Some cakes are pure decadence: a Victoria Sponge that is bound together by a butter corset, or a carefully regimented army of macaroon clones. These creations are fabulous, but baking perfection requires the patience of a saint or the skilled hand of a patisserie. I have neither, so perfection has to be something else than the crisp shell of a macaroon.
A couple of years ago I read Anthony Bourdain’s ‘A Cook’s Tour’. His search for the perfect meal takes him around the world’s dining table until he reaches the rather obvious epiphany that his pursuit is futile – there are too many perfect meals. Of course, the taste buds are as subjective as the ear, and when food sings like heaven to one mouth there will be another that it tortures.
The perfection of food is the perfection of a moment. When we remember eating that first forkful of spaghetti al vongole on the Ligurian coast, we’re not only remembering the pasta, but we’re reminiscing over the taste of the sunset and the lick of the salty sea breeze. It is perfect because the world and the food embrace in our mouth.
One of my most lucid moments of food heaven is sitting by Lake Como with a Panini stuffed to the brim with prosciutto and a Tupperware of ripe melon. It was during one of my first trips to Italy with my best friend. We were two enthusiastic English girls heading off to spend a week with our friend, Sally.
The trips were always attempts to ‘make contact’ with the Italian youth that hung out by the gelateria. I’m afraid to say that we never did manage to get further than a nervous ‘ciao’, and our dreams of zooming through the village on the back of a Vespa remain unrealised. However, these trips taught me something even more important than rejection: I learnt the perfection of simplicity whilst sitting on that bank by Lake Como. The softly pirouetting prosciutto tucked into crispy bread, followed by juicy melon, oh, it must have been in that moment – looking out over the expanse of the lake – that I fell in love with food and Italy.
Simplicity, the moment, Vespas…what I’m basically trying to say is that the cake I’m about to tell you about isn’t a showy, blousy, buttery slab of perfection – but it doesn’t have to be. I found the recipe on Gourmet Traveller and simply adapted it by splitting the batter in half, and adding a tablespoon of cocoa powder to one half. It’s then a simple case of consecutively spooning each mixture into a lined loaf tin. It’s the kind of cake that when paired with a cup of coffee and a good friend, can be called perfect.
Marbled Lemon Crème Fraîche Loaf Cake (adapted from Gourmet Traveller)
140g (5oz) plain flour
55g (2oz) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
150g (6 tbsp) crème fraîche (or sour cream)
155g (5.5oz) caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
grated zest of one lemon
juice of half a lemon
3 small eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1. Remove your butter, eggs and crème fraîche from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before you begin.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (356°F).
3. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl and set aside.
4. In a large mixing bowl mix the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk on a high speed for about 5 minutes, until light and frothy. Add the cubed butter and continue mixing on medium, until incorporated (a few small lumps here and there is fine). Turn the whisk down to low and add the crème fraîche, mix briefly until it all comes together.
5. Add in a third of the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined (this should take a matter of seconds – you want to refrain from overworking the batter with each addition of the flour to ensure your cake comes out nice and light). Add another third of the dry mixture, then the lemon juice and whisk gently again, repeat with the remaining flour mixture.
6. Pour half of the mixture into another bowl. Add 1 tbsp cocoa powder to this bowl, and the lemon juice and zest to the other.
7. Scoop a spoonful of the chocolate batter into a buttered and lined loaf tin, followed by a spoonful of the lemon batter. Continue until all of the mixture is used up.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes. When ready the cake should be lightly golden on top and a knife or skewer should come out of the cake clean.
9. I then combined icing sugar, cocoa powder and some lemon juice to make quite a runny chocolate icing. When cool I drizzled this over the cake.