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For some reason I always feel that - apart from the big baking build up to a traditional Christmas - March is the month when the gentle rituals of baking really come into their own. While bright and brave, with its cheery bulbs in flower, it can be a harsh month and the idea of spending hours creating delicious bakes in a cosy kitchen seems very appealing.
There are special occasions, too, at this time of year that are especially suited to tea time treats - Mother’s Day, for example, which was originally Mothering Sunday and celebrated with a cake made by young servant girls in big houses, who were allowed to go home for the day and bring a cake to contribute to their family get together.
All that may be news to many today, but it has far more relevance than our commercial modern alternative - something well worth remembering and celebrating with a really good cake. So what could be better than one that is regularly made at Ballymaloe House, home to the mother of our renewed confidence in Irish food and cooking, Myrtle Allen? We’ll raise an appreciative tea cup to that.
RECIPE: Ballymaloe Lemon Cake
The gentle ritual of Afternoon Tea is a relaxing interlude in the day for guests at Ballymaloe House, who are treated to a choice of wonderful cakes and bakes created by talented pastry chef, JR Ryall. This recipe is used at least once a week in the pastry kitchen at Ballymaloe, where they say simply that “It is best enjoyed with a cup of tea in the afternoon.” It would make a lovely treat for Mother’s Day or Easter.
8 oz/ 225g caster sugar
8 oz/225g butter (room temperature
4 large eggs
8oz/225g plain white flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
2oz/55g butter (room temperature)
4oz/110g icing sugar
zest 1 lemon
1 tablespoon/15ml lemon juice
3 tablespoon/45ml lemon curd
6oz/170g icing sugar
7 inch/18cm round cake tin x 3 inch/7.5cm deep
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Line the base of the cake tin with non stick baking parchment or a spare butter wrapper and brush the sides of the tin with melted butter and dust with flour.
Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and light in texture. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and gradually add to the creamed butter and sugar, bit by bit, mixing well between each addition.
Sieve the flour with the baking powder. Gradually and gently fold the flour into the cake mixture until the mixture is an even consistency. Transfer the mixture into the cake tin and smooth over the surface with a palate knife.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and when cool carefully cut the cake in half.
To make the butter icing, cream the butter, sieved icing sugar, lemon zest and juice together until pale and light in texture. Spread on top of the bottom half of the cake. Neatly spread the lemon curd on top of the butter icing before sandwiching with the top half of the cake.
To make the glacé icing sieve the icing sugar into a small bowl and add enough lemon juice to make a thick smooth icing and spread it over the top of the cake using a palate knife, allowing any excess to dribble down the sides.
Decorate with crystallised lemon verbena leaves and rose petals.