Photo: courtesy Jayne Clinton
Coffee cakes are a love them/hate them thing – I rarely make one for guests, since those who dislike coffee flavouring really dislike it – for a while they even tried to get rid of coffee-flavoured Revels, for goodness’ sake! Those who love them, meanwhile, really love them…
I was fortunate enough this weekend to have lovely Jayne, Mark and their son Harry staying, and I know from previous visits that they are proper cake lovers. Given that we’ve got pretty comfortable with each other over the last few months, and this was their fourth visit – God bless them! – I was confident enough to risk the excellent, and, I think, bomb-proof coffee-and-walnut recipe passed on to me by my friend Helen, who is what I think of as a proper cook.
Jayne took a photograph and was kind enough to say I could use it, so I thought it was time to share…
It apparently originated with the Two Fat Ladies, by the way.
Ingredients: for the cake
175g/6oz self-raising flour
pinch of salt
175g/6oz soft marge or unsalted butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
1tsp instant coffee granules
2tsp hot water
Ingredients: for the icing
1 tsp instant coffee granules plus extra to sprinkle on top (although cocoa powder also works a treat, I’ve found)
2tsp hot water
55g/2oz unsalted butter, softened
115g/4oz icing sugar
40g/1 1/2 oz walnuts for decoration
Great two 18cm/7in sandwich tins and line with greaseproof paper.
Beat together flour, salt, margarine and caster sugar. Dissolve the coffee in the hot water, then add this and the walnuts to the cake mixture. Divide evenly between the tins and bake in a preheated oven (170°C/350°F/Gas 3) for 25 mins.
To make the icing dissolve the coffee in the hot water, then cream together with the butter and icing sugar. Spread half the icing on top of one of the cooled cakes, and sandwich them together with the other half. Decorate with the walnuts and sprinkle with coffee granules (or cocoa powder!).
I’ve wanted to cook with lavender for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I experimented with a lavender sorbet – our priest, Father Ben, kindly donated the flowers from a bush growing outside his front door in Haworth – and it tasted so much better than I’d dreamed that I decided I’d grow our own in the garden and use it for further cooking adventures.
Fast-forward to last month, past several failures to make lavender thrive in our garden’s soil, to our ‘Tea With Mrs Brontë’ event, for which I decided I’d make lavender-cream-cheese-and-ham sandwiches – that Regency period was full of flower recipes and flavours, and I thought Mrs Brontë might well have eaten something similar.
Oh my goodness! – that lavender-and-cheese mixture was addictive. Despite using the barest couple of teasspoonfuls of flower heads, it charged the whole sandwich with a depth of flavour I would never have expected. Herbes de Provence (also including lavender, of course), white pepper and sea salt completed the mixture.
I’d given up on growing the stuff by this point, and settled for the perfectly serviceable, much easier, cheaper option of buying a bag of it online. Those sandwiches, though, used only a few teaspoons of flower heads, and I now had an enormous bag to use up.
Which is why I came via a circuitous route to something I’ve been meaning to make for ages: a delicious sounding Swedish recipe called lavendel drömmar (lavender dreams) – crisp, yellow, buttery biscuits flavoured with lavender.
I’ve made them twice now – once to accompany vanilla icecream at a dinner party for friends; once to eat with coffee at a business meeting. Both times they were thoroughly appreciated.
Here’s the recipe if you’re interested in trying it yourself:
Lavendel Drömmar (Lavender Dreams)
175g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
60g caster sugar
175g butter or margarine
3tsp lavender flowers, stripped from their stalks
Cream butter and sugar, mix in flour and baking powder, and finally the lavender. Form into balls the size of a walnut, spaced apart on a greased, lined baking tray, and bake at 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) for about 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Slide off and leave to crisp up on a flat surface as they cool. Makes about 24 biscuits.
Time works in strange and contradictory ways. Every year it seems as though we are waiting and waiting for summer to arrive. And yet the elderflowers seem to be in bloom far more often than once a year.
And it’s that time again now! When as I pass the door into the garden I catch a whiff of that creamy, lemony smell of the elder tree dipping down over the wall next to where I park my car. It’s unavoidable. And it means that every year I am stricken with guilt unless I do something constructive with them.
One year I made elderflower champagne, but the bottles exploded, and I haven’t been brave enough to try again. Several years I’ve made a batter and fried the flowers in it, then dusted them with sugar to make elderflower fritters – but it’s only Steve and me who’ll eat them. The children are most unimpressed, and turn up their noses.
This year, though, I’ve returned to that old favourite – it works for everyone, and doesn’t make stepping into the cold room feel like entering a war zone – elderflower cordial.
Together my daughter and I snipped about 15 heads of elderflower, and used this recipe:
1.5kg granulated sugar
50g citric acid (available from the chemist’s in a very medical-looking box that says ‘for culinary use’ on it)
3 limes ( a change from our usual lemons)
15 heads of elderflower
Simmer the sugar and water together until the sugar is completely dissolved, then bring it to the boil, covered. Once it’s boiled, remove it from the heat, then drop in your carefully washed elderflowers, peeled and sliced limes (together with the peel), and citric acid, and stir. Leave, covered, to steep for 24 hours, then strain through a colander lined with a tea-towel into sterilised bottles.