‘Old House’, Cranberry Orange and Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream

Cakes

25/07/2022

Yo Joe

We were out to dinner, talking about these letters.

‘I love them’, you said. I felt a pin point pressure in my chest slightly up from my heart, to the top of my breastbone. It rounded out into a ball of fizzy yellowy warmth. The ball stayed there for a few minutes more, until the food arrived and my attention got taken by pasta sauce.

It was the quickest moment that fit into a conversation we had about writing, reading and the odd observation of how much bread we’d managed to eat since sitting down.

In that conversation you told me to read Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, a collection of short essays that weave details of Solnit’s life into broader thoughts on the world. Since reading this book, it got me thinking about why I write to you about cake.

The opening essay is about trees. It talks about how they stand as symbols of continuity and how George Orwell believes in planting trees as an act of contribution to posterity. That planting a single plum tree might promise sustenance to future generations is a great thought to hold close to your heart.

There are trees that have lived for hundreds of years, they are part of a history that we weren’t even alive to see. And their roots, like you said, are connected underground across the world in a web that supports the soil we stand on. A hive of past wisdom that’s buried underground. There’s something grand, slow and peaceful about this, in the same way that a grandmother, or whale, or old house is.

Reading Solnits essay, it struck me that the reason I love cake, was because it stands as the exact opposite of the tree. The cake is not wise. And cake is also not peaceful. I’m not talking here about the act of making a cake, but of presenting and eating one. A beautiful, quick, excited example of an effort to make moments of joy. And the consumption, a brilliant and messy confirmation of the closure of celebration. Finishing the cake signals these moments will come again, like little erruptions of excitement in an individual’s lifespan. The cake isn’t wise like the tree because it’s eaten too quickly to gain any life expereince.

Solnit writes about her love of the steadfastness of trees, in the same manner of fondness I write about cake to you. She intersects her essay about trees with glimpses into her personal life. She seeks to find pockets of space where her own intimate experiences of daily life might fit into the wider world, the trees world. I find this to be infinitely comforting. Writing to you about the cake I bake skates close to Orwell’s idea in planting a tree as an act of contribution to future life. As I said, the cake has no wisdom itself, but the accumulation of the cakes I bake, the moments they signal in our life and the capturing of them in these letters I see as planting and tending to a tree that will grow on after us.

Soltin’s last line in the essay goes like this ‘…where (do) pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world.’

I write about beautiful cake to capture hours of pleasure passed. Keeping a record of them feels important. Like a way to change my small world, and maybe to add something to yours too, to give us some perspective, some past wisdom we can call on at a later date.

I’ve written this to you in a cafe in Naples where I’m waiting to get an overnight train to Zürich. I feel I should be more excited than I am, in reality I feel quite scared and like I want to jump back to London on the plane with you – I’m kicking myself for deciding to get this train. What I’m actually saying is, I’m kicking myself for a desicion that I have made – it could have been any decision. I would have doubted it and myself all the same. Writing this, I realise it is these moments where my writing offers real solice and perspective, like the steadfastness of a tree. Since I started writing this an hour and a half ago, I’ve felt refueled by cakes, trees and writing. Reasurance from letters of cakes past, each marking one moment of celebration or consolation, these letters very existance is evidence enough for me that more of these moments will come.

12/08/2022

I’ve since come back to Oxford from Zürich and a long trip around Italy. It was amazing. And the overnight train that kicked off this adventure, I would do again in a heartbeat. This cake is for Cokes, who I got the overnight train to Zürich to meet, and who is sitting on the sofa next to me in Oxford as I write this. It’s his spirit cake, both joyous and wise, where a play between the excitement of a celebration cake and a depth of flavour brings each slice alive. It’s a really brilliant cake, you should make it.

Note On Berries – I first made this cake in December, for Coco’s birthday, so fresh cranberries were easy to find. Sour cherries are a great alternative for this time of year, that’s the fruit I used for these picturse. You can also use any frozen berries of your choice, just make sure to reduce the oil to 5 ml.

Note On Tins – this is a forgiving cake that is difficult to overbake and works well in a slightly larger or smaller tin that I have written in the method, just be sure to adjust the baking time.

Ingredients

For The Cake

  • 45g plain natural yoghurt or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 75g plain flour
  • 135g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Zest of one orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons / 6g baking powder
  • 10ml / 2 teaspoons vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 120g fresh cranberries or sour cherries

For the Topping

  • 40g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 50g caster sugar
  • A small handful of flaked almonds (optional)

For The Vanilla Mascarpone Cream – you may have extra

  • 90g mascarpone, room temperature
  • 60g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 70g double cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 30g icing sugar

Method

Preheat oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line 2 7inch / 18cm round cake tins.

In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the topping to form a paste. Set aside.

Combine the yoghurt and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine the ground almonds and plain flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one after another adding a heaped tablespoon of the flour and almonds mixture with each egg addition – this will stop the mixture from curdling too much. Add in the oil and beat to combine. Now add the rest of the flour and almonds, baking powder and yoghurt mixture in one go, mix until just combined. Fold the cranberries or other berries through the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between each cake tin. Top one tin with small lumps of the topping paste, making sure it is evenly distributed.

Bake for 35 – 40 mins or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool.

Whist together all the ingredients for the vanilla mascarpone cream until it reaches soft peaks. When the cake is cooled, sandwich the two halves with the mascarpone cream.

Once filled, the cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container. Past one day, keep the cake in the fridge, this is due to the cream filling.

To cakes, trees and writing. Caitlin x

Sugared Green Apple Thyme Cake

Cakes

Yo Joe

I’ve been thinking of this scene from the Matrix for the last two weeks. I’ve dreamt about it, thought about it in the shower, eating dinner, running. Had a lot of conversations about it too. With Emma having a coffee, Coco in a sauna and Máté on a park bench. The scene is lodged in my head.

Imagine it for a second. No longer than a second though, mum told me this was the film that gave you 5 years of nightmares when we were kids. So, for a second only, think of the bit where the main man with the sunglasses is on a roof, dodging bullets. Who, or what, is firing the bullets – your guess is as good as any, but they’re coming from every angle. Main Matrix man’s reflexes, and the bullets, are moving at lightning speed, in deep, breathy slow motion.

Someone ran out of bullets. Only one thing for it… to lob their afternoon snack at main Matrix man. The crunchiest, juiciest, just-plucked-from-the-tree, green apple. Cutting through the air, the green globe is spinning slowly on its axis headed to hit our main man dead centre in the forehead. He knows it. I know it. You know it. The apple, poor sod, doesn’t know it. The apple is just catapulting through the air, fast in a direction that it’s unsure of only so far as it hasn’t chosen it. But holy moly, this tasty morsel is moving with impressive conviction.

Time is slowed to an 8th of its normal pace; a thicker wave of bullets now, like a fleet of mini submarines (llolll what an effective use of a simile). But Matrix man is fixated on the green apple globe about to bonk him. A bullet impact would be far more painful, but nothing comes close to the fixation, fear and… bewilderment at something as out of place as a green apple flying through a battle field. With a sharp backwards back bend and a chin tuck, Matrix man dodges, only just clearing a path for the apple to drive through.

That’s where it ends, the scene that’s been playing in my head. I never see what happens to the apple. I only see its impressive globe greenness, and its shininess, and the sheer speed of it hurtling through the air in slow motion. The apple might be a bit baffled by the speed of the situation, only, its rapid movement forward doesn’t allow for it. The only way I can comprehend the apple’s feeling is the way the scene is distilled, neatly, but disorientingly, in mega pixel slow motion (lol what’s that?).

I have to confess, I’ve never watched the Matrix. And I’ve come to find, that scene doesn’t exist. I realise it would’ve been impressive to have a memory of a scene in mind from a film I’d never watched, but I was pretty convinced. Ever since I handed in my dissertation and finished my degree, there popped up that green apple Matrix scene. I’ve been describing it to everyone. Emma told me it made her think of Magritte’s The Son Of Man and it got me and Máté googling ‘what does you are the apple of my eye mean?’

When I realise half way through narrating this scene that the listener has watched the Matrix, I cut to the chase, tell them that I feel like that green apple. A bit lost in air and space, no ground at my feet, moving slow, a bit adrift, but hurtling so surly in a direction that I can’t comprehend, through a world that’s too quick for its own good.

Thyme gives this cake a lemony savoriness that’s initially surprising, and then addictive. It creeps up on you, and then demands to be craved. Cream cheese gives a crumb that’s soft and buttery, that holds integrity. Sugared chunks of green apple add layers of sweet and sour in equal measure that sing a lil bit when hit against the thymey cakey base(y – haha). Like I said, arresting, and then, it melts together in comforting, thrilling ways.

A Note On Thyme. You need fresh thyme leaves for this cake, so you’ll need to hand pluck them from the stalks. Yup, it takes time, but it makes a good thing in the end. I’m heavy handed with my spices and herbs, I’m not one for their subtle use. If you prefer a less punchy herb or spice experience, go for 1 and a half teaspoons.    

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, amount to taste
  • 160g green apple, aprox. 2 small apples peeled cored and cubed
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • 170g caster sugar, plus a tablespoon extra to finish the cake before the oven
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 130g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line a 22cm / 8inch round cake tin.

Peel, core and cube the apples. Don’t worry too much about getting exactly 160g. Just keep in mind, if you go a lot over that weight, the cake will take longer to bake, resulting in a tough cake texture. Strip the thyme leaves off the stalks and give the leaves a rough chop. Set both aside while you make the cake batter.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffed up, about 1 min. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated between each addition.

To the bowl, add the thyme leaves, cream cheese, flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Give everything a gentle mix until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix the batter. You should end up with a soft but thick-ish batter. Smooth it out into the cake tin, scatter over the cubed apple and the tablespoon of sugar.

Bake for 50-55 mins, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean but with a few moist crumbs still attached. The cake will keep covered for 4 days, but this one is best eaten on the day or the day after.

Till next thyme, Caitlin x