Midsummer has such a lovely ring to it, doesn't it? So heady, so optimistic, such a promise of things to come - a real celebration. The second, usually better, half of the summer is waiting, within a fingertip's reach. The sounds and smells and blinding light of summer envelop you, pressing pause on otherwise hectic lives. My lovely Uncle Anthony was a Midsummer baby, born on 21st June and so I've always associated him with the equinox, whether in the UK, or here in NZ, when I now remember him in December.
Although Midsummer passed us some time ago in New Zealand, and right now the darkening nights seem to be beating a steady path to Autumn's door, and the fruits are overflowing with late summer ripeness, the fact that we now celebrate Valentine's Day in the height of summer seemed like a perfect time to make a Midsummer Cake - after all, all the things I love about midsummer, the optimism, the perfection, the promise, all seem to hold true, especially for this Valentine's Day, the first we have had since we got married in December.
Also, Andy REALLY loves strawberries. This came at the end of a pretty-near perfect meal; scallops and chorizo to start, followed by Andy's main course of loin of pork with garlic and fennel (and possibly the most delicious gravy anyone has ever tasted in the whole history of the world)
This is not a pretty cake, by anyone's standards, but it is truly delicious. And it seems that somehow the point of it is to be lovely and homespun-looking. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway. The sponge has no added fat, so no butter, no oil, which results in a light, airy cake with a surprising sturdiness, that proves the perfect vehicle for the other elements. For, let's be straight here: the sponge has no extra fat, but the in-between layers part certainly makes up for that, with vanilla custard, whipped cream, oh, and plenty of strawberries. Nor is it a cake you can churn out at a moment's notice, for a forgotten bake sale, unexpected guests, or just because you have the baking itch. This takes planning, should ideally be started a day in advance, and is fiddly, or as my Welsh husband would call it, 'potchy' (no, I don't know either, but I like the sound of the word and it seems quite onomatapoeic).
This is my first entry into the Sweet New Zealand blogging event, hosted this month by Shirleen at the gorgeous blog Sugar & Spice, and a fellow Wellingtonian.
The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's 'Kitchen', which, like most of her writing, I have found eminiently readable and useable, and have only had successes when I've cooked from it. Oh, and in the book it is just called 'Summer Cake', but Nigella talks about these types of cake being cooked all over Scandinavia to celebrate Midsummer, hence my use of the prefix.
Swedish Midsummer Cake
From Nigella Lawson
For the custard:
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
250ml full fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ideally you would do this stage the day before you want to serve the cake. Put everything except the vanilla extract in a pan over lowish heat, and stir constantly until it thickens; by my clock this was about 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don't let it boil or the texture of the custard will be ruined and it will split. When it is thicker, take it off the heat, beat in the vanilla extract, transfer the custard to a cold bowl, and stir until it is cool. Cover with plastic wrap, so it touches the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming.
For the cake:
250g caster sugar
90ml water from a recently boiled kettle
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
150g plain flour
butter, for greasing
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line the bottom of a 23cm round springform cake tin with baking parchment, or do as I do and use re-useable silicone liner, cut to size, and grease the sides of the tin.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, moussy, and just about tripled in volume. This is easier if you have some gadget to help such as an electric whisk or KitchenAid, but would definitely be possible with some effort and a hand whisk. Plus it would negate the need to visit the gym. Still whisking, add the hot water.
In a separate bowl or jug, mix the flour and baking powder together and gradually add to the eggs and sugar, stirring well to make sure there are no lumps. Put the mixture into your prepared tin, and cook for about 30 minutes, until it is golden and well-risen. A cake-tester should come out clean at this point.
Let the cake cool in its tin on a rack for 10 minutes, before unmoulding it and letting it cool completely on the rack.
2-3 teaspoons caster sugar
If you are cack-handed, like me, this part is the most fiddly bit but, honestly, it's not the sort of cake where precision matters. Using a bread knife, cut the cake into three layers. The cake is surprisingly sturdy and I managed this without disaster, but it would be very easy to patch a layer together and bury it in the middle should you need to.
Take about three quarters of the strawberries, hull them, half or quarter them depending on size, and leave them to macerate in the caster sugar. This can be done anything between 10 minutes and a few hours before you need them; either way, they will be delicious and start to surrender their beautiful ruby juices up to the syrup created.
Put the bottom layer on your serving plate.
Whisk the cream until it is sturdy enough to hold its shape. Take one third of this cream and fold it into your prepared vanilla custard. Then put half of this mixture on to the bottom layer of the cake on your serving plate. Spread half the macerated strawberries on top of the custard.
Repeat this with the middle layer of the cake; custard, strawberries.
Finally, place the top tier of the cake in place. Spread the remaining whipped cream over the top and arrange your reserved strawberries over the top of that, leaving them whole, or halving them as you wish.
Serve, and bask in the reflected glory in your delicious, not-a-beauty-queen cake - but who needs a beauty queen hanging round on Valentine's Day, anyway?