Almost eight years ago, at the age of twenty-nine-and-a-half, I swapped a love affair with cigarettes - sucked back with such delight, such seriousness - for a less-labored daily climb to my second-floor home. By the light of a flickering television, I knitted, furiously, a length of scarf not unlike Tom Baker’s Dr Who might sport, to wrap around and around and around. To hide within. As it lengthened, the stitches became calmer, looser, found a rhythm of their own. Six months later I emerged, smoke-free.
The Artist, rather fortuitously, turned up at roughly the same time. At thirty, an astonishingly gifted astrologer lunged for the polished chunk of rose quartz I wore around my neck, cooed and held it in his palm. I felt it almost burning as it fell back into place. ‘He must be dynamic, this fellow’, his tape recorded voice declares, ‘to have captured the eye of a Leonine woman’. He was. He is. I have listened to that recording of my younger self, chattering away merrily with the astrologer, many times since. In between the giggling, I hear forgotten hurts and a voice teetering, at times, dangerously close to tears. Des read me like a book. And I’m thrilled, each time, that he did.
So we sensibly drank the champagne in front of the fire instead.
I’ll stow the idea away for Christmas, perhaps, for warmer weather and other celebratory nights. Simplicity wins out every time. Besides, I know, somehow, you’d much rather this Apple and Olive Oil cake, adapted from that marvellous, wonderful, beautiful Anna Del Conte. In fact, I think you should down tools and go and make it right now. Think of it as my birthday gift to you.
Anna Del Conte’s Apple and Olive Oil Cake
The thing that irritates me most about baking is the butter. I have little patience with it anyway, but waiting for butter to soften drives me nuts-o in winter. This moist, delicious cake uses olive oil not as substitute, but in preference to the stuff. I mean, how clever is that?
120g (4 oz) of sultanas
Freshly brewed tea
500g (1 lb) of apples – about 5 small ones
150ml (scant 2/3 cup) of olive oil
200g (7oz) sugar
2 organic eggs
175g (6 oz) of wholemeal (wholewheat) flour
175g (6 oz) of ‘strong’, Italian ‘00’ flour
2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons of bi-carb soda
½ teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of sea salt
Soak the sultanas in enough tea to cover. Set aside to plump for 20 minutes. Peel and core the apples and cut each into small dice.
Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Grease and line a 20cm (8 in) springform cake tin.
Beat the oil and sugar together until well amalgamated. Break the eggs into a teacup and add them, bit by bit, beating all the time. You’ll end up with a creamy mixture. Set a sieve over the bowl and sift in the flour, cinnamon, bi-carb soda, baking powder and salt.
Mix to a stiff batter with a metal spoon – I cannot claim to understand the reasoning behind this, but do so as it is often suggested. You don’t want to go upsetting the baking gods. Drain the sultanas well. Fold through the mixture with the diced apple. This is a very stiff mixture and will be visibly studded with fruit.
Scrape into the prepared cake tin, smooth down the top and bake for at least 1 hour – mine took 1 hour and 20 minutes and needed to be topped with foil halfway through to prevent it from burning. Watch it closely and check for doneness with a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake. If it comes away cleanly, your cake is done.
I’m completely besotted.
Oh I do love a good birthday.