Tag Archives: Diana Henry

Gooseberry and thyme cake

Slice of gooseberry thyme cake

We’ve not had a kitchen for just over a week now. We’re having building work done on our house, and although the original plan was to only remove the kitchen half-way through the three-month schedule, on the first day the builder turned to me and said it’d be better if they did it straight away. Immediately. Post-haste. Subito. Or at least the day after.

So I baked my final cake and final two loaves of bread, then set about removing the units. It was a hideous kitchen, and far from practical, but not having a kitchen at all is, to say the least, even less practical. Only so much baking I can do with a kettle and a microwave. Indeed, I never really use microwaves for anything other than softening butter for making cakes, so I don’t know what else you can do with them. Apparently you can “bake” in a microwave, but I can’t really imagine how. Not in a metal cake tin – unless I actively want to add exploded microwave to the chaos.

Just before the demolition started, I was moving some shrubs from the area where we were building. One of these was a much-neglected gooseberry bush, which, despite being basically in the shade, had managed to produce a fair crop, just shy of a kilo. So that final cake had to involve gooseberries.

Now, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the “spiny grape”, as it’s called in Italian (uva spina). I used to eat them when I was a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I have a feeling they’re slightly out of fashion these days. Despite how popular “retro” and “vintage” may be, I don’t hear people talking excitedly about gooseberry fools, an old-fashioned British summer recipe.

I can suffer a fool, gladly, but rather than just defaulting to using the gooseberries to make one, I wanted to try a cake. I found some good recipes from both Nigel Slater and Diana Henry, two cookery writers who are proponents of great British produce. Henry had one featuring thyme, which intrigued me. Even though I don’t have lemon thyme as her recipe suggests, my own herbs have been doing very well in this year’s shockingly pleasant south of England summer, so I used some good old Thymus vulgaris, common thyme. (Though I think my variety is the French, narrow-leaf, not the English.)


Henry’s original recipe can be found here on the Torygraph site. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

The fruit:
350g gooseberries
60g caster sugar

For the cake:
125g butter
120g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped (ideally lemon thyme)
1 lemon
100g plain flour, sifted with
1t baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the syrup:
50g granulated sugar
2 large lemons, juiced [I used 1 lemon, 1 orange], about 100g juice
2 small sprigs of thyme

Top & tail

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Grease and base-line a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
3. Top and tail the gooseberries then toss with 60g of caster sugar and leave them to macerate slightly.
4. Beat the butter and 120g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

5. Add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If it curdles at all, add a little flour.
6. Finely grate the zest of the lemon. I also used some orange zest. Just cos. Finely chop the zests together with the thyme to free up all those lovely essential oils.

Zest and thyme chopped together
7. Add the zest and herbs to the batter and combine.
8. Sieve in the flour and baking powder, then fold to combine, along with the ground almonds.
9. Spoon, pour and scrape the mixture into the tin.
10. Spread the gooseberries over the top of the mixture.

Add fruit
11. Bake for 45 minutes and test with a skewer.

12. While the cake is still warm, make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the lemon juice, with the thyme.
13. Pierce the cake with a skewer then pour over the syrup, removing the sprigs of thyme.
14. Leave to cool then serve. You can just with icing sugar, and serve with crème fraîche, cream or ice cream.

Henry also has another one here, with flaked almonds. I think that could be nicer as the crunch of the almonds would contrast with the eyebally squish of the cooked fruit. Next year perhaps. Or perhaps Slater’s recipe, which involves a kind of crumble. Or perhaps I’ll just revisit the fool.


Filed under Baking, Cakes, Recipes

Busy baking, Christmas and new years 2010-2011, including panettone

It’s been a very busy month on the baking front for me.

For Lawrence and Jo’s wedding on 19 December 2010, I made the cake, with Fran doing much of the decoration. I’m slightly disappointed with most of the photos I got of the cake, many of them are pretty gloomy – not ideal for something involving so much dark chocolate! But anyway, here’s one:

Dom and myself also did some catering for the late evening supper at the wedding. For this, I baked three different types of bread from three of my favourite baker-writers. These were Andrew Whitley’s seeded rye bread a 100% rye sourdough from Bread Matters; the wonderfully moist rolled oat and apple bread from The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard; and Richard Bertinet’s lovely simple fougasse from Dough.

For Christmas itself, I was keen to try and make a panettone. I really want to follow a traditional recipe – meaning, making a naturally leavened dough. Yep, apparently an authentic panettone is what many people would term a “sourdough” – it doesn’t use any commercial yeast, but instead involves a slow fermentation process based on a natural leaven. As that natural leaven is wheat-based, personally I wouldn’t call it a sourdough, but there you go.

Having said all that, though, when it came to the crunch, after all of the above, I didn’t really have the time to experiment with a fully naturally leavened panettone, so I cheated and kinda made up a recipe that used from yeast too.

I didn’t really write it all down properly, but I used:
50g white leaven
10g active dried yeast (ie granular yeast) or 22g fresh yeast
350g water – my flour was cold, only about 16C, so the water was about 38C.

In a large bowl, I mixed:
800g strong white flour
50g caster sugar
10g salt
zest of one lemon
100g pine nuts
50g flaked almonds
100g raisins
100g mixed peel
2 eggs, beaten
50g melted butter

Then added the leaven/yeast mix, and brought it to a soft dough.

Proved until doubled in volume, knocked back, rested, then formed into a ball, which I squashed into more of a teardrop shaped and put in a large catering tin, which I’d lined with baking parchment.

Proved again, till doubled in volume – or at least until it felt right with the pinch test. Glazed with basic egg wash, though I’ve seen recipes (like this one on the Wild Yeast blog, which I got via this thread on The Fresh Loaf) that use much more elaborate glazes. Some of them seem to glaze after baking too. There’s still a lot to learn about making panettone.

Baked At 200C for around 45 mins, I think. Doh, should have written more notes.

Anyway, the Wild Yeast blog had some interesting pics – notably about how to cool a panettone, by hanging it upside down. I rigged up an absurd set-up with two chairs and an oven rack. I put a box with soft packing material underneath just in case, as the loaf was heavy the skewers were tearing through.

Here’s the finished panettone:

Being critical for a moment, I think it was too dense. Next Christmas I’ll try and fully naturally-leavened version with longer fermentation to try and open up the crumb more – get some nice big, ciabatta style air-holes. It was very nice though. Ellis certainly thought so.

Other goodies I made over Xmas included this cake:

It was based on my fave cake batter again (Mollie Katzen‘s Cardamom coffee cake), but shrunk, and converted to Xmas spices:
200g soft butter
200g light brown sugar
2 eggs
220g sour cream
220g plain flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/4t baking soda
1 t ground cinammon
1/2 t ground ginger
1 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground cardamom
a good few grates of fresh nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar, add egg.
Sieve together dry ingredients, then add it bit by bit to creamed mix, alternating with additions of sour cream.
Put batter in lined 20cm tin, and bake at 140C (fan over) for about an hour and 20 mins, until skewer comes out clean.
I was tempted to add peel and fruit to make it even more Xmassy, without it being a nasty traditional Xmas cake, but decided against that as the panettone had such fruit in already.

Then, for new years, I made this one:

This one is from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs Sugar Snow. She calls it her “Italian chocolate nut Christmas cake, with chestnuts, hazelnuts and walnuts”. We had whole chestnuts, which I roasted, then skinned and broke up as per the recipe – they were a bit hard and chewy. Maybe this means they were too old or something. If not, I’d be tempted to leave them out as their toughness wasn’t nice in combination with the more crumbly texture of the other nuts. It was cracking nonetheless. Henry says she was inspired by panforte but in many ways, it’s quite like the Sachertorte recipe I use. It’s very rich, involves nuts (including ground almonds), and is made by melting butter and choc, adding sugar, egg yolks, then ground almonds, and nuts, then folding in whisked egg whites. It also uses orange zest, but I’m wondering whether that was even necessary.

Oh, finally, I also made mince pies, as usual. Here’ my version.


Filed under Baking