I love to bake, especially for birthdays, but summer birthdays pose a particular problem. Not only do I not want to spend too much time in a hot kitchen, but I also don’t want to create something too sweet, dry or heavy. Chocolate cake, for example, isn’t ideal in the summer, and nor is ginger. I want fruit, speed and lightness, something that can work for both pudding or afternoon tea.
And when I want a cake like that I turn to Mr Slater, one of my favourite cookery writers. I first discovered him in Marie Claire in the late eighties, and still have some of those recipes in my files. Now he’s very well known in Britain and pretty ubiquitous: he’s published lots of books, he’s in the Observer every week and he’s been on the telly.
Although the descriptions and writing that I used to find so refreshing twenty years ago, seem a bit repetitive and flowery now (how many times can he describe cutting something as thick as a pound coin?), I still love his recipes. They work; they’re about pleasure and taste, not posing and tests and they’re made for people like me who want to eat well but don’t have the professional skills or kit to create a masterpiece. And the proof of a good recipe writer is how often I turn back to, use, or buy their work: I have all Slater’s books (only Thirst is not worth the money), I still scan his recipes every week on the net even if I can’t bear the Observer these days and, when I worked at his publisher, where books filled every day and every bit of mental and physical space, I was still excited at the prospect of a new Slater cookbook.
It was 28 degrees in London last weekend, the kitchen wasn’t very enticing and I found the birthday cake answer in The Kitchen Diaries (my favourite of his books): an easy-peasy blueberry and pear cake, packed with fruit, not in the least bit stodgy, and perfect as it is with a cup of tea or with a spoonful of cream or ice-cream. He baked his in the spring, and recommends it warm. But I had no plans to lug a hot cake tin to my friend’s so I took it round cold. Which means I still have the warm version to look forward to later in the year…
You will need:
a square 21-22cm cake tin
130g unsalted butter
130g unrefined caster sugar
2 ripe pears
2 large eggs
130g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
200-250g blueberries (Slater’s recipe says 250g but my nearest supermarket sells them in 200g punnets and that’s plenty)
a little extra sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.
2. Line the baking tin with a piece of baking parchment.
3. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (best to do this in a food processor or mixer unless you need the exercise…). If you do it on the highest setting it takes about 3-4 minutes.
5. Crack the eggs into a bowl, beat them together lightly with a fork, then add to the butter and sugar (I usually whizz them in in the mixer for a few seconds).
6. Sift the flour and baking powder together in another bowl, then fold them gently into the butter and sugar mixture.
7. Put the cake mixture into the lined tin, sprinkle the fruit over the top of the mixture, and then sprinkle a few teaspoons of sugar over the top of the cake.
8. Bake for 55 minutes. Test to see if it is done by inserting a fork or skewer into the centre. It’s done if it comes out clean.
9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. Slater turns his out after ten minutes but you can leave it longer than this.
10. Serve as cake, or with cream or ice-cream for pudding. If there’s any left it keeps really well in a cake tin for a couple of days too.