I am at present sitting in its spacious tea-room, oak-panelled, with enough tables to accommodate, I would guess, two dozen people without a feeling of crowding. Two cheery young girls serve from behind a counter displaying a good selection of cakes and pastries. All in all, this is an excellent place to partake of morning tea, but surprisingly few of the inhabitants of Taunton seem to wish to avail themselves of it.
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
My favourite thing to do while cooking (or taking a very long bath) is to continue working my way through the Desert Island Discs archive. If you're not aware of the programme, it asks its guests to list the eight 'tracks' they would take with them if marooned on a desert island. Kirsty Young, the current host, then speaks to them about their life, their career and their music choices. There are some real gems on the archive - episodes I could listen to over and over.
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know I'm also a big fan of Nigel Slater, whose books are forever in use in my house. His interview on Desert Island Discs also sees him being prompted for his desert island dish - and his choice of coffee and walnut cake and a cup of tea is one I tip my hat to. It's not necessarily what I'd choose (that would perhaps be something more akin to the meal I describe in this post), but there are few cakes more comforting than a classic coffee and walnut. After listening to the episode, it stayed in my mind; I hadn't made one in ages and decided I had to find a use for it on this blog. Happily, while reading The Remains of the Day for book club last month, I immediately felt that this cake would be very much at home in the tea-room Stevens visits in mid-century Somerset. In a nod to the coffee and walnut master, I've adapted Nigel Slater's recipe below.
ps. If you're new to Desert Island Discs, do yourself a favour in the next couple of weeks and listen to their Christmas special. It's a real treat.
Coffee and Walnut Cake
175g golden caster sugar
65g finely chopped walnuts
2tsp baking powder
2tsp instant coffee granules*
500g icing sugar
2tsp instant coffee granules*
50g finely chopped walnuts
*I'm a horrible coffee snob, so feel a little funny suggesting you buy some instant coffee. However, it's absolutely right here - I tested this against one flavoured with a proper espresso, and the flavour of the instant coffee in the cake came out on top.
Two 20cm sandwich tins
Electric hand whisk
Small mixing bowl
1. Ensure all ingredients are at room temperature, and preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the sandwich tins with butter and line the bases with greaseproof paper.
2. Beat the butter and sugar until very fluffy and nearly white in colour (it takes longer than you think, especially as you've started with golden sugar, but is worth it for the lightness of the sponge). Add the eggs on at a time, beating well between each addition. Sieve the flour and baking powder into the mixture and fold through. Add one tablespoon of boiling water to the coffee granules, then fold through the mixture, along with the walnuts.
3. Split the batter evenly between the tins, smooth the tops, then bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until a cake inserted in the centre comes out clean.
4. While the cakes are baking, beat the butter for the icing until smooth, fold the icing sugar through the butter (to prevent it going everywhere in your kitchen - which it will do if you just pour it in), then beat together until fluffy. Add a tablespoon of boiling water to the coffee granules, dissolve the coffee, then beat it into the icing. Place a third of the icing in a separate bowl, and fold the walnut pieces through it.
5. When the cakes are baked, remove from the oven and allow them to cool in their tins for five minutes, before transferring them to the cooling rack.
6. Once cool, place one of the cakes on a serving plate and top with the walnut-laced icing. Place the second cake on top and ice the top and sides with the non-walnut icing - I prefer leaving the base of the cake exposed, as you can see above. Serve in large slices with a cup of tea.