Here in Istanbul you know that Christmas is approaching when your inbox starts filling with information about the annual bazaars associated with the German School, IWI, the Church, the British Pantomime and other seasonal events, and you are exhorted to make cakes! Suddenly spicy ingredients like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruits of all kinds become doubly appealing and most importantly, we can get them all here …. on the same theme, brown sugar, not white, comfort foods, and cakes and cookies that are just yum: the season of indulgence starts right now! Here is one of those great recipes and I have the BBC Good Food magazine to thank for sending out a couple of Novembers ago a little supplement called Best of British. This word ‘squidgy’ is so evocative, isn’t it? It makes me think of something moist and tasty packed with dried fruits. In fact, this cake has fresh apple in it as well. Another plus is that it keeps brilliantly: wrap it well and it will be fine for at least a week and in fact gets better and better. It can also be frozen for up to two months which is great, so you can get ahead.
Ingredients for Squidgy Lemon-Ginger Cake
Cuts into 12 slices
200g/ 8oz butter, cut in pieces, plus extra for greasing
200g/ 8oz dates/ hurma, stoned
300g/12oz dark muscovado sugar
50g/ 2oz fresh or frozen root ginger/zencefil (pron: zen-jey-fil), grated
Grated zest 1 lemon
200g/ 8oz self-raising flour/kekun
1 tart apple (about 250g/ 9oz) peeled and chopped into pea-sized pieces
50g/ 2 oz white chocolate
1 tbsp chopped candied lemon peel and 1 tbsp sugar ‘coffee crystals,’ to decorate
§ Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Butter and line a 20cm/ 8-9 inch round cake tin (about 8cm/ 3 in deep) with baking parchment. Put dates in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Heat the butter in a small pan until melted and stir in the sugar. Allow to cool slightly.
§ Beat in the eggs, ginger and lemon zest. Drain the dates and chop them finely. Scrape them into the pan too, and mix well. Stir in the flour, then apple. Spoon into the cake tin, put the tin on a baking sheet (this stops the base browning too much) then bake for about 1 ¼ hrs, until well risen. A skewer stuck into the cake should come out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Leave it to cool in the tin.
§ Break the white chocolate into a non-metallic bowl. Heat in the microwave, on Medium, in 1 minute bursts until melted (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water). Remove the cake from the tin and peel off the paper. Trickle the chocolate over it, scatter with the candied lemon peel and coffee crystals. Leave to set before serving.
1. The secret of good cake-baking is a good oven and then following a recipe faithfully. With cakes, it all matters.
2. Having said that, I didn’t have any dates handy so substituted dried cranberries which was fine. I think dates would have been tastier though.
3. A lemon zester is a great little tool and comes in very handy.
4. I always make my own self-raising flour as for years it didn’t exist here. It is very easy: 1 ½ tsp baking powder to 6 oz/ 175g plain flour ie ½ tsp to 2 oz/ 50g plain flour. Just sift it into the flour. But if you go to one of the big supermarkets, I expect you can find a perfectly good bag of kekun!
5. At last we can get fresh ginger here! I remember the days when I brought it back in my suitcase from the UK. It freezes brilliantly and can be grated (after peeling) from frozen.
6. The only iffy ingredient here is the dark muscovado sugar. As far as I know, you can’t get it in Istanbul but there again, new things appear on the shelves all the time here, so maybe you can. I always bring back a selection of brown sugars when I come back from the UK. Here, you should mix a bit of pekmez with regular white granulated sugar and it will give that rich taste. Pekmez is a concentrated grape syrup sold at the outdoor markets as it is a natural product made by the village women but you can also find a commercial version in the supermarkets.
7. As for the decorations on top of the cake, both these items are available here but you might have to hunt. I think I got the coffee crystals from Migros and the lemon peel from the Spice Market/Mısır Çarşısı in Eminönü. But don’t be put off making this cake if you haven’t got exactly these items! Use what you have to decorate! It’s your cake!