A long time ago I had an idea that when our children left home I would give them a recipe book with all their favourite meals in. Like many parenting resolutions, that one didn’t work out too well (I lost heart when the few I had written up fell victim to a computer that erased my hard drive.)
Still, better late than never but this time I’ll write them out here, away from bolshy hard drives and in a place where others might enjoy them too. It’ll be an occasional series of ‘inheritance recipes’, those meals that became a regular feature of our life together while we were all growing up and that perhaps they will want to pass on to their families in the future.
The first is the one that always says to me that Christmas has arrived in our home. The kitchen fills with warm, citrusy aromas that gradually waft up the stairs, heightening the sense of anticipation as the Big Day gets nearer.
It’s Nigella Lawson’s clementine cake and I’ve been making it every year for more than a decade. Like many of our family’s favourite recipes, it comes from her first cookbook How to Eat. Published before Lawson was regularly on television, the book is full of dishes that you want to make again and again, and that actually work in the context of your everyday life.
I regret the one-dimensional portrayal of Lawson that has developed since she became a TV star. I actually bought How to Eat all those years ago because I was intrigued to find out what kind of recipes a Booker prize judge would write (she was on the panel in 1998).
I wasn’t disappointed. I love the way this book is written. It’s intelligent but down to earth, competent but not threateningly so. The language is as enjoyable as the food. ‘Purple-sprouting broccoli is avoided by those who think that good food has to be fancy,’ she writes. ‘Clearly they don’t deserve it.’
Of a baked custard she says: ‘When you eat it, it should be just warm, soft and voluptuous, like an eighteenth-century courtesan’s inner thigh; you don’t want something bouncy and jellied.’ I do wonder whether this one sentence sowed the seeds for the way most people seem to think of her now, but in context it is a brilliant description that conveys exactly what the cook should be aiming for.
Like a lot of Lawson’s recipes, the clementine cake is expensive both in terms of the ingredients and the length of cooking time. Foodbanks and hunger have, rightly, been in the news almost daily for the past week and I hesitated before I cooked it this year.
But to my mind some occasional feasting is an important part of what it means to be human and in the end I decided that something that is so resonant for our family, not to mention delicious and easy, should continue to be part of the way we celebrate Christmas.
So here goes, kids: inheritance recipe #1
Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake
From How To Eat (Chatto and Windus, 1999)
4-5 clementines (about 375g weight in total)
250g ground almonds
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
Boil the clementines in plenty of water for two hours. (Put the lid on the pan: the year that I didn’t, it boiled dry and I spent a couple of hours on Christmas Eve trying to remove caramelised clementine from the base of a very expensive pan your great-uncle Lyn gave us as a wedding present.)
Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Pulp the whole lot, including the skins and pith, in a food processor. (Apparently you can do this by hand but get a food processor if you can afford it: it’s the one kitchen gadget I wouldn’t be without.)
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees C. Butter and line a 21cm Springform tin.
Beat the eggs, then add sugar, almonds and baking powder. Mix well, adding the pulped oranges. Here’s a good Nigella sentence: ‘I don’t like using the processor for this, and frankly, you can’t baulk at a little light stirring.’ Hear, hear.
Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour. A skewer should come out clean. After about 40 minutes, rest a piece of foil or greaseproof paper on the top of the tin or the cake may burn. Cool in the tin.