Whilst trawling through a stash of my favourite cookbooks on a murky Saturday morning, the vast expanse of bland, blank cloud drifting on for miles across the fields out of my kitchen window, I came upon a weighty, glossy, forgotten tome that my brother gave me for Christmas, lovingly and clumsily wrapped in my own paper. Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, less a recipe book than a memoir, is full of delightful paintings of a voyage of young, naive adventures in New York, breakfasts in Paris, India and Mexico, and a chart of the eponymous Sophie’s attitude to food, in a career dictated by her body.
When baking this play on a British classic, a Victoria sandwich cake, Sophie’s observation that cooking can be “a far reaching expression of love and humanity that is universal” sprung to mind. Though, for the past few weeks I have been drinking green tea and forgoing any form of sweet treat to combat the curves that have crept up on me, unwittingly, in these past few miserable months, her writing has encouraged me to see food, not as the enemy, but as a form of connection with everyone I have missed.
This cake, a gift for my mother, made the most of the fragrant lavender nestled in our garden, with the sturdy fronds being massaged in a bed of caster sugar, allowing their floral oils to be released, lending the sweet cake a delicate flavour. A light whipped cream, unsweetened, coated the layers of sponge, sandwiched with tart raspberry jam, littered with crunchy seeds.
The sweet simplicity of this cake rather appealed to me, without embellishment from elaborate icing techniques, or a punch of vanilla, the whisper of lavender is allowed to sing through without being masked. It was perfect for afternoon tea on a briefly sunny afternoon, the rays heating the damp earth, and the sweet scent of summer in the air.
lavender raspberry cream cake | plumful
I used a basic Victoria sponge ingredient ratio here, the first recipe I ever learnt. Ensure that your ingredients are fresh here, especially the eggs; in the absence of flavours such as vanilla or chocolate, the few ingredients that you use must be at their finest.
6oz unsalted butter
6oz golden caster sugar
3 large, fresh eggs
6oz self raising flour
3 tbsp milk
1 tbsp lavender fronds, fresh
500ml double cream
3-4 tbsp seeded raspberry jam
Place the sugar and lavender in a bowl. Gently rub the lavender into the sugar for about five minutes, until the sugar has taken on a gentle lavender fragrance. Be sure not to let the sugar become too fragranced, to avoid a soapy tasting cake. Remove the lavender. Beat the butter until pale and creamy in a large bowl, before adding the sugar, a third at a time. Beat for at least five minutes, until the mixture is extremely pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in a third of the flour at a time, along with one tablespoon of milk. Fold in with a metal spoon. Alternate until all flour and milk is incorporated. Split mixture into two 20cm cake tins, and bake for 20 mins at 180 degrees Celsius, or until golden brown on top and when the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool, and beat the cream to soft peaks. Pipe a ring of cream on the outer edge of one of the cakes, and fill the centre of the ring with jam. This prevents the incorporation of jam into the cream when covering the outside of the cake. Place the second cake on top, and spread the cake liberally with cream using a palette knife. Heat the knife in a glass of hot water to allow you to smooth the cream properly. Store the cake in an airtight container in the fridge. Best served a few hours after finishing.