Monday, 3 January 2011

A simple citrus drizzle cake - the first cake of the new year

In our house it has become a tradition to bake a cake every weekend. Not always a new cake, not always a special cake, but always a cake of some sort. Yesterday saw a truly special baking moment; the first cake of 2011, and the first ever cake with home produced eggs. The first of many - surely cakes with super fresh eggs from the garden were one of the main reasons for investing in these (very expensive) chickens?! I was ably helped by Eve, my willing 3 year old, who as usual was mostly interested in the spatula licking phase of baking, even preferring this to eating the finished product. Still, all the more for mummy.

The first cake of the new year, for me, had to be a super simple affair. I was not looking for a fudgy fancy confection of chocolate or gooey icing. A quick glance at the less than impressive post-Christmas fruit bowl gave instant inspiration; 2 rapidly yellowing limes, a slightly soft lemon, a large not-bad looking orange and a very much past it melon. The chickens had the melon, sliced into quarters and devoured with glee in a matter of minutes, as a small way of thanking them for their part in the process. The rest of the fruit were to be turned into a citrus drizzle cake, sharp yet sweet, simple and pure. My idea of cake nirvana, and somehow perfectly right for the first Sunday of the year.

Citrus Drizzle Cake
makes 1 loaf
10-15 minutes to make; 40-45 minutes to cook

3 eggs, separated
180g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
160g self raising flour
60g ground almond
2 limes, zest & juice
1 lemon, zest & juice
1 orange, zest & juice
2 tbsp milk

For the syrup:
approx. 150ml citrus juice (this is what my fruit above yielded)
100g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 200/180 fan/ gas 6. Grease and line a loaf tin with baking parchment, leaving a 'tail' at either end to help you lift the cake out.

Either in a food mixer with a whisk attachment, or a generous bowl and an electric whisk, whisk up the egg whites until stiff. Be sure that both the bowl and whisk are super-clean before you start as any hint of grease will mean the whites will not gain enough air to fluff up. Once the eggs are whisked, set aside.

In a separate bowl, add the egg yolks, butter and sugar and beat together until light and fluffy. I used the beater attachment of my Kenwood Chef as I tend to a be a lazy cakemaker, but a wooden spoon and copious elbow grease would do the job well if you preferred. Beat in the flour, almond and all of the citrus zest, and finally beat in the milk.

Take a generous spoon of the whisked egg white and beat this into the cake mixture - this will serve to loosen the mix a little. Then fold the remaining egg whites in gently but firmly. I find a figure of eight action with a large metal spoon to be the best way of doing this, but you will find the way that works best for you. Be careful not to over mix as you will loose the precious air you spent time whisking in.

Pour into the prepared cake tin, level slightly with the back of a spoon and cook in the oven until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. In my oven this took 45 minutes, but check after 35 or so just in case - ovens are notoriously difficult things to judge when giving baking times, yours may vary from mine in all manner of ways.

Whilst the cake is cooking prepare the 'drizzle' by boiling the reserved citrus juice and the sugar in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat when the sugar has dissolved and you are left with a glossy syrup that tastes quite sharp. If you want it sweeter feel free to add a little more sugar, but for me the drizzle should have a zing that tingles on the tongue and serves to wake the cake up, lifting it from the plain to the sublime.

Once the cake is done remove it from the oven and slowly pour the drizzle over the still hot cake. Do this spoonful by spoonful and watch it satisfyingly soak into the sponge. Don't rush or it will puddle and run over the sides of the tin, which would seem such a shameful waste of the delicious nectar. Allow to cool in the tin before lifting out onto a plate.

Fabulous served with coffee for a late sunday breakfast.

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