As we look for comfort while waiting for spring, I am finding mine this month in remembering my mother, who was, amongst many other things, a baker, as was her mother before her - capable of a home made sugared doughnut or the puzzle of a Battenburg alongside her less flamboyant repertoire. She had long since ceased to do any baking in her twilight years, but she never lost her taste for a slice of cake - one of her great pleasures in life right to its end, and happily one that many of us share.
So, in her memory, a cake; a simple one with a bit of luxury in its ingredients to give it some small sophistication, from one of the cookbooks in which she laid great store - an early Penguin - laying out in pounds and ounces and ºF the makings of a simple work of art and science, in time honoured fashion and without the aid of pictures. The smell of the pages alone evokes memories of learning at my mother’s apron, how to cream butter and sugar, and fold flour, and why every step has its own importance, and of a certain calm and patience in the passing on of expertise. I will translate that old money of llbs and oz into the new of metric, and give you both together, just this once, and for old times sake - imperial measurement and an old fashioned scale an important part of this trip down memory lane.
“French Almond Cake”. I imagine such continental exoticism in the nationhood of this cake is a result of those luxurious almonds, and maybe also on account of the Kirsch (although that’s strictly a little bit German) but in any case here is the recipe, in its own words, and circa 1963:
“4oz (115g) butter; 5¼ oz (150g) castor sugar; 3oz (85g) ground almonds; 3 eggs; 1½oz (40g) flour; vanilla or Kirsch.
Prepare a moule à manqué 7-inch tin or a deep sandwich tin of the same size. Cream the butter thoroughly; beat in the sugar by degrees. Add the eggs one at a time with the almonds, beating well. Fold in the flour with the flavouring. Turn into the prepared tin and bake in a moderately hot oven (350ºF, or Reg, 4) for 45 to 50 minutes*. Turn out and dust with castor sugar.” (*note: in a modern fan oven set to the equivalent of 180ºC it is likely to take more like 35 - 40 minutes)
Additional notes: to prepare the tin, grease with butter and dust with flour (or sugar if you are feeling a bit daring). To test the cake, it should look golden brown, spring back from your touch, and/or a skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean of any mixture.
I will leave you with a quote from the introduction of this Penguin book - eloquent about the mores of the day, and who was likely to be doing the cooking in these pre Jamie times!.