She dressed quickly and ran on deck to find nothing very much happening. All the stores had been unloaded, sledges and dog teams had been hired and were waiting to go; everything was ready and nothing was moving. Most of the gyptians were sitting in a smoke-filled cafe facing the water, eating spice cakes and drinking strong sweet coffee at the long wooden tables under the fizz and crackle of some ancient anbaric lights.
Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
I've waxed lyrical about Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy on the blog before. The Northern Lights is the first in the series, and begins in an alternative universe Oxford, one that, while still a university city, has a very different feel from the one I'm a little more familiar with. After living amongst Oxford academics all her short life, twelve year old Lyra Belacqua embarks on an adventure that takes her all the way to the Arctic. In contrast to the stuffy formality of her upbringing (which she rebels against whenever possible) the gyptians imbue her dangerous journey with a familial warmth that I have tried to capture in the recipe above.
An admission? I've actually had this recipe up my sleeve for a little while. I cooked it one night back in May in response to a request from my friend Sophie - she wanted something from her favourite book when we had dinner one Saturday night. However, the weather changed almost immediately following that evening, and the recipe felt inappropriate to share on the long summer evenings. However, we're now moving further into my favourite season, and this week's rain, shortening days and cooler weather have finally demanded its appearance on the blog. I have no doubt I'll be making it again soon... and I'd love to know if you do the same.
125g honey (infused with 3 crushed cardamom pods for a couple of minutes on the heat, then sieved)
100g dark brown sugar
1/2tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2tsp ground clove
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground mace
1/2tsp ground ginger
150g butter (cold, in cubes)
Zest of one orange
200g preserved ginger (cut into small cubes)
175g rye flour
3/4tsp baking powder
60g icing sugar
Zest of one orange
20cm loose-bottomed tin
1. Line the base and sides of your baking tin with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 160C.
2. Warm the honey, treacle, sugar and all the spices in the saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Leave to cool to room temperature.
3. Once cooled, beat in the eggs, lemon zest and preserved ginger. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then pour the liquid over the top and fold in well with a spatula. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
4. Bake the cake in the oven for one hour. A skewer inserted in the middle will have a couple of crumbs sticking to it once the cake is done, but no liquid. Cool the cake in the tin for ten minutes.
5. While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Warm the honey in the pan, then beat in the zest, milk and icing sugar with the wooden spoon until smooth. Brush the glaze over the cake (while the cake is still in the tin), then remove the paper when the cake is cool. Serve with strong black coffee on cold nights.