Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Kitchen Diaries: A Tale of Three Cakes

Lemon and Orange Cheesecake (April 22)
Really Fast Cake with Blueberries and Pears (May 15)
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart (June 24)

Three cakes? Well, it was my birthday party /baby shower at the weekend, and I'm one of those people who get as much or more pleasure from making my own cake as from eating it. So why stop at just one?

I've been a little suspicious of Nigel's baking recipes in the past - totally unwarranted, but I've had some rotten luck every time I try them out. Oven too hot, broken mixer, etc. But he's proven his cake chops with these rich, springtime puds.

I made the cheesecake and blueberry/pear cake the day before the party just in case my streak continued. Fortunate also because what time I saved in making the 'really fast' cake is totally taken up with the cheesecake. While combining the ingredients and making the crumb base is extremely simple, cooking the thing gets a trifle more complicated.

American cheesecake (my preferred style) is baked long and slow, to a consistency which could doubtless be used to smother a man. Last week, at the one good restaurant in Wood Green, we were served something in the European quivvery, moussey style that was tasty but unsatisfying. I worried, what with the gentle cooking in a bain marie, whether Nigel's would fall into the latter camp. Though it doesn't quite splinter and flake as a real NY brick, the mascarpone/egg/cream/cream cheese blend provides the desired suffocating density. It ends up being the favourite from those greedy enough to try all three.

While the oven cooled with the cheesecake inside (for a good hour or so), I set to work chopping pears and blitzing batter for the 'emergency' cake. The 'classic "equal butter to sugar to flour" base' recipe Nigel quotes isn't known to me, but I'm willing to try it out in the next few months. It makes a much stiffer dough than the sponge batter I would expect. I also increase the ingredients slightly to stretch it for more people. I don't know what the egg part of the ratio is, so I stick to two - might account for its texture.

The batter is pretty thin in the tin so I don't skimp on the fruit - squishing it into the batter in the hopes it raises up during the baking. It doesn't disappoint, but I expect it would taste nicer warm with a dollop of Greek yoghurt for breakfast.

Saturday morning is time to make the strawberry tart. I can't get behind the base as suggested. I use all butter shortbread rather than the super posh biscuits - I assume he means the Duchy ones? - to save pennies. And it is impossible to shape in the tart dish without really squishing it together, so no crumbly pebbly texture. This does help in serving it later, except for the first piece which came out looking more like an Eton mess (sorry, Dave).

The only problem with the recipe is that he underestimates wildly the amount of strawberries. I sliced closer to 500g onto the top than the 250g suggested. I doubt he was really paying attention at the time, just adding until it was covered. Oh, and could a tart look that good in a rectangular tin? I can't imagine it, and anyway I don't have one. Round is pretty enough.

Secretly, everyone's pleased that a few people haven't shown up. One person actually said, 'I had four helpings, and I'm not even a pudding person.' Well, if that's not praise enough for Nigel's cakes, I don't know what is.

Buy the book, be a domestic god(dess). Preferably through our Amazon shop.


FoodNobody said...

My mouth is watering just looking at these - all of my fave kinds of cakes! Yum yum. Hope you had a good party. Indy xx

Anonymous said...

Although the other two were mighty fine, my heart lay with the strawberry tart I have to admit. Beautiful pics Em.