Rhubarb and Almond Cake

I first made this for a charity cake sale (hence the chintzy plate and doily), and since I was doing a couple of cakes, I decided I wanted to make one that was the sort of plain-looking, old-fashioned cake of which you might have a slice with a (china) cup of tea. I had settled on the Winter Plum Cake from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, since it, to my mind, fitted the bill here, and I quite wanted to try it anyway, but ended up plumping for rhubarb when I couldn’t find a tin of plums at the supermarket. Serendipity, perhaps, since this was perfect as is. The original also calls for icing, which I dispensed with in favour of a flaky, sugary crust, although should you wish to ice this, leave off the tablespoon of sugar before baking – 160g of unrefined icing sugar made into a runny icing with a tablespoon or two of hot water should give you enough fudgy icing to thinly cover, once the cake is completely cooled. If it is in season, I suspect you could replace the tinned rhubarb with the same quantity of fresh rhubarb, stewed with a little sugar and water until soft.

Adapted from the Winter Plum Cake on p37 of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess

539g tin of rhubarb (to give 245g drained weight – I have no idea why these are sold in such random sizes)

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

75g ground almonds

125g butter, softened

125g soft light brown sugar

2 eggs

1 scant teaspoon almond extract

1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 170 C / 150 C fan and butter and line a 20cm springform cake tin.

Drain the rhubarb, chop it into 1.5cm chunks, then leave it in a sieve to drain some more. Mix the flour, baking powder and ground almonds together. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour mixture after each. (This helps to prevent curdling.) Beat in the almond extract and then fold in the rest of the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the rhubarb chunks. Tip into the prepared tin, and smooth out the top a little. Sprinkle over the caster sugar, and bake for about an hour. (If it isn’t yet coming away from the edges, of a cocktail stick doesn’t come out more or less clean, then it may need up to an extra 15 minutes.) Leave it to cool in the tin, on a wire rack, for ten minutes before turning out onto the rack.

Makes 6 – 8 slices. 

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Butternut Squash, Lentil and Ginger Soup

Butternut Squash, Lentil and Ginger Soup

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post something here, but in the spirit of the season of giving, or a welcome break from the stresses of this time of year, I’ve forced myself to make the time now to begin sharing some of the recipes and ideas I’ve got stacked up from the last few weeks. This, then, is my new favourite soup, so much so that I’ve eaten it at least twice a week for the last several weeks, and I’m not bored of it yet. Warming and comforting, easy to throw together and perfect as a meal, either on its own or with some delicious bread, this is indeed wonderful solace from the mid-Winter routine of leaving the house for work whilst still dark and returning home when it is, alas, already dark again, its cheery orange hue adding to the uplifting effect. Not just a remedy for the Winter blues, this, I think, also makes a great first course for the sort of casual meal with friends you might want to share at this time of year, as I did the other week, following the soup with roast chicken, and everything else that entails, at our now annual faux-Christmas dinner for our friends whom are scattered across the country.

Split red lentils are particularly useful for a soup like this. Don’t worry that they disintegrate into a somewhat unappetising mush during cooking, that is what you’re after here. This yellow mush, when you blitz the finished soup, will help keep it thick and creamy, without having to add extra cream (although you can if you wish), and since they’re an extra vegetable portion too, this soup is quite healthy, and still deliciously rich. The lentils also help to make the soup go much further, so the soup is healthier on your pocket too. The quantity below easily feeds four, possibly six with extra bread, and would maybe stretch to eight as a starter. It should keep in the fridge for a day or two, and also freezes well, so if, as in Rupert’s kitchen, there are just the two of you, make the quantity below and keep half for another day, which will also save you having to use up half a leftover squash (although, you should know that, cubed and dropped into a freezer bag, I find that squash freezes quite well uncooked).

olive oil

2 onions

2 cloves garlic

1 butternut squash

200g split red lentils

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

1.2 litres vegetable stock (good quality instant stock is fine – I like Marigold Bouillon)

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, and add the onions, sprinkling over a little sea salt to help stop them from browning. Cook over a gentle heat for ten minutes or so, until soft. Meanwhile, peel the butternut squash and chop it roughly into cubes of around 2cm. Peel the cloves of garlic and mince them over the onions, cooking for a minute more. Tip the squash cubes into the pan, and then add the lentils and spices. Give everything a good stir, and then pour over the stock. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, clamp on a lid and simmer for around 25 minutes, although you may need more, until the squash and lentils are tender. Once cooked, check the seasoning is to your liking and let it cool a little before carefully blitzing the soup, in batches if necessary, in a blender until smooth. If you like your soup a touch thinner, add a little extra stock.

Serves 4+, and see introduction