Sunday, 13 June 2010

Lemon cake, champagne cocktails and Jane Austen



I had an impromptu girls' night in yesterday evening -- an alternative to the World Cup, although a few of us watched the first English goal, before conversation kicked in. I baked a lemon cake -- my favourite recipe (weigh four eggs, cream together the same quantities of butter and sugar, add the eggs, fold in the same amount of self-raising flour, then the juice of three lemons, a dash of milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. After baking, pour over a mixture of lemon juice and granulated sugar, which makes a tangy, crunchy topping. Serve with creme fraiche); meringues filled with whipped cream and raspberries; and the easiest lemon tart (the recipe that my mother taught me to make when I was a child: a packet of crushed digestive biscuits -- sometimes I use Hobnobs or ginger snaps instead -- mixed with a little melted butter as a base; with a lemony filling that magically sets without any further ado; you just mix a tin of condensed milk with a tub of double cream and the juice of four lemons). As you can tell, I love lemony puddings...
We drank champagne cocktails -- simply add a dash of cointreau to the fizz -- and talked and laughed immoderately, in between admiring the White's Fine Edition of Emma that my friend Kaye bought me for my birthday (which isn't til next week). Its cover is designed by Amy Gibson, a graduate in fashion from Central St Martin's, now working for Topshop.
Today, I am feeling slightly fragile -- I blame the cointreau, though wouldn't have missed out on it last night -- and eating left-over cake and meringues. Have also been browsing through the wonderfully comprehensive new website, created by Professor Kathryn Sutherland (the ultimate Jane Austen expert), which reunites Austen's fiction manuscripts for the first time since 1845, when her sister Cassandra died and the manuscripts were dispersed.
Blasphemy, I know, to talk of these manuscripts in the same breath as lemon cake; but somehow or other, the blend has worked wonders for me this weekend.
Please do try this at home...

29 comments:

kairu said...

Sounds delightful! I want to try that lemon cake, which sounds perfect for the summer which has finally (temporarily) arrived in Seattle.

You would like the American writer Laurie Colwin (if you don't already) - besides novels she wrote wonderful essays about food; she loved lemons, and she was a huge fan of Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David.

We had an impromptu potluck supper last night, each person bringing a dish that contained only 4 ingredients (excepting salt & pepper & oil or butter). I brought two: a cool cucumber salad made with small pickling cucumbers, sliced in fingers, with a dressing of vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and another cool salad of cantaloupe melon with mint, burrata torn into pieces and strewed around haphazardly, and toasted hazelnuts, chopped roughly into smallish bits.

I have been reading and rereading Northanger Abbey since I took it with me to India in April; it is so deliciously funny.

Justine Picardie said...

Lovely recipes. My friends also bought salads: one made a potato salad, another a carrot and orange one. I really like the idea of a potluck supper with each dish containing only 4 ingredients. What did everyone else cook?
Mmm, am going to look up Shawn Colvin right now.

Justine Picardie said...

Oops, I mean Laurie Colwin. Shawn C is the singer, isn't she?

Justine Picardie said...

Kairu, thanks for the pointer to Laurie Colwin. I want to try her gingerbread recipe, but what is the English equivalent of molasses, I wonder? Treacle? Golden syrup?

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2007/12/19/laurie_colwins_gingerbread/

kairu said...

Haha, yes, Shawn Colvin is the singer and Laurie Colwin is the writer.

There was a salad with lettuces and tiny sliced radishes, carrots with butter, cumin, and borage blossoms, toasts with marmalade, cheese, and prosciutto, cabbage with bacon and some kind of spicy sauce and possible soy sauce, and barbecue-smoked pork ribs with brown sugar, cumin, and chili powder. Strangely, none of us made dessert, but your lemon tart would have been just perfect, if only I'd thought of it!

Those White's Fine Editions are beautiful. I've been collecting the Penguin Deluxe editions with the Ruben Toledo covers but I may break down and treat myself to the White's versions as well. Dangerous!

P.S. At the market today I bought six stems of peonies for my bedside table so I can wake up to their fragrance every morning.

kairu said...

I think the British equivalent for molasses would be black treacle. Her second book of food essays has two more recipes for gingerbread (adapted from British cookbooks), one that calls for black treacle and one that calls for Lyle's Golden Syrup.

Stephen Pope said...

The UK equivalent of molasses is, er, molasses - no doubt about it! Black treacle is probably a perfectly adequate substitute, though, but it isn't quite the same thing and is a more 'sugary' product with fewer retained nutrients - a less interesting flavour too. The deluxe grade of molasses is the blackstrap type, which goes through more stages of sugar cane boiling-off - it's readily available from wholefood shops and organic specialists and costs about £2 for the largest jar. I'm never without molasses as it's used for the weekly breadmaking, in lieu of sugar for the yeast stage.

harriet said...

Thanks for the news about the Austen project, which I had not heard of before. I've just blogged about it myself, with a credit to you. http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2010/06/jane-austen-comes-to-life.html

enid said...

I love lemons curd, lemon juice and bowls of lemons . Your cake sounds delicious and I will try your mom’s recipe. What a great edition of Emma. Which is your favourite Austen ?When is your birthday

Stephen Pope said...

Anybody going to nominate Mansfield Park? My childhood home was Godmersham Park, outside Canterbury, originally owned by Jane Austen's brother Edward Knight and notionally fictionalised by her as Mansfield Park and also reworked in Persuasion - she and Cassandra were frequent visitors. My guinea pigs, oblivious of the hand of history, used to graze Jane's riverside churchyard in the 1970s. As an unreconstructed Bolshevik, it's nice to have the street-cred of being able to say you 'grew up on an estate'...

Justine Picardie said...

My favourite Austen is Persuasion. I like its shadows at the edge of the light; I love its hopefulness about second chances.

kairu said...

Persuasion is my favorite, too! Although I have come to love Northanger Abbey as the opposite end of the spectrum - young, effervescent, first love ("To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of 26 and 18 is to do pretty well."). Still, as I grow older, I love more and more the reminder that second chances do happen.

Hannah Stoneham said...

I am sure that Jane Austen would have approved of Lemon cake - why not?! I laughed to read your recipe as it is basically the same as mine, which always goes down well...

Justine Picardie said...

I wonder if any of Jane or Cassandra Austen's recipes survive?

Stephen Pope said...

Containing molasses from the slave estates in Jamaica perhaps...

Jane and Cassandra's closest friend, Martha Lloyd, left a household diary of Chawton recipes which has been revisited by various culinary historians - The Jane Austen Cookbook (with puff from Nigella on the front) is the one I know, but given the mileage there must surely be more out there.

Young at Heart said...

I want that lemon tart and will be attempting to recreate it at the first available oppertunity......

Stephen Pope said...

The tiny citadel tourist town where I live tenuously promotes itself as 'a taste of Jane Austen's England'. God knows why: medieval isn't Regency, the Austens have no connection that I'm aware of, and Henry James, EF Benson and Radclyffe Hall are the writers normally associated with the place.

Talking of 19th century cake recipes: the window display of the local tart shop (in the shadow of James' house) has gone topically downmarket for the vuvuzela season...

enid said...

I have just made your delicious lemon cake. I will now settle down with Persuasion before watching Bafana Bafana. Where would I be without your blog !!!!!!!!!

Stephen Pope said...

Sounds like the perfect combination - cake, the slow-burning Captain Wentworth and Bafana Bafana. Maybe the World Cup organisers missed a trick in not replacing the emblematic but dumbed-down vuvuzela with a decent marketing slogan instead: 'The taste of Jane Austen's Africa!'

Stephen Pope said...

'She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequence of an unnatural beginning...'

Justine Picardie said...

Have just polished off the last of the lemon tart, whilst watching the Simpsons with my sons. The perfect combination...

kairu said...

That sounds lovely, Justine! I plan to curl up with The Secret Garden (there was a fast and furious discussion about favorite childhood books amongst my friends on Twitter last night) and a bowl of yogurt with orange-and-vanilla-scented rhubarb compote.

Knitting Out Loud said...

Justine, another wonderful post!
Kairu, I love Laurie Colwin, especially the cook books and The Lone Pilgrim. Her gingerbread is a family favorite.

Stephen Pope said...

'Have just polished off the last of the lemon tart...'

The final mouthful of sweet and sour. In music, the technical term for the bitter-sweet effect of a final cadence that seems like it's going to be minor, but suddenly turns major, is a 'tierce de Picardie'.

佳梅 said...

If the quantity is not a lot, I will hand carry..................................................

Francesca said...

Happy Birthday Justine.

enid said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY - MAY IT BE ALL YOU WISH IT TOBE - LOTS OF LEMON CAKE TOO

kairu said...

Happy birthday, Justine!

ken z said...

Happy birthday, Justine!

--cell phone jammers