Delia’s coffee and walnut sponge, Ottolenghi’s fig, yougurt and almond cake, and other baking classics selected by Observer Food Monthly
Serve this on its own, with a cup of tea, but do also make a fully fledged dessert dish with the figgy accompaniment – it doesn’t take much extra effort.
Serves 8 -10
unsalted butter 200g
caster sugar 200g, plus 1 tsp extra
free-range eggs 3 large
ground almonds 180g
plain flour 100g
salt ½ tsp
vanilla pod scraped seeds of ½
star anise 1 tsp, ground
Greek yogurt 100g
For the extra figs
caster sugar 3 tbsp
red wine 6 tbsp
figs 6 ripe, quartered
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Line the bottom and sides of a 24cm loose-based cake tin with baking parchment. Put the butter and sugar in an electric mixer bowl, and use a beater to work them well until they turn light and pale. Beat the eggs lightly, then, with the machine on medium speed, add them gradually to the bowl, just a dribble at a time, adding more only once the previous addition is fully incorporated. Once all the egg is in, mix together the almonds, flour, salt, vanilla and anise, and fold into the batter. Mix until the batter is smooth, then fold in the yogurt.
Pour the batter into the lined tin and level roughly with a palette knife or a spoon. Cut each fig vertically into four long wedges, and arrange in circles on top of the cake, just slightly immersed in the batter. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 170C/gas mark 3 and continue baking until it sets – about 40-45 minutes longer. Check this by inserting a skewer in the cake: it’s done if it comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool down before taking it out of the tin and sprinkling with a teaspoon of caster sugar.
You can eat the cake just as it is, but the addition of warm, syrupy figs turns it into something very special. Once the cake is cool enough, divide it into portions. Put three tablespoons of caster sugar in a medium saucepan and put on a high heat until the sugar starts to caramelise. Remove from the heat, carefully add the wine – it will spit a bit – then return to the heat and let the caramel dissolve in the wine. Add the fig quarters and quickly toss them around just to warm them up. Spoon a generous dollop of Greek yogurt over each slice of cake, plus a few warm figs and their juice.
Yotam Ottolenghi is a restaurateur and food writer
This sticky, date-sweetened cake is ridiculously moist. Adding a bourbon-spiked toffee sauce and a scoop of ginger gelato pushes it right over the top. It’s impossible not to like this combination.
For the date cake
Khadrawy dates 455g, pitted, or another type of fresh soft date
baking soda 2 tsp
very hot water 550ml
vanilla pod 1, halved lengthwise
granulated sugar 300g
egg 1, plus 1 egg yolk
plain flour 270g
baking powder 2 tsp
For the whiskey sauce
unsalted butter 70g
dark brown sugar 400g
double cream 240ml
bourbon 2½ tbsp
For the ginger gelato (makes about 480ml)
vanilla pod ¼, halved lengthwise
whole milk 120ml
double cream 240ml
fresh ginger 130g piece, peeled and sliced 6mm thick
sea salt a pinch
egg 1, plus 1 egg yolk
buttermilk creme fraiche 120ml (see below)
honey 2 tbsp
For the buttermilk creme fraiche (makes 960ml)
double cream 960ml
buttermilk 1 tbsp
To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Butter a 25cm x 35cm glass or metal baking dish or pan.
In a small bowl, combine the dates and baking soda. Pour the hot water over the dates and mix with a fork until they have mostly dissolved and are pulpy, about 5 minutes.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, egg and egg yolk until the mixture is pale yellow and falls in smooth ribbons when lifted with a spoon. Stir in the date mixture, incorporating it completely.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Gently fold the flour into the date mixture until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Leave the cake in the pan for about 40 minutes before serving.
To make the whiskey sauce, in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, gradually add the cream, pouring in a steady stream while whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the bourbon.
Pierce the cake all over 12 to 20 times with a butter knife or a skewer. Pour half of the sauce over the top of the cake, guiding it into these holes, and set aside the rest. (The cake can be stored at room temperature in the baking dish, covered with cling film, for 1 day and in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring back to room temperature before serving.)
To make the buttermilk creme fraiche for the gelato, in a 1 litre jar, combine the cream and buttermilk. Partially cover and let stand in a warm spot (about 28C) until the cream tastes slightly sour and has thickened to a pudding like consistency, 24 hours to 3 days.
To make the gelato, scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into a small saucepan. Add the pod, milk, cream, ginger and salt. Stir over medium-high heat until steaming and bubbles begin to form around the edges. Turn off the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk and sugar until the mixture is pale yellow and falls in smooth ribbons when lifted with a spoon. Transfer to a large liquid measuring cup or jug, and set a fine-mesh sieve over the top.
Discard the bean pod. Pour the warm milk-ginger mixture into a blender and puree on high speed until smooth, about 10 seconds. Pour the mixture through the fine-mesh sieve into the liquid measuring cup. Gradually pour the strained milk-ginger mixture into the egg base, whisking constantly. Whisk in 120ml of the creme fraiche (the rest can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks) and the honey.
Refrigerate the mixture for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions until frozen. It can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
Cut the cake into squares and drizzle with the remaining whiskey sauce. Serve on dessert plates, accompanied by scoops of gelato.
From Gjelina: California Cooking from Venice Beach by Travis Lett (Chronicle Books, £21.99). Click here to order a copy from Guardian Bookshop for £18.30
This is a revised, more contemporary, version of one of the original sponge cakes in Delia’s Book of Cakes. I am still very fond of it and have continued to make it regularly over the years. Now, though, since the advent of mascarpone, the icing is a great improvement.
self-raising flour 115g
baking powder 1 level tsp
spreadable butter 115g
eggs 2 large
golden caster sugar 115g
instant espresso coffee powder 1 rounded tbsp
walnuts 50g, very finely chopped
For the filling and topping:
instant espresso coffee powder 1 rounded dsp
golden caster sugar 1 tbsp
milk 1-2 tbsp
walnut halves 8
Lightly butter and line the bases of two 18cm x 4cm sponge tins. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3.
Start off by sifting the flour and baking powder into a roomy mixing bowl, holding the sieve quite high to give the flour a good airing as it goes down, then add the butter, eggs, caster sugar and coffee powder. Now, using an electric hand whisk, mix to a smooth, creamy consistency for about 1 minute. After that take a tablespoon and fold the chopped nuts into the mixture.
Next, divide the mixture between the two prepared tins, level off using the back of a tablespoon and bake near the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes. The sponges are cooked when you press lightly with your little finger and the centre springs back. Remove them from the oven and after about 30 seconds loosen the edges by sliding a palette knife all round then turn them out onto a wire cooling tray. Now carefully peel back the lining by gently pulling it back. Then lightly place a second cooling tray on top and just flip them both over so that the tops are facing upwards (this is to prevent them sticking to the cooling tray).
While the cakes are cooling, make up the filling: in a small bowl combine the mascarpone, coffee powder and caster sugar with 1 tablespoon of milk – what you need is a smooth spreadable consistency. As some mascarpones are wetter than others it’s impossible to be precise, but add a bit more milk if you think it needs it.
When the cakes are cold, spread half the filling over one, sandwich them together, then spread the rest over the top using a palette knife and making a swirling pattern. Then finish off by placing the walnuts in a circle near to the edge. Store in a polythene box in the fridge.
From Delia’s Cakes by Delia Smith (Hodder & Stoughton, £25). Click here to order a copy from Guardian Bookshop for £20.50
This makes a 24cm cake because I think it looks amazing as a large cake, but if you want, halve the recipe (and the baking time) and bake in 6 muffin tins. It is a good one for the dead of winter. The lemon rounds glow in saffron like little suns, lighting up your palate with their bright flavour.
For the syrup and topping
lemons 2, really thinly sliced
water enough to cover the lemon slices x 2, plus 400ml
caster sugar 250g
turmeric a pinch
saffron a pinch
For the cake
caster sugar 270g
ground almonds 200g
turmeric a pinch
plain flour 2 tbsp
lemon 1, juice and zest
salt a pinch
baking powder ½ tsp
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 24cm diameter cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Place the lemon slices for the syrup and topping in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a high heat. Drain the slices, re-cover with water and bring to the boil again. Drain for a second time (by now all the bitterness should be gone), then cover with 400ml of fresh water. Add the sugar, turmeric and saffron and bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the peel is soft and the syrup has thickened. Remove from the heat.
Use a fork to lift the slices of lemon out of the syrup and layer them, just slightly overlapping, all over the base and a little way up the sides of the lined baking tin; the sugar will help them to stick in place. Pour over 2 tablespoons of the syrup and reserve the rest for later.
For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer, or with a wide spoon in a bowl, until they are well combined but not fluffy, as you do not want to aerate the mixture. Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice and zest, salt and baking powder. Mix well and pour into the cake tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes, then turn the cake around to ensure that it bakes evenly and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. The cake should be golden and firm. Remove from the oven and pour over all the remaining syrup to soak in. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out.
The cake needs to be turned on its head to serve, so place a plate on top of the tin and flip it over so the bottom-side is uppermost. Gently remove the tin and the paper. Now, turn off the lights and watch it glow.
From Honey & Co: Food From the Middle East by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich (Saltyard Books, £25). Click here to order a copy from Guardian Bookshop for £20.50
The Violet Bakery ginger cake is made with freshly grated ginger, cloves, earthy molasses and cinnamon. I love the taste of cloves but only when you can barely detect it, as a subtle supporting act. This cake is simple but the order of things is crucial for it to turn out correctly.
Makes one 23cm cake or two 15cm cakes, serving 8-10
For the sponge
fresh ginger 150g
plain flour 300g
ground cinnamon ¾ tsp
ground cloves ¼ tsp
vegetable oil 200g
boiling water 225g
bicarbonate of soda 2 tsp
butter for greasing the tin
For the lemon glaze
icing sugar 250g
fresh lemon juice 2-3 tsp
Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Butter a 23cm cake tin (or two 15cm sandwich tins) and line with parchment paper.
Peel and cut the ginger into 2mm slices. Blitz the ginger in a food processor and set aside.
In a bowl, weigh out the flour, cinnamon and cloves. Whisk to combine and set aside.
In a separate bowl, weigh out the sugar, oil and molasses and whisk well.
Pour the boiling water into a glass jug and stir in the bicarbonate of soda. Pour this into the sugar mixture and whisk well (the mixture should start to get foamy on top). Add the blitzed ginger and mix until evenly combined. Add the flour mixture, making sure you mix in the same direction (eg clockwise) the entire time. Don’t change direction or you will get flour lumps. Don’t overmix or the cake will be tough and dense.
Whisk the eggs in a separate, clean bowl and add to the cake batter until just combined. Pour into your prepared cake tin (or tins) and bake for about 1 hour, until an inserted skewer comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.
Whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth and drizzle over the top. This cake keeps well for up to 5 days in an airtight container.
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak (Square Peg, £20). Click here to order a copy from Guardian Bookshop for £16.40