Summer party

The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades).   With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked.   The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event.   With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.

However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast.   The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed.   We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun.   With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.

And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations.   It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!).   Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while.   Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.

 

4oz currants.

4oz sultanas.

8oz raisins.

brandy to cover.

8oz butter.

8oz honey.

4 eggs .

12 oz self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

half teaspoon salt

2oz (home-made) candied peel.

8oz glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dates, chopped.

2 oz dried figs, chopped.

1 orange, zest and juice.

1 lemon, zest and juice.

3oz whole almonds chopped.

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

 

Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.

Cream the butter and honey.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.

Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes.   The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.

When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.

Decorate as you like.

 

If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.

I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.

 

 

 

 

Double Trouble

Who would have thought a simple birthday/anniversary cake could cause such problems?

The raisins, currants and sultanas had been soaking in brandy for a month: plump and boozy.   All the other ingredients were neatly pre-weighed ready for the mixer.   The recipe was just a quarter of my basic Christmas version https://youtu.be/Y81yGF72dUQ but, like the Easter variation https://pennysddblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2283&action=edit I replaced sugar with our own honey.

Eggs were added to fluffy butter and honey; flour folded in with citrus zest and juice; cherries, apricots, dried apple and nuts were embalmed in the spicey mix.   All spooned into the cake mould; into a low oven and timer set.   Smugly triumphant as it had taken only 30 minutes.

Horror on realising that the jar of carefully pre-soaked fruit had been forgotten: cake out of the oven and the late additions gently folded in.   Thank heavens for a silicone cake mould that didn’t need lining.

Time to start planning the finishing touches: a week of daily injections with the reserved fruity brandy before marzipan and icing.   But did I have enough icing sugar in the cupboard?   Out came the container and, with a sickening crash, it hit the floor.

You can hardly imagine the spreading power of icing sugar when dropped from a height.   And it has special staying sticking power.   Three washes of the floor by indomitable co-cook, Karen, and we were still finding traces days later.   There’s that special gentle sucking kiss of shoes on a tantalisingly tacky surface.

Hence, this week, a simpler supper dish as prepared by the sous-chef: a Tian Provençal which is ideal when we have gluts of summer vegetables:

1 large aubergine, sliced in half lengthwise.

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced.

Olive oil.

salt and pepper.

1 or 2 courgettes.

4 or 5 tomatoes.

tablespoon thyme leaves.

tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped.

Stud the aubergine halves with the garlic slices, douse with about a tablespoon of olive oil and season generously before wrapping in cooking foil.

Bake the aubergine package in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the courgettes and onions.

When cool enough to handle, scoop the softened flesh of the aubergine into the base of an ovenproof dish.

Fill the dish with upright alternating rows of tomato and courgette, sprinkling herbs and seasoning between each row.

Drizzle another tablespoon or so of olive oil over the rows and bake in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 for about 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

 

This dish has many variations according to what you have available.   For example, thinly sliced peppers could be included and other herbs added.   We made a simple topping of toasted walnut pieces to add crunch (toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds would have been as good).