Autumn is without a doubt my favourite season. I love the colours of nature and I love the clothes and the fact that I can buy new boots (check out my Instagram to see my latest purchases if you’re into that sort of thing!) and most of all, I love the fact that it’s actually pleasant to be in the kitchen without worrying that the combined heat of summer + oven + hob is going to make you keel over. And I also love autumn produce – stoned fruits like plums and greengages are perfect at the end of summer, apples are coming in to season, there’s rhubarb a plenty and it’s generally a great time to get creative with baking.
Which brings me perfectly on to today’s recipe – a spiced plum cake. Now when most Brits hear plum cake, we think of some sort of heavy festive dessert but this is not that. I’m talking about a cake with a fresh fruit base. I reckon you could swap out the fruit for anything that’s in season – peaches or apples for example, but don’t think berries would work as the batter is quite wet and the cooking time is relatively long so you may end up with a mushy base and no one wants a mushy base. You’ll see in this that there’s a row of greengages in the middle – I didn’t have quite enough plums to fill the base so added these in, but actually like the colour difference and the additional tartness this added to the overall cake. However, you can just use plums on their own.
Spiced Plum Cake
For the base:
500g plums, halved and stoned
2 tbsp demerara sugar
For the cake:
175g dark muscovado sugar
140g golden syrup
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
7g powdered ginger
5 g all spice
Pinch of salt
Grease and line a 9″ square baking tin and preheat the oven to 140C or gas mark 4. Spread a good layer of butter onto the greaseproof paper and sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top of that and then place the plums on it so they look nice (this will be the top of your cake). Leave to one side.
Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup into a pan and melt together over a low heat, stirring continuously. This should only take a couple of minutes. Leave to cool to one side for about 15 minutes – you don’t want the eggs to cook when they’re added in. In the meantime, weigh out the dry ingredients and beat together the eggs and milk.
Once the butter mix has cooled, pour in the milk and eggs, stirring till it’s all incorporated. Then sift in the flour with the other dry ingredients and fold together till it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter over the plums and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Note, the base will be a little caramelly because of the butter and sugar and plums, so don’t worry if the tip of the skewer looks a little bit undercooked – it won’t be.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10-15 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Put something under the wire rack, you may lose a little caramel topping on to your work surface and it’s a bitch to clean off.
We had it with custard (shop bought, sorry) but would be equally lovely with creme fraiche or something else creamy.
I’ve always loved cooking for people – be it a gift of brownies or a jar of granola or a full on Christmas dinner, making and giving food is a true sign of love. I blame my mother entirely.
Over the last ten days, I’ve had two very significant meals – one that I arranged myself in order to kick start my positive 2015, and one that may actually change my life. More on the former below, the latter will come when I can talk about it more!
In a nutshell, we moved to suburbia and felt a little like we’d retired. It’s so lovely and quiet but quite the shock from being in zone two to zone four. It’s taken us a while but I think we’re finally approaching a level of comfort with it and what’s been particularly nice is having people come and visit and stay with us, now we have the space. And it means we can do significant entertaining which is also nice. So we’ve hosted a lot of dinner parties and Sharknado fests and Avengers evenings in onesies and quiet cocktails do that ended at 4am (and weren’t actually that quiet – sorry neighbours) which have been awesome.
However, for ages we’ve been toying with the idea of hosting an actual supperclub, one where we plan a menu (three courses and all from scratch) and budget it and cook it all to a timed fashion and where the wino matches wines from his shop. So back in January, to kick start my year with a few changes, we decided to invite a bunch of our nearest and dearest to partake in our food and booze and tell us what they thought. And to decide if this is something we want to do semi-regularly.
Firstly, I am super impressed with the established supperclub owners who do this monthly, weekly or more often than that. My feet STILL hurt from being on them all night long. I’m totally wiped out. I had a week of panic dreams in advance about the sorbet and people getting food poisoning and serving raw meat. But my god, it was fun.
So the menu – what we’ve realised is most supperclubs have a theme, be it regional foods or comfort food or seasonal or something. So, I went with spice – I love spices in all courses, particularly puddings. I think people are scared of trying things they don’t know so stick to basic spices and herbs but it’s so fun to try new things and combinations. A few years ago, I came up with an idea for the Periodic Table of Herbs & Spices with my then client, Bart Ingredients. It’s a great way to understand what flavours work together and how to replace one spice with another if you don’t have something in your cupboard.
The menu was still being thrashed out at 9pm on Friday night whilst we were moving our dining table into our front living room but the final menu was this:
Fennel, chilli, honey roasted beetroot and garlic, thyme, sage roasted tomato tart with goat’s cheese, served with a fennel and blood orange salad and a savoury granola
I made the beetroot and tomatoes in advance and kept them in the fridge – made life on the day so much easier. The tomatoes particularly were great – I sliced the base of each tomato and put a sliver of garlic into it, then sprinkled fresh thyme, ripped up sage leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper on top of that, roasted in a low oven for about 45 minutes till they went all squishy.
I spread the base of the tart with a combination of cream cheese and mint, layered finely sliced beetroot on top of that, piled the tomatoes on top of that and finished with slices of goat’s cheese and a twist of freshly ground black pepper. Then baked in the oven for 15 minutes, till the cheese got a nice golden colour.
The granola had been made a week prior to that as it keeps fresh for ages and was sprinkled over the fennel and blood orange salad before serving. For savoury granola, use egg white instead of honey or syrup to get it to stick together – makes for lovely clumps of granola. The granola was mildly spiced but I think it could have used more.
Cumin and coriander crusted pork loin served with roasted garlic chickpea mash and chilli tenderstem broccoli.
The pescetarians got fennel crusted cod
I marinaded the pork loins (which were pre-prepared by the butcher) in the roasted and ground cumin and coriander seeds, with a little bit of olive oil and a few finely minced cloves of garlic overnight then pan fried for a couple of minutes on each side, then roasted on a bed of apples until the core temperature reached 68-70C. Use a meat thermometer. I have learned that life is too short to soak your own chickpeas but it really helps with managing the budget. For a couple of quid, I made enough mash to serve everyone twice over. Roasted garlic is the best thing ever. We served the pork on the mash with a topping of quick fried coriander. Our guests raved about the broccoli – just blanched for a minute then heat some olive oil with chilli flakes, add the broccoli and pan fry for a few minutes.
The fennel crusted cod was also marinaded overnight in fennel seeds, olive oil and black pepper then pan fried.
Gingerbread with cinnamon chocolate brownie bites and soil, served with pomegranate and blood orange sorbets and a orange cream
I made two each of trays of gingerbread and brownies which was far too much but lucky I did as I had burnt corners on every tin! The gingerbread was Mary Berry’s recipe, my own brownie recipe (not the cow pat one) but removed the chillis and upped the amount of cinnamon. The sorbets could have been a nightmare – the pomegranate one was a delicious magazine recipe but so confusing. Basically, you need to whip egg whites to soft peaks, make a sugar syrup with cinnamon, leave it to cool, add the pomegranate juice then fold in the egg whites. But egg whites don’t fold into liquids and I don’t have an ice cream maker so after a LOT of panicking, the wino suggested I put the whole lightly frozen layered thing into a blender and blend it all together. So I did. He’s a clever fella. It did separate in the freezer, but I churned it every two hours (dedication) and it came out really well. I made the blood orange sorbet and the orange cream as back ups but because it was all so good, I served it all. And then brought out the burned bits of brownie and the remains of the sorbets and everything got eaten. Safe to say, dessert was the best course.
Luckily a lot of this could be made in advance so the only actual cooking during the evening was the tart, the pork loin and the cod. But it did mean that I was cooking for a few days in advance, working out what to cook when and how to keep it best fresh.
All in all, I really enjoyed doing it – as you can see from the pictures, I really need to learn to plate up properly, so I’m going to focus on doing that better in the future. If you’re thinking about doing your own in the future, its worth considering having an extra pair of hands on the night because it’s a lot of hard work on your own. My wino was amazing though but I’d even consider one other person just to help washing up etc. I reckon if we do this again, it’ll be in a few months, to allow my feet to recover. Let me know in the comments if you want more info when we do our next Stories and Bon Bons Spice Saturday! Thank you to these beautiful people for being my first run guinea pigs and for the beautiful flowers that now fill my home (I sincerely hope you enjoyed it… and don’t have food poisioning!)