I started this blog with the intention of collecting together all my recipes in one place, of collating the dribs and drabs I have filed away over the years, whether in my head or on paper. But what is really interesting is that I don’t think I have any intention of getting rid of any of the bits of paper, or any of the cookery books that clutter my shelves.
The blog serves the collection purpose; it works as the place to put the information. But the pieces of paper and the books, well they’ve already done their collecting and it has nothing to do with the recipes. Food stains my favourite pages, the spines are broken where I’ve opened them at the same place over and over again and supermarket recipe cards act as bookmarks. They are a collection of memories, not just information and, like tickets from my travels, they are much more than paper. And I can’t bear to part with them.
How interesting when I was always sure, in my publishing days, am still pretty sure, that reference rather than narrative would make much more sense stored digitally. But in a way my recipe hoarding confirms that belief because these pages and books are narrative; it’s just they’re my narrative.
Take the New York Cookbook for instance. I first came across this book twenty years ago, shortly after my sister got engaged (in New York); she brought a copy back and I coveted it for years. I wrote the carrot cake recipe down in my mini-Filofax (remember those?), another item I can’t get rid of, and made it all the time: for my students in the States, for every party and even on an Arvon writing course.
One spring I stayed with my sister and her family in Dublin for a couple of weeks and, surprised that she had never made the genius carrot cake, I offered to do so. Later that same day my brother-in-law and I came in from the pub (we used to do babysitting relays; one of the three of us would stay home with the children, whilst the other two sat drinking Guinness up the road) we fell on my freshly baked cake with delight.
We became very quiet as we chewed and then I spat it out: it tasted like soap. Since I was in Ireland I had substituted something called baking soda for baking powder, thinking it was the same thing. Unfortunately, baking soda is bicarbonate of soda and is better used for cleaning the fridge, not the inside of your mouth.
Jim, the epitome of politeness, didn’t dare complain, not that is until I had. Since it was his fiftieth birthday on Friday, I thought there could be no more fitting birthday cake than this. And, yes, I was very careful with the ingredients.
Carrot Cake (adapted from the New York Cookbook)
You will need:
A shallow rectangular cake tin (mine is 28cm long by 17.5 wide and 3.5cm deep), oiled lightly with vegetable or sunflower oil (you really want something inoffensive, nothing with a strong flavour).
1 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups grated carrots (I find three reasonably large ones…none of those tiny Chantenay things…is about right. And, unless you have a really whizzy grating attachment on your food processor, make sure that they are very fresh. Hand-peeling and -grating slightly old, and therefore soft carrots, is quite difficult, and not very good for your fingers.)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
If you want a simple cream cheese frosting, the following works quite well but you may have to play with the proportions, depending on how thick you like it, how lemony and how sweet.
Mix together 200g cream cheese, with one cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Chill it until required.
Method (forgive the lack of photos; I made the cake at night which means the photos are tinged by orangey halogen light. But, if ever there was a recipe that doesn’t need them, it’s this one.)
1. Preheat the oven to 180F/gas mark (take off 20C for a fan-assisted oven) and oil your pan/grate your carrots/chop your walnuts if you haven’t already done it.
2. Put everything bar the eggs into a bowl and mix together.
3. Add the eggs, mix in well again, tip in to the rectangular tin and bake for approx 45 mins to one hour or until a knife stuck in the centre comes out clean. (I’ve made it twice in the last week, in two different ovens. In the better oven it was done in 60 minutes; in the rubbish oven it took just over 50 minutes but the good thing about this cake is that you can check it without fearing any sort of sinkage.) Cool in the tin.
If you are icing/frosting the cake, let it cool down completely before doing so or the heat will melt the frosting.