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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Where the Wild Cherries Grow: US Release!

Last week was a great one here; Where the Wild Cherries Grow was released in the US by St Martin’s Press in a beautiful hardback edition.

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The response from readers and bloggers so far has been wonderful; a huge thank you especially to Erika Robuck for hosting a recommendation, review and giveaway on her blog, and to Deborah Kalb for hosting a Q&A. Thanks, of course, go to the team at St Martin’s Press for all their hard work too.

Keep your ears out for the audiobook version from Macmillan Audio! Where the Wild Cherries Grow has also been translated into Italian (as La Ragazza delle Ciliegie) and German (as Der Duft von Meer und Thymian). Details on the Books page!

You can pick up a copy of Where the Wild Cherries Grow at the following places: Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / Powell’s

… or of course, your local library. 🙂

L x

The Inspiration Behind The Secrets Between Us

I remember the precise moment when the idea that was to become The Secrets Between Us sprang into being. I had been poring over a map, searching the border region of France and Italy (I’m fascinated by borders), when I saw a small town, high in the Alpes-Maritimes, by the name of Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie. The Wikipedia page briefly mentioned the route de sel, an ancient road used to transport salt from the coast to the city of Cuneo since Roman times; that even today can be followed all the way from the Mediterranean, across the perilous mountain passes into Italy.

My interest piqued, I carried on reading, and learned something remarkable: that during the Second World War, Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie, and several other mountain villages, became havens of relative safety for Jewish refugees.

In November 1942, following the occupation of France by German forces, the Italian Army marched into Nice and the surrounding area as occupiers. The French populace perceived this as a stab in the back. The Italians were – unlike German forces – seen as neighbours, cousins, especially in regions like the Vésubie valley, where this was often literally the case.

What’s more, it soon became clear that Italian Occupied France was operating under different rules from the rest of the country – then under German occupation – and from Italy, especially when it came to Jewish citizens and refugees. Although persecution and anti-Semetism had been widespread throughout Italy, the Italian military forces refused to deport any Jews or political refugees from the Occupied Zone, despite increasing pressure from the German administration. In the spring 1943, it was decided that many of the refugees who had flooded into Nice would be transferred away from the coast to “enforced residences” in mountain villages, partly for safety, partly to secure the coastline, and partly to stall any threats of action by Nazi officials.

Almost overnight, the population of Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie doubled as hundreds of refugees arrived; not only French but German, Russian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Belgian. For one summer, Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie became a bustling, cosmopolitan refuge where Jewish people and other refugees experienced some level of relief, safe from persecution by French and German forces.

Once I had read about all of this – the border, the salt road, the Italian occupation and the refugees – I knew I wanted to try and write a story set amongst it all. I knew I wanted to bring these remarkable events to life for readers who may never have heard of them otherwise.

I’ll write another post soon on my research methods; the books I’m indebted to, the trips I took to the National Archives, the articles and documentaries and films I devoured in the writing of this book. But today, I wanted to share my experience of the place that inspired the story.

The Secrets Between Us is set in a fictional village in the Alpes-Maritimes, named Saint-Antoine; a decision I made both to allow myself some narrative freedom, and to respect the history of Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie and the real-life experiences of all those involved, whose stories of survival and persecution need no fictional embellishment.

Physically, however, I took much inspiration from Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie, from the mountains, the surrounding countryside and the villages of the VĂ©subie valley. I hope to be able to share just a little of this remarkable place with you here.

L x

From The Secrets Between Us:

Our gargouille was different. It wasn’t a monster at all, but a waterway; a stone channel as old as the town, running from a fall in the mountains, all the way along our steep, main street and down into the river. Generations of people had channelled the flow so that it seemed to spout on almost every corner. Its water washed our clothes and bathed our children, filled our cooking pots and drenched our thirsty plants in the summer. It was the throat of the mountain, and we drank from it.

  

 

I turned from the hotel, took the back way through twisting passages and narrow alleys. They smelled old, of shadowed stone that never dried, that hadn’t had the sun on its face for more than half a millennium. I shivered, walked faster. Ahead I could see the little square in front of the church, where sunlight fell bright and made the old yellow stone glow. I stepped into it gratefully. All around, moisture seemed to be seeping from the village’s damp-clogged walls, like honey.

  


Finally, we came to a place where the trees parted around a pile of huge, grey rocks that looked down over town, its roofs a jumble of terracotta shards on the mountain. The sun fell bright; the air was quenching and clean.

 


Saint-Antoine, she says; a place of granite and wildflowers, of trees that cling stubbornly to the steepest slopes. A place where marmots cry their warnings, where goats wander, belonging to no one but themselves, and elusive chamois look on from impossible heights. It’s a place where the wind blows from the peaks, tasting of ice even in summer. A place where larches turn the mountainside gold in the autumn, like the candlelit hair of the church’s ancient Madonna.

 


It’s so narrow that I find myself looking up fearfully. Wooden balconies and walkways cling between the buildings, brittle as old bones.

 


To visit Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie you can fly to Nice, and either drive or catch one of a few buses a day up the steep, narrow winding mountain roads to the village. (Don’t look over the edge…)

We stayed at La Bonne Auberge; a lovely family-run hotel (which I believe was where the Italian Army held registrations for foreigners during the occupation). There’s a big, Alpine style lounge, simple rooms, and good food, plus an enormous collection of genepi, liqueurs and other spirits…

 

Finally, a little way along from the hotel you can find a series of stone memorials, commemorating the events which took place in Saint-Martin-VĂ©subie and remembering those who fought, those who resisted and those who were killed.

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The Secrets Between Us Blog Tour

As part of the release of The Secrets Between Us, my wonderful publicist Hannah has put together a blog tour!

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Writing is a lonely business, and the first weeks of new book’s release can feel especially daunting, before you’ve quite used to the idea of other people reading your words… So I’m grateful for the support and hard work of bloggers, readers and reviewers who all help to kick-start a book’s sales and get the word out there. I’ll share links to the individual blog posts on here as and when they are published.

Many thanks again all; I owe you a glass of wine! (Or a cake. Or both).

L x

 

The Secrets Between Us: OUT NOW!

My new novel, The Secrets Between Us, is out NOW in ebook format, and the rest of January you can grab it for only ÂŁ0.99p! (On Kindle and Kobo at least). That’s six months of my life, a lot of swearing, many glasses of wine, a trip to the Alpes-Maritimes, not much sleep, a lot of reading and even more editing, deleting, re-writing and refining for less than a coffee or a fancy croissant!

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Here’s the cover blurb:

A gripping mystery with a heart-breaking revelation, The Secrets Between Us is a sublimely satisfying story of lost love, betrayal and the dangers of war. Perfect for fans of Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Dinah Jeffries’ Before the Rains.

High in the mountains in the South of France, eighteen-year-old Ceci Corvin is trying hard to carry on as normal. But in 1943, there is no such thing as normal; especially not for a young woman in love with the wrong person. Scandal, it would seem, can be more dangerous than war.

Fifty years later, Annie is looking for her long-lost grandmother. Armed with nothing more than a sheaf of papers, she travels from England to Paris in pursuit of the truth. But as she traces her grandmother’s story, Annie uncovers something she wasn’t expecting, something that changes everything she knew about her family – and everything she thought she knew about herself…

So if it sounds like something you might enjoy, please do give the ebook a punt. The paperback is due out in April, so physical book-lovers will have to wait until then, I’m afraid. Links below.

As always, it’s an incredibly odd feeling, a new book being released into the world, but so far, I’ve had some great support and reviews from readers and bloggers alike. THANK YOU all!

Now I’m off to work on the next one…

L x

Amazon

Kobo

Google Books 

iTunes

 

Where the Wild Cherries Grow: Book Launch

I’m so excited; Where the Wild Cherries Grow is finally being released into the wild THIS WEEK.

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It feels like it’s forever since I sat in front of a fire, in a cottage in west Wales, writing the first few chapters of what would eventually become this book. But now it’s finally going to be available in the shops, and I can’t wait to wave it on its way!

Which I’ll be doing this week with a launch event at Waterstones Exeter Roman Gate on Thursday 15th June.

Living and working in the South West as I do, Devon holds a special place in my heart, especially as my family home is only a half an hour drive away, by the sea. And Exeter Roman Gate Waterstones is doubly important, since my sister – fantasy novelist Lucy Hounsom – also works there! So the launch will be something of a family affair.

Come and join us from 6.30pm on Thursday 15th June for a short talk and a reading by me (and free wine!) to help us launch Where the Wild Cherries Grow into the swirling currents of the bookselling world.

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Also keep your eyes peeled for a special recipe to accompany this book, which I’ll be posting on Thursday…