"Well, I don't know if it was the wine or my own silliness or the warm air or the lemon tree, or whatever... But it gradually seemed to me that I'd made myself believe something that wasn't true. I'd made myself believe that I was fine and happy and fulfilled on my own without the love of anyone else... It was the taste of the sweet stuff that brought it back -- I think it was marzipan. Sweet almond paste," she explained to Lyra, who was looking confused. Lyra said, "Ah! Marchpane!" and settled back comfortably to hear what happened next. "Anyway," Mary went on. "I remembered the taste, and all at once I was back tasting it for the first time as a young girl."
The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman, Marzipan
If you haven't yet read Philip Pullman's brilliant His Dark Materials trilogy, do yourself a favour and pick them up immediately. The whole series is outstandingly beautiful - a true epic about faith, death, love and the universe. It also includes some of my favourite young characters in literature, Will and Lyra, who are complex, interesting, challenging, brave and wise beyond their years.
In this book, the third of the trilogy, Lyra and Will make the acquaintance of an ex-nun, Mary. Her memory of falling in love for the first time, just as she is doing so for the second, is triggered by the taste of the sweet almond, offered to her while she sits under a fragrant lemon tree. The almond and lemon are a perfect match, and (in a rather corny touch) I've added some heady thyme (time) to the mix. I think Mary would appreciate the memories this rich alternative to the classic lemon drizzle would evoke.
Lemon, Almond and Thyme Cake
175g caster sugar
5 unwaxed lemons
85g spelt flour
1tsp baking powder
90g ground almonds
Dash of milk
1.5tbsp finely chopped thyme
50g demerara sugar
300g icing sugar
18cm round loose-bottomed cake tin
2 mixing bowls
Electric hand whisk
1. Grease your cake tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together using the electric hand whisk until very light and creamy. Add the zest of two of the lemons, and then the eggs (one at a time) beating between each addition.
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and ground almonds into the batter, and fold in with the spatula. Fold in the chopped thyme. Add just enough milk so that you reach a consistency where the batter drops off the spatula back into the bowl.
4. Scrape the batter into the tin and bake for 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the cake come out dry (though possibly with a few crumbs clinging to it).
5. While the cake is baking, you can prepare your drizzle and icing. Juice two of your lemons and add the demerara sugar to the juice. Set aside and stir occasionally so that the sugar dissolves. For the icing, add the juice of the other three lemons to the sieved icing sugar and beat with the electric hand whisk until smooth.
6. Once the cake is baked, remove from the oven, poke the surface with the skewer about twenty times and pour the drizzle mixture over the top. Leave the cake in its tin to cool.
7. Once cool, transfer the cake to a serving plate, and spoon some of the icing over the top. Allow it to set a little before adding more; continue until all the icing is used up.