Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The recovery cake


Oh dear.

There's hardly a point denying it. I disappeared for a while. But rest assured you didn't miss much. I didn't cook over this prolonged absence and, to be truthful, hardly did much of anything else. The Neapolitan, bless him, took to Marks & Spencer prepared meals pretty well, making me doubt, in my darkest moments, the point of ever bothering to put anything on the stove that didn't come neatly packaged in a throw-away baking tray and non-recyclable plastic film.

So we ate cod in a crust of parmesan cheese and herbs, thai fish cakes with a ginger dressing, pork medaillons in their apple and sage sauce. It took very limited energy. Crack open the oven door, set the timer, crawl back to the sofa for a 15-minute snooze. You're done. A revelation. I started to understand why many of us no longer bother pretending to peal vegetables. Take those lovely, exotic thai fish cakes: I feel exhausted just thinking about shopping for the ingredients. Anyway, all I wanted to say is, M&S lovers out there, I get it now.

But guess what? The M&S near me is small. After a couple of weeks, we had eaten pretty much every single dish on offer a couple of times. I started to fear for the health of my marriage. The Neapolitan bit his tongue. I want to say it here for the record. Not a complaint was heard; not a sigh let out as I served him microwaved mushroom chicken soup for the fifth time in a month. Then, one Sunday morning, just as I was mulling making my way to a bigger M&S a couple of bus stops away, I walked into my kitchen and a miracle happened: I thought I could just about handle making a plate of linguine alla carbonara. And I did too, with a good grinding of black pepper and plenty of chili heat in the sauce, the way the Neapolitan likes it.

That, my friends, was a ray of light, the first sign of recovery.

Still, I didn't bake. Then this weekend we had dinner with friends, one of whom has turned vegetarian over the past year. We joked, we drank, we munched on chestnut and sweet potato cake, fake bangers and mash and a tiny tortilla stuffed with veggies. Then came dessert, always the main part of the meal for me. The Neapolitan and I shared an apple cinnamon crumble with some custard on the side. Now, I can be virtuous all you want at the start of a meal, but when it comes to dessert, I refuse to compromise. That puffy, brown crumble looked cute in its little ribbed porcelain dish, but it didn't cut it. It was dry, it was lumpy, it wasn't sweet nor crunchy enough. It had NO BUTTER. I didn't finish it. Did you hear that? Let me say it again. I didn't finish it. 

So on Monday night I baked. My inspiration was a ricotta pie my vegetarian friend makes every week. She likes to eat it for breakfast because it isn't too sweet and keeps well for a couple of days. I vaguely remembered her mumbling something about flour, ricotta and sugar over wine. Nothing else to do. As in the crumble, there was no butter, but in that case, it seemed natural.

Back in my kitchen I started having doubts. Shouldn't I put some eggs in? And how about something for flavour? Perhaps some lemon would work...oooooh I know, if I use lemon zest, I could then replace some of the flour with almond powder. 

So here it is. The recovery ricotta cake. It's nothing much but it's quick, simple and delicious. It won't give you headaches, it won't make you stressed. Think of it as a sun salutation: the warm-up before we can move on to bigger things.

125g flour
One sachet of fast-acting yeast
125g almond powder
250g ricotta
3 eggs
1 organic lemon 

Beat the eggs and the sugar together until foamy. Add the ricotta and then the almond powder, the flour and the yeast. Throw in the lemon zest and the juice of half a lemon to thin the mixture. Pop in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes. Let it cool for 15 minutes before you try to turn it.

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