...but it pours, as the saying goes. As it happens, we've had more snow this week. Just a dusting, which, on the much-trodden London streets, hung in the air longer than it settled on the pavements.
But the pretty white flakes weren't enough to lift morale. There are more than a few battles going on at the moment, and I now understand why you can't deploy a single army to fight on multiple fronts. It's just too hard.
When the going gets tough there is one man who can make everything better. N is a saint, and despite bearing the brunt of the attack this week has managed to always make me smile and lift my spirits. So last night, while he was out, I decided to do a little something to lift his.This involved consulting the other man in my life who often puts a smile on my face. Nigel Slater. I know that sometimes it must seem like the Nigel Slater appreciation society over here (does this exist? and if not, why, not and can I be president?!). I do like other food writers, honest, it's just that on a cold February evening, when everything in life is a little bit rubbish, I want to read a book that feels like being wrapped in a duvet, and that's exactly what Nigel Slater's writing (and recipes) are like. They are utterly unpretentious, beautifully uncomplicated, and as warm and satisfying as a really good cup of tea. So, when N isn't here to give me that big hug, it is to the pages of The Kitchen Diaries, or Appetite, that I go running.
Last night was a double whammy. I started with his mustard and sausage pasta dish, and then finished with his coffee and walnut cake. Adaptations were made to both, but I think Nigel would take that as a complement, as intended.
It was definitely a comfort meal. Sausages, fried with onions, and then coated in cream and mustard, with a random addition of some roasted tomatoes, all mushed together with pasta. Then the cake, a classic sponge, spiked with a hit of coffee and a crumbling of nuts, sandwiched and topped with fluffy coffee buttercream. Perfect.
It feels like I am working on classics at the moment, carrot cake, coffee cake, Shrewsbury biscuits. Somehow it feels like that kind of winter, where we need something familiar easy and from a simpler time (which of course is a myth, as all times have their ups and downs, but you know what I mean).I deviated from the classic slightly by using pecans rather than walnuts. This is partly because we both prefer the slight caramel hint you get with pecans, and partly because when I went to the cupboard is was bare of walnuts. I think it worked really well, with the slight softness that pecans have providing more of a chew than a crunch in the light sponge. I think it will be even better today as the coffee has had time to develop. Perfect for that afternoon pick-me-up.
I also halved the recipe, and rather than making it in large sandwich tins made it in my little 7 inch ones. This made a smaller, shallower cake that is more suitable to a house of two people. You'll still get about eight servings from it, but they won't be quite such door-stop slabs as the original. You can easily just scale up and make a bigger cake if needs warrant. Coffee and pecan cake - adapted from Nigel Slater's recipe in The Kitchen Diaries.
For the cake:
88g softened unsalted butter
88g unrefined caster sugar
88g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs
1 tsp instant coffee granules, disolved in 2 tsp hot water (or 2 tsp camp coffee)
35g pecans, toasted lightly then coarsly chopped
For the buttercream:
100g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee dislved in 1 tsp hot water/ or 2 tsp camp coffee
aprox 1 tbsp milk
seven/eight pecan halves for decoration
Preheat the oven to 180C and line or grease two 7 inch round sandwich tins.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating in between additions. sift together the flour and baking powder and then gradually add to the mix. Add the coffee and beat to combine. Finally stir in the chopped nuts. Divide between the two pans as evenly as possible (don't worry too much about spreading or leveling the batter, it will do this as it bakes) and then bake for aprox 12 mins or until just golden and springy in the middle. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely before removing from the tins.
While the cake are cooling, make the buttercream. Beat the butter until very soft, and then add the coffee. Mix until well combined, and then add the icing sugar in three additions, beating well in between. Finally add enough milk to get the right spreading consistancy (it needs to be fluffy and spreadable, without being runny, I could describe the texture I got as cloud-like!). For me this was about 1 tbsp.
When the cakes are cool turn them out. Place one on a plate, use a third of the icing in the middle, and spread evenly on the cake, then top with other half of the sandwich. Then ice the top and sides with the remaining buttercream and decorate with pecan halves.
p.s. for those of you who asked for the cinnamon roll recipe, it's over here... This is actually a vegan version. To make the "normal" ones, just add an egg instead of the replacer powder, and use real butter. The only thing I think I've changed since first making them is to up the lemon zest in the dough (I like my things lemony!) and to leave the dough on it's initial rise for longer, as I find the flavour develops well after a longer rising time (like three hours if you have it, I just leave mine on the radiator and forget about it.). It doesn't need this, but I happened to have the time and liked the flavour.