I’ve never been to Durham

I have been pretty low recently, so low that a number of friends expressed stated that they had been worried about me. Things have been getting me down, but it is thanks to these friends (and family) that I am not sinking. I owe a lot to my friends and weirdly it’s been my “new” friends who have been there for me when I’ve needed them.

The weekend was full of lovely hi points. It was Teenager’s birthday and we had made a cake. I say “we” as Spider was helping with the icing, primarily by eating the cola bottles bought for decorationjuly 2009 002. The cake was Nigella’s Coca Cola Cake (How to be  Domestic Goddess) – which was very very nice and incredibly easy to make…it is however quite a flat low cake, and it stuck to the foil which lines the tin to stop the mixture seeping out and all over the oven…so I iced it on a plate and used the icing to hide the fact that the cake was in several pieces!

We were visited by the Fairy Gothmother, who is always happy to talk cake and has now a page on Facebook called “Cake District” she was bearing lovely gifts, late birthday presents for me and presents for her goth son…she also waved her fairy gothmother’s wand in the direction of Amazon, sprinkled fairy dust and lo and behold they delivered a copy of Economy Gastronomy to our address…or at least they will do as soon as it gets released!

On Sunday we invaded Flapjack Queen’s house to ask them to come for a walk and ended up spending most of the day there – when we did finally get out we discovered a hedge of “wild” plums in the allotments out back and introduced the children to the delights of pick your own fruit grinning conspiratorially at each other as the sticky juices ran down our chins and on our fingers.

Back at FQ’s palace we made plum crumble (plum and pecan (HtbaDG), a big one for the family and a small one for a lady up the road who no doubt picked the plums in the 1930’s when she was a teenager…I love the continuation of  history you get in a village. FQ made a banana and blueberry muffin cake and sent me away with half of it in return for my plum crumble.

So thank you friends, and in particular Fairy Gothmother, Flapjack Queen and Wingnut (who introduced me to geocaching which gets me out of the house) – all of whom it turns out are graduates of Durham university…

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Dead Slug Baking

I was in a meeting last wednesday when I was struck by a need to make cake. I just knew that if I didn’t go home and make a specific cake then I would not be able to get through the rest of the week without shouting at someone or bursting into tears.

And WHAT a cake ! On Tuesday I collected a library a book I had ordered, The Ottolengthi Cookbook (Ottolenghi for those of us who don’t live in London is a dei/cafe who make some truly amazing cakes). I devoured the book in one sitting on tuesday evening, read it cover to cover and spent the rest of the night trying to decide which of 3 cakes I would try first…and who I would give them to as all 3 are gloriously sticky, oozy and fattening.

The rest of the day was a blurr, the 2.5 hours on the motorway were hardly noticed. Ten miles from home I dived into the supermarket and bought cream cheese, apples and butter, stopped at my parents to borrow maple syrup, put Spider to bed and got the ingredients out…I was inspired.

Now with some cakes I follow recipes to the letter and this was to be one of them (needed to be). It was here that I hit a problem. I had no ground cloves. Glumly I put everything back in the cupboard and sat back on the sofa to sulk.

Not for long though, I felt too twitchy to sulk. Returning to the kitchen I went hunting for things that needed using. For once nothing, except some unrefined icing sugar that had gone solid and needed blitzing in the food processor…this gave me an idea.

I have made Nigella’s Winter Plum cake before without the icing and hadn’t been overtly fussed about it, however since she specifically states that it needs the fudgyness of the unrefined icing I thought I’d give it a go, substituting ground cashew for the almonds and guessing the amount of almond extract using some measuring spoons Toddler had got out of a christmas cracker.

Verdict: Cake itself nice but uninspiring, but then I’d spent the day dreaming of cake nirvana and this brown blob clearly wasn’t that, it wasn’t even “Miss Amelie’s famous plum cake”. The problem was the chopped tinned red plums, the sensation they left in the mouth was of eating cold dead slugs. The almond essence was overpowering but when I checked the cracker measures later I discovered I’d underestimated not over…the occasional chunk of not quite ground cashew added a note of interest. All in all a let down. Personally I think I would serve this hot as a dessert, substitute dark sugar for the light and add spices. As the family are still eating this cake almost a week later I am not going to post the recipe !

Postscript: Searching through Nigel Slater’s “Kitchen Diaries” last night for a pumpkin recipe I came across his version of plum cake which was very similar to the one above. I tend to trust Nigel’s judgement and descriptions of things so I was very surprised. I can only assume that using fresh plums and the addition of walnuts makes a significant difference.