of Pepys and his fig tree, here’s a recipe that uses ripe, seasonal figs, alongside fresh fig leaves. It’s a riff on my favourite Smitten Kitchen strawberry cake. Fig leaves have a wonderful aroma, somewhere between floral vanilla, coconut and tobacco. Here, they’re made into a syrup and mixed with whipped cream, to create a gentle, fragrant indulgent pudding that’s perfect to eat as the last golden rays of summer sink into autumn.

Fig Cake with Fig Leaf Cream

Ingredients:
For the cake:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 190g golden caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 190g self-raising flour
  • 120ml milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract
  • 2-3 fresh figs (if you can’t find fresh you can used tinned, or dried figs soaked in a little water to plump them up a bit)
  • 1 tbsp of caster sugar

For the syrup and cream:

  • 2-3 fresh fig leaves
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 250ml double or whipping cream

Method
The Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350/gas mark 4. Grease or line a 10in pie dish, or a 9in springform cake tin.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg, along with a tablespoon of flour to stop the mixture from splitting and beat in.
  4.  Stir in the milk and vanilla extract.
  5. Gently fold in the remaining flour until no streaks remain.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin.
  7. Cut the figs into halves or quarters, depending on size, removing any woody stems, then press gently into the surface of the cake at regular intervals.
  8. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining sugar, so the fruit turns jammy.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes before turning down the heat to 165C/325F/gas mark 3. Bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanish.

The syrup and cream:  

  1. Rinse the fig leaves, pat dry, and cut off any remaining stalk. Place them under the grill for a minute or two, keeping a close eye on them and turning when necessary: you want them to be gently toasted/browned but not burned. This releases the scent of the fig leaves.
  2. Place 2 tbsp of caster sugar in a pan along with around 8 tbsp of water and the fig leaves (don’t worry if they crumble).
  3. Press the fig leaves into water and stir about until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Bring to a gentle boil for 3-4 minutes, until the water starts to reduce to a syrup.
  5. Leave to cool, before straining through a tea strainer or muslin into a jug.
  6. Spoon 2-3 tbsp of syrup over the cake while it is still warm, so that it soaks in.
  7. Pour the double cream into a clean bowl.
  8. When the syrup is completely cool, stir 4 tbsp (or more, to taste) into the cream, then whip until soft peaks form.
  9. Serve the cake cut into wedges, with a dollop of fig leaf cream alongside.

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A 1978 Playlist

After several requests, I’m delighted to share the 1978 playlist we put together for the launch party of An Echo of Scandal last week. I’m a firm believer in immersive research, and music is a huge part of that for me. My job is made all the easier when the era in question is filled with such a wealth of great songs from totally different music genres. So, without further ado, let’s hop back in time for a few hours, to a hot, July day in Tangier during the summer of 1978…

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