Monday, 22 July 2013

Here comes that sinking feeling...

"If light fruit cakes, like cherry, sultana, mixed fruit, have any fear for you prepare to she'd them now..."

Fanny's next recipe accompanies a retrospective on her and Johnnie's careers - on stage (the only couple in the world who have filled the Royal Albert Hall with 6750 people for a cookery demonstration), on television (where, it says, a reluctant Fanny auditioned for the BBC, beat off 50 others and then doubled the highest ever figure for sales of any Further Education booklet) and in writing (together Fanny and Johnnie have written over 80 books). The retrospective is quick to point out that although they started off in privileged backgrounds they have both been very hard up, and of course this considerable experience, 'the best of both worlds', has led them to appreciate gardening, French cuisine and supporting struggling students to progress. Erm, of course, I see the link... So naturally, they simply must share their technique for a Cherry Cake that will NEVER sink. The cherries that is, not the cake.

Ingredients are again simple - butter (I decide to use French, Fanny would be pleased), caster sugar, lemon zest, flour, eggs and glac√© cherries. Fanny seems to smirk as she's writing this one, knowing that she is right and everyone else is wrong. Someone has clearly challenged her on this topic recently.  I wouldn't question Fanny, I mean if you can fill huge, historic venues, write numerous books and become a TV sensation, you surely know how to bake a cake with cherries that don't sink. That must be the point of the career retrospective. 

I cream the butter with the lemon zest, add the sugar and whip it until it is 'creamy and very loose'. All seems familiar so far. I add in a tablespoon of my sieved flour and one egg and whip again. Picking up a pace, I am guided to add two tablespoons before the second egg and whipping, then 'repeat' with the remaining eggs and flour. My mixture should now look smooth and thick. It does, very thick. Fanny tells me that no matter what I do to the fruit it will sink to the bottom of the cake if it is made of a mixture whose texture is not strong enough to support it. Is that the key, a really heavy cake? Is that why the cherries won't sink?

I've made Cherry Cake before and my cherries have never sunk, so I think I know the next step and possibly the top tip - wash the cherries? However without a hint of a smile, Fanny smugly warns me 'Of course you do not wash the fruit' - she really has gotten into my mind lately, but now she is answering my thoughts I really am feeling fearful. Just when I am thinking 'Well what on earth do I do then?' Fanny answers with 'of course you DO turn the fruit in flour and shake off the surplus through an ordinary sieve'. Ah, thankfully my sieve is VERY ordinary.

Now I need to fold the fruit in and pop the mixture into my carefully prepared tin, levelling it off before baking. Fanny provides a 'note' here to allow me to make a choice next. A choice? Do I really want to be making my own choices at this stage? My permitted choice is crack-or-no-crack. If only Noel Edmonds had hit on this winning formula... If I am happy with a cracked top (and what home cook wouldn't be) I just need to pop the cake in the oven. However if I want to do as Professional chefs in France (and presumably nowhere else) do when they are entering cakes into competitions (do they really enter a non-sink Cherry Cake?) I should sit the cake on four folds of brown paper and cover it with a large old biscuit tin. I haven't got any brown paper, so decision is made - crack it is!

So did it work? I think so! When sliced, the cherries appeared all over the cake, although in the first slice in the picture they do look like they are at the bottom. It's not worth starting again just for the photo, so take my word for it. You see, I now even sound like Fanny. The cake itself is very light, and has a wonderful crack on top. Very homely, but don't tell the professional French chefs entering competitions. 

Finally, and most confusing I would say, Fanny tells us that she cannot imagine why anyone does not actually like the gooey pad of cherries that collect at the bottom of the cake if you do not follow her advice and the cherries sink. So quite what this recipe is all about, I do not know. Johnnie prefers it, in fact - when he was a small boy and Cook was baking, he used to sneak into the kitchen, open the oven door and give the cake a smart bang so the fruit WOULD sink to the bottom. Maybe that's the point of all this, Fanny and Johnnie - 'the best of both worlds'.