Shortcake and sweet
This is a recipe I was fortunate enough to come across when I lived in America. It was given to me by another chef I was living with, and can be quite easily cooked either as individual cakes or a larger cake.
Before computers, kitchens kept card files of all their recipes, arranged from A to Z. At home, I’ve got six boxes of them. Every card represents a time and place. This card, for instance, has certain stains and spillages. It’s also nice to look at all these recipes written in other people’s handwriting. There are pleasant idiosyncrasies in how descriptive they are, and in the odd little illustration. These drawings are not so much instructive – they tend to be cocks or other obscenities.
The best recipes are marked by their precision and clarity. Often they don’t really need weights or measures – they are reflections of the spontaneity and intuition of cooking. Sometimes you are just recording the ingredients and techniques. In my experience, the most legible and best-written cards were always by women.
Now we have a computer database. But everything that’s cooked in the restaurant ends up as a written-down recipe, even if it is only a special. It’s efficient, but it lacks the personality of my skanky old boxes.
This cake is called a shortcake because of the amount of butter and crème fraîche folded into the cake. These also contribute to it being really, really delicious. The crème fraîche in particular gives the cake a real edge. I’d go as far as to say that this is one of my favourite cakes. It’s almost scone-like, actually. The addition of whipped cream and strawberries brings this home.
Almond meal is also key to this cake, not so much for flavour but for texture. It makes the cake moister than it would be otherwise, and gives it a crumbly quality.
I’ve also added some raspberries, to fold through the batter. I like the acid they bring. Blueberries or blackberries could also do this job. I suggest the blueberries only reluctantly, because some people seem to like them. To my mind, the only reason they have evolved on this Earth is so that a handful of them can be put down on a highchair to distract a toddler.
Almond shortcake, strawberry jelly and cream
– 6 shortcakes (recipe below)
– strawberry jelly (recipe below)
– 1 cup cream, whipped
– 1 punnet strawberries, sliced
– 250g sugar
– 125g butter
– 1 tsp vanilla essence
– zest of ½ lemon
– 3 eggs
– 1/3 cup crème fraîche
– 200g self-raising flour
– 100g almond meal
– 200g frozen raspberry
Heat your oven to 180ºC. Grease six small cake tins, about 10 centimetres in diameter, and line the bases with circles of baking paper cut to size.
Cream the sugar, butter, vanilla essence and lemon zest together until the mix is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the crème fraîche, then fold in the self-raising flour and almond meal until just combined. Gently stir the frozen raspberries through the batter.
Divide the batter between the six cake tins and bake them for 10 minutes, or until just firm. Leave the cakes to cool before filling.
– 2 punnets ripe strawberries, thinly sliced
– 2 tbsp icing sugar
– 1 tsp gelatin powder
In a metal bowl, mix the strawberries and icing sugar. Cover the bowl with cling film and place over a saucepan of barely simmering water for 25 minutes. Strain the berries and their juice through a fine mesh strainer. Leave the mixture to drip through – don’t press the solids in the strainer as this will make the strawberry juice cloudy.
Measure the strawberry juice. You need 250 millilitres. If you don’t get quite this much liquid from the berries, add water or apple juice to make up the difference.
Put two tablespoons of the juice in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin powder over the top. Let it soften and “bloom” for one minute, then whisk the gelatin liquid into the still-warm strawberry juice. Let the liquid settle and carefully skim off any foam that has formed on top. Refrigerate the jelly until set.
To serve, slice the shortcakes in half horizontally and fill with a spoonful of whipped cream, a spoonful of jelly and some sliced strawberries. Eat immediately.
Ota Shuzo Dokan Umeshu plum wine, Shiga, Japan ($57) – Mark Williamson, wine buyer for Cumulus Inc, Cumulus Up and the Builders Arms Hotel
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 19, 2016 as "Almond shortcake, strawberry jelly and cream ". Subscribe here.