Well, these are strange times. I hope you and all your loved ones are well. We should have been going back to Turkey about now, but it looks as though we will be in Cornwall until after the summer.
I am very much aware that there are worse places to be – today we were out for our daily walk on the Bissoe Trail and I think it’s fair to say that spring has thoroughly sprung. Primroses, daffodils, tulips, camelias and rhododendrons are in full and beautiful bloom – a cheering site to say the least.
I felt like a longer walk and took the long route home via Perranwell village – on my way past, I called in at the village stores for a few bits and was utterly delighted to find bags of flour – a rare sight in Cornwall this winter. And I was allowed a bag of plain AND a bag of self-raising. I feel blessed – I’ve left them out on the worktop so that I can keep looking at them lovingly. They also had gorgeous cauliflowers, grown in the field that faces the shop, and plenty of ground coffee, so I ended up lugging a huge bag of shopping the remaining 2km home (which I may add includes two short but viciously-steep hills, so I feel thoroughly exercised – I have to admit to momentarily considering phoning Him Indoors to come and get me, but decided that was just too pathetic).
A couple of weeks ago, which feels like a lifetime ago now, I went up to London to see some girlfriends and I baked a Swedish Toscakaka to take with me. I adapted a recipe from former Bakeoff finalist Tamal Ray, which had been published in the Guardian the previous weekend. It is an almond cake from Sweden, which is in two layers – the bottom layer is a squidgy frangipane-style cake, topped by a crunchy/chewy layer, which is made by combining marzipan, butter, cream and almonds. If you hate marzipan, then I suggest you look away now.
As the recipe contains only a small amount of flour, it is very easy to make a gluten-free version, which I did, because the happy recipient of this bake avoids wheat. I simply replaced the ordinary flour with Doves Farm plain gluten-free flour and no other adjustments were necessary, other than leaving the batter to stand for 15 minutes before I baked it (this helps the flour to dissolve properly and avoids a grainy texture).
Equally, if you are avoiding dairy products, you could easily substitute dairy-free margarine and soya/oat cream in this recipe.
At the suggestion of a fellow ‘below the line’ contributor at the Guardian (thank you muchly GrannyBev), I added some mixed dried fruit and citrus peel to the cake mix – I do think this helped to stop the cake being cloyingly sweet.
Tamal Ray’s original recipe was for a round cake, but when I made the cake again the following week, I scaled up the quantities for a 20cm square cake pan, which makes it a better shape for cutting into small fingers – I think three bites with a cup of tea is exactly right (but I won’t judge you if you have to have two pieces just to be sure).
Here’s the recipe for my square version – if you want the original, which is for a standard Victoria sandwich-size tin, here’s the link to Tamal Ray’s recipe.
Cuts into 18 fingers
For the cake layer:
50g butter (or margarine), softened at room temperature
2 large eggs
110g plain yoghurt (soya or coconut yoghurt are fine if you are dairy-free)
60g plain flour (GF is fine)
120g ground almonds
100g mixed fruit (mine contained citrus peel, which was perfect)
For the topping:
60g butter (or margarine)
120g marzipan, grated
30g cream (soya/oat would be fine if you are avoiding dairy)
15g plain flour
70g flaked or slivered almonds
You will need a 20cm square cake pan, lined with non-stick baking paper
Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC.
If your butter (or margarine) is not very soft, nuke for a few seconds in the microwave. Then whisk in the sugar, followed by the eggs, flour, yoghurt and ground almonds. Stir in the mixed fruit. If you are using gluten-free flour, leave to stand for about 15 minutes to allow the grains to dissolve properly.
Scrape the batter into the lined tin, smooth the top and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 180ºC.
In a small saucepan, combine the grated marzipan, sugar and butter (or margarine). Place over a medium heat and stir until everthing has completed dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, cream and flaked or slivered almonds.
Pour the topping over the cake and spread as evenly as you can to the edges.
Return to the oven for eight to ten minutes until the topping is bubbling and a deep golden brown. Take out of the oven and allow to cool completely before removing from the tin and cutting into small slices. You can freeze the cake, though the topping may become more squidgy in the freezer – which is not necessarily a bad thing!