Saturday, September 12, 2009


Frozen Orange Syllabub Cake

As much as I love cakes, I sometimes avoid making them. This is principally because I cannot always be bothered combining butter and sugar until they bond into a pale yellow cream, which, first of all, requires that butter be soft. When one bakes, sometimes it's on the spur of the moment, but with baking cakes, one has to be prepared. On account of more often making pastry dough for tarts and pies, I rely on the butter conditioner in the fridge to keep butter firm. Consequently, I actually have to plan ahead to soften butter. Yes, this is a minor matter, but if I want a cake within an hour of thinking about making one, then it is impossible to see this through without softened butter. So, what is a man to do? Well, I find a way around it, of course, and in doing so I often turn to desserts that use melted butter or that dispense of butter altogether.

Today's cake is in the vein of an ice cream cake. It is, in fact, a riff on a dessert that was popular in England from the Elizabethan era to the 19th Century and seems to have found mild resurrgence in current cookery books by British chefs and cooks: syllabub. Syllabub is cream that has been whipped, sweetened with sugar, spiced with nutmeg, soured with lemon juice, and fortified with alcohol, often wine or port. Mixed together, the boozy cream would be left to set up in a cold spot before serving. It is the simplest of desserts, and I am dumfounded that I never thought to freeze it before, like Philly ice cream, until I recently noticed Nigel Slater's recipe for Lemon ice-cream tart with gingernut crust in his inspiring The Kitchen Diaries, a book I've had since it was published in 2005, but, for some reason or another, had not previously registered the genius behind this particular recipe - it is funny how you can read something ten times and can still be surprised, isn't it? I guess with cooking, we're drawn to different flavours and ideas at different times...

Frozen Orange Syllabub Cake
(adapted from Nigel Slater's Lemon Ice-Cream Tart with Gingernut Crust in The Kitchen Diaries)

For the Crust:

400g/14 oz Gingernuts or other ginger cookies
120g/4 oz unsalted butter

1) Line the base of a loose-bottomed 25cm/10" cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2) Crush the ginger cookies to a coarse crumb or a fine powder, depending on the sort of crust you want for your cake.
3) Melt the butter, then stir in the crushed ginger cookies.
4) Pour the mixture into the cake tin, pushing it with your fingers to cover both the base and the sides of the tin - focus more on getting it properly covered than making sure the crust is equally level around the summit.
5) Put the tin in the freezer while you work on the filling.

For the Filling:

150ml white wine
2 tablespoons brandy
zest and juice of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons sugar
500ml cream

1) Put all ingredients into a bowl and beat slowly until thick, falling in soft folds.

For the Pie:

1) Pour the filling into the crust.
2) Freeze for at least four hours.
3) Remove from freezer 15-20 minutes before serving.

It is evident that this is not meant to be presented at a sophisticated affair, what with the crust being so free-form, but it is perfectly charming. The flavours, of course, are what matter, and they are as intense as the texture is dreamy, like eating sweet clouds.

It does seem too easy for words, but I ask that you try this recipe and adapt it at a whim. Swap out the orange for lime and brandy for midori or tequila, or use cherry juice and kirsh with a crust made with amaretti - the possibilities are endless and delightful. Nothing warms me more than a good dessert, and I will now count this as one of my very favourites. I wonder what other creams of old can be adapted in a similar way...

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