One of our favourite food blogs is Deb Perelman’s at Smitten Kitchen. Her tag is ‘fearless cooking from tiny kitchen in New York City’. It couldn’t get much further removed from our gaffs (a draughty, ancient hovel on the moors in my case and a chic, contemporary town house in Jill’s) but we love her take on pretty much everything, in particular cake. I’ve had a go at lots of her recipes – this was afters last Sunday. It’s easy, looks great, tastes brilliant. It’s pretty much a direct lift from her website. She’s married to a Russian, and it’s her mother-in-law’s take on the classic Apple Charlotte.
6 large tart apples, Bramleys or Granny Smiths
3 large eggs
200g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
Ground cinnamon and icing sugar, to finish
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Line a 9 inch springform tin with greased parchment. Peel, halve and core your apples then chop them into medium size chunks. Pile them into the tin. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until smooth, preferably with an electric whisk. Add the vanilla, then stir in the flour. The batter will be very thick. Pour it over the apples. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 mins then check it’s not burning. If it’s starting to brown, cover with a foil hat and resume cooking for another 15 or 20 mins. Check it’s cooked with a skewer – if it comes out clean, it’s done. Leave it in the tin for 10 mins, then remove and let it cool completely on a rack. Dust with the cinnamon and icing sugar. Best served warm with a dollop of crème fraiche. Or nibbled cold when you think no-one’s looking (Jill, I sussed you, you’ve got to get up earlier than that to catch me .. )
Author/publisher of the marvelous food quarterly Fire & Knives and all round good guy Tim Hayward has fled the metropolis with his family for the calmer waters of Cambridge; only a matter of weeks ago he re-launched the swiftly renovated city icon (est. 1922) Fitzbillies café and cake shop, preserving the elegant Art Nouveau façade, much to the relief of one Stephen Fry, who’s been tweeting his concern over its continuance.
Tim’s wife (and keen amateur baker) Alison Wright says they’ve had quite a lot of correspondence, electronically and otherwise from the old guard voicing fears about the future of the Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun, fondant frogs and chocolate mice; she’s happy to report they remain on the shelves. In fact nothing’s been taken away but a lot’s been added. There’s a cool café at one end with oak floors and exposed brickwork (discovered, complete with original wooden lintels after an over-enthusiastic whack with a lump hammer) furnished with one long table, so if you’re not keen on sharing your space, get over yourself. When we called in the other day stylish students tapping on iPads sat hugger-mugger with yummy mummies and gnarly profs sipping espressos.
In an airy dining area behind the shop with the kitchen in view, seasoned chef Rosie Sykes, who’s worked with some of the best (Shaun Hill, Alastair Little) moves hither and thither in a completely unruffled fashion producing plate after plate of good looking food. The menu borrows lightly from Fergus Henderson’s St John – uncomplicated, pared down and honest. Welsh rarebit it just that – no leaves, no chutney, just the beauteous thing on a plate (to the bafflement of one meticulously coiffured customer clearly expecting garnish). Crab pate, pickled cucumber, toast is a lesson in less is more, the pate fresh as a daisy, deep in flavour and nicely seasoned. Nutty, chunky bread is lightly toasted; it’s a triumph. Sausage roll with fruit ketchup catches my eye (as does 1938 beef pattie) but the duck ham, apple & geranium jelly wins. The jelly is delicately perfumed and proves a perfect adjunct to the preserved duck. There’s nothing on the lunch menu over nine quid, most things are around a fiver – phenomenal value.
And the Chelsea buns? Huge, sticky, mega-sweet and completely addictive. Calm down Stephen. Twitter ye not. All’s well on Trumpington Street.
Fitzbillies, 51-52 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RG T: 01223 352 500 www.fitzbillies.com