Food is powerful stuff, it brings people together. Sharing a home cooked meal is an intimate experience. It’s not only about the meal. There’s more going on. You are also being invited into someone’s private space, eating at their table, sharing a little bit of their life.
Home cooking is a collaborative affair. One or more people do the cooking. And in our house anyway, others are put to work setting the table, deciding who should sit where, determining if we have enough cutlery, and selecting the wine that will be served. Others still, in our house usually Kristoph, are sent to source those all important, yet oft forgotten, ingredients, from neighbours gardens, or the little epicerie on the corner.
Dinner at our house in Segur le Chateau is often ad hoc, occasionally chaotic (too many people, too few chairs, and the increasingly common occurrence of canine guests), and usually ends in a post-dinner dance off around the kitchen and dining room.
When friends come to stay with us, we ask them to cook their favourite dish for us and other guests. Something they do well and easily. It’s supposed to be fun, not stressful. It’s a way of introducing people to our space, maintaining a communal atmosphere in our house, and helping them to feel at home in our kitchen.
For some of our guests, the prospect of cooking for a gang of people, some of whom they know, others they’ve just met, is horrifying. Those guests usually offer to do the dishes.
We’ve learned a lot from both types of guests. Those that cook have introduced us to fabulous dishes using local ingredients in new ways. And for those that opted for a dishwashing shift, we’ve also learned some of the differing cultural practices of washing up. A Londoner, with Jamaican ancestry, covered our kitchen bench, and all of our dishes in a mountain of foamy suds. He then emptied the sink and rinsed each dish in turn. According to Mr Harrision “you’re unlikely to meet a Jamaican who doesn’t run a full rinse cycle.”
And so it goes in Segur. We host friends every summer, and often the seasons in between, and they help build the shared history of our petit maison. Their visits nourish us in many ways. They bring (much appreciated) news of the outside world, music and musical talents, and fresh eyes on the village.
Recently, as I presented one of my friends with some rosemary and pine nut brittle for Christmas, she told me that she would never have the confidence to enter the kitchen herself. Hearing Vikki’s uncertainty around a simple baking project, it occurred to me that perhaps there is something in between the Segur house guest that cooks a feast, and those that do the dishes. A cooking lesson was in order! Vikki was a ready recipient.
Vikki set herself the task of cooking a friend a birthday cake. She chose Delia Smith’s Iced Lemon Curd Layer Cake as her preferred option. As luck would have it, I also needed to make a birthday cake. So Vicky and I spent Saturday cooking along to Delia’s instructions.
The recipe makes a cake that looks fabulous, is spongy, but not too sweet with a lemon tang. The lemon curd spread through the middle layers is fabulous. We made a large cake and also smaller versions in a muffin tin. The smaller versions were perhaps slightly on the dry side, so I’d probably add a little more butter next time. But the cake is really simple – and quick to make.
Here’s Delia’s recipe:
For the cake:
Grated zest 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 oz (175 g) self-raising flour, sifted
1 level teaspoon baking powder
6 oz (175 g) butter at room temperature
6 oz (175 g) caster sugar
3 large eggs
For the lemon curd:
grated zest and juice 1 large juicy lemon
3 oz (75 g) caster sugar
2 large eggs
2 oz (50 g) unsalted butter
For the icing:
Zest of 1 large lemon
2-3 teaspoons lemon juice
2 oz (50 g) sifted icing sugar
Step 1: Measure all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk, until you have a smooth, creamy consistency.
Step 2: Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and bake them on the centre shelf of the oven for about 35 minutes (at 175 degress) or until the centres feel springy when lightly touched with a little finger.
Step 3: Make the lemon curd. Place the sugar and grated lemon zest in a bowl, whisk the lemon juice together with the eggs, then pour this over the sugar. Then add the butter cut into little pieces.
Step 4: Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir frequently till thickened – about 20 minutes.
Step 5: When the cakes are cooked, remove them from the oven and after about 30 seconds turn them out on to a wire rack. When they are absolutely cold – and not before – carefully cut each one horizontally into two using a sharp serrated knife.
Step 6: Spread the curd thickly to sandwich the sponges together. If you’re making smaller versions in a muffin tin, cut the top off and make a small well for the lemon curd. Fill it, and put the top back on.
Step 7: Make the icing. Remove the zest from the lemon – it's best to use a zester to get long, curly strips. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually stir in the lemon juice until you have a soft, runny consistency. Allow the icing to stand for 5 minutes before spreading it on top of the cake with a knife, almost to the edges, and don't worry if it runs a little down the sides of the cake. Then scatter the lemon zest over the top and leave it for half an hour for the icing to firm up before serving.
And that’s it. I’d be keen to make this again and add in a rosemary infusion, as I’m really into the flavour of lemon and rosemary at the moment. Have you made alterations to this recipe? Any other ideas? Please leave me a comment.