It’s a cinch to find a recipe for any mood or whim these days.
A quick Google for ‘veal saltimbocca recipe’ will come up with pages of possibilities.
There will be plenty to choose from in your inbox too, thanks to all those unread foodie newsletter subscriptions.
Then there’s that pile of food magazines sitting on your kitchen table. You know, the ones you bought at the supermarket while grocery shopping after work with a massive sugar low and a grumbly tummy. You were seduced by their front covers, which you were almost prepared to tear off and eat at the time. At home, you marked the must make kitchen-tested recipe pages with post-it notes and then flung the magazines onto the pile where they have been gently gathering dust for the past six months.
Don’t forget the series of Jamie Oliver cookbooks you procured when you went through that 30 minute dinner phase under the false impression that the average home cook like you could actually prepare a three-course dinner from start to finish in half an hour. Seriously?
But, if you’re blessed, you may have inherited a handwritten collection of recipes from a significant cook in your family. With methods for making Coronation Salad, Devilled Eggs and Sponge Cake with Jam – what a treat to have one of those personalised cook books in your possession!
Flipping through my own personalised cookbook the other day, which is a humble plastic pocket folder of hand scratched recipes, magazine clippings and email print outs, I came across a treasure.
It was the recipe for Hazel’s Armenian Nutmeg Cake.
I vividly recall the first time I tried this cake. All the families from the street were gathered in the next-door neighbours’ camellia lined courtyard for an old fashioned afternoon tea. The champagne and beers were flowing. The kids were playing games on the front lawn and the adults were catching up on each other’s news. It was the perfect way to spend the last part of any weekend.
Afternoon tea was served and someone handed me a piece of simple looking cake decorated with walnuts and plated up with some hand whipped vanilla cream. Taking my first forkful, the flavour was anything but simple.
“I must have the recipe for this one!” I verbalised to practically the entire street, waiting for the owner to come forward with an offer.
There was silence.
A neighbourly friend next to me whispered in my ear: “Meet me in the kitchen,” and made a subtle head nod in the general direction followed by swift exit. Intrigued, I followed.
From the top shelf of the family bookcase she took down her collection of personalised cookbook recipes, flipped to the wanted section, and hurriedly scratched out a copy of Hazel’s Armenian Nutmeg Cake on a scrap of paper. She handed it to me, stressing that it was not for general consumption. It turns out that Hazel had only shared the recipe with a few dear friends and that those friends had chosen to respect her wishes and re-shared it with a chosen few. I had made the grade. I have to admit that the exchange felt a bit clandestine – as if I should store the recipe in my photographic memory and then eat it – literally!
Hazel sadly died two weeks ago.
I never actually found out why there was a reluctance to share her Armenian Nutmeg Cake recipe as it’s one of the most delicious teacakes you will taste – all brown sugar and nutmeg with a biscuity crust that’s best served warm. However, that clandestine scrap of a recipe is a treasured memory to me of a true lady who could damn well cook. Plus she was a goddess of style!
Thanks for a loan of your recipe, dear lady. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it with some close friends …
Hazel’s Armenian Nutmeg Cake
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups plain flour, sifted
125g butter, chopped and brought to room temperature
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
big handful of walnuts
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Line a 23cm cake tin with baking paper.
Combine the brown sugar, baking powder and sifted flour in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Have patience!
Place half of the crumb mixture in the base of the cake tin; pressing down firmly to create an even surface.
In another mixing bowl, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the milk, then add the beaten egg and nutmeg and mix well until combined.
Slowly add the remaining crumb mixture to the liquid mixture and combine well.
Gently pour this batter into the tin on top of the crumb base.
Sprinkle with the walnuts.
Bake for 50 – 60 minutes.
Stand in tin for 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream.