Sometimes people ask me to name my favourite season.
Actually, they don't. I just imagine that they do.
Problem is, that if they did, I'd have trouble with the answer. Summer is an obvious choice - the long sunny days invite a cheery disposition and promise everything from picnics to holidays. I don't think I'd pick it as favourite though. Summer can also bring disappointment (i.e. no sun and no picnics). Winter is good too - it includes Christmas and I just love Christmas. Bring on the holly, bring on the mistletoe and (...most importantly...) bring on the mince pies. I love nothing more than a bright crisp winter's day.
Then again, Spring can be good too. It is a hopeful sort of season. It promises much. Nothing lifts the spirits more than a spring day. Only downside? The April showers... I'm not a fan of rain, no matter how good it is for the garden.
So, onto Autumn. The hardest month to spell. Even though I'm nearly thirty years old. Should I admit to that? Probably not...
Anyway, I'm pretty partial to a spot of autumn. I've heard people say that it depresses them. The end of the long, light nights and the feeling that they need to go into hibernation. I can understand this. I like the light as much as the next person. But autumn is a spectacularly beautiful season, is it not?
Also, the weather is rather more reliable than summer. Yet everyone seems terribly surprised by it. I'm not really sure why as for the past few years, we have enjoyed fabulous autumns with mild temperatures and lots of bright sunshine. Sure, there is a nip in the air come morning and night. But many of the days have been glorious. Really glorious.
I love enjoying the sunshine during the day and then coming home, lighting the fire and treating myself to some warming, hearty dishes. I also feel more like baking at this time of the year - a slice of cake with a cup of tea after an afternoon's autumnal walk is just what is called for. I hope you'll agree.
I've spoken before of my love affair with Nigel. He truly is a god. Some things are meant to be and Nigel and I are one of them. Take this gorgeous lemon and demerara cake, for instance. I have a tried-and-tested lemon drizzle cake recipe that I love. But I fancied something slightly different. I was hankering after a lemon and almond combination and recalled having seen something similar in Nigel's fabulous tome; The Kitchen Diaries. I'm sure you know how it is when you want to try a new recipe. You check off all the ingredients only to discover that you are missing one vital ingredient. Always the way.
Clearly, however, this recipe and I were meant to be. Just like Nigel and I... (not really, but you know what I mean). I reached for the demerara sugar jar and was nervous. The jar was pretty empty. I weighed it out and blow me down if I didn't have exactly the right amount. Not a gram out. Not even one little crystal of sugar out. Amazing. Destiny, I say.
The recipe works a dream. Pure lemony perfection. Best of all, it keeps well (if you can resist). In fact, better than that, it actually improves after a day of two wrapped in foil. The only bit I'd improve on next time is the length of time I simmered the lemon slices with sugar and water. Mine were a touch on the tart side.
Lemon, almond and demerara cake
From Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. If you don't have it, I insist you buy it.
For the cake itself:
200g demerara sugar
90g plain flour
90g ground almonds
half teaspoon baking powder
1 large lemon
4 large eggs
For the pretty topping:
2 tbsp demerara sugar
4 tbsp water
For the gorgeous syrup that you pour over the top:
2 tbsp demerara sugar
the juice of 1 large lemon
1. Pre-heat oven to 160C. Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper. I just used one piece to line the two long sides and bottom and buttered the short ends.
2. Make the topping: slice the lemon thinly and put into a saucepan with the 2 tbsp sugar and water. Bring to boil and simmer for around 5 minutes until most of water have evaporated and the lemons are lovely and sticky. Pop to one side.
3. Make the cake: cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix flour with almonds, baking powder and zest of the lemon. Set aside.
4. Beat eggs lightly and add to creamed butter and sugar. It will curdle a little but fear not - it comes good in the end! Gently fold in the flour and almonds by hand with a large metal spoon.
5. Pour and scrape cake mixture into the prepared tin and lay the lemon slices on top, overlapping. Bake for approx 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.
6. Whilst cake is baking, prepare the syrup: stir sugar into lemon juice and stir until partially dissolved. Spike top of warm cake and spoon over lemon and sugar. Leave to cool in tin and then wrap in foil.