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2019-10-21 14:26:01

The other day I opened a book to find a sentence, and a bit of paper fell out. As the square piece of block pad glided to the floor like a dead moth, I recognised it as a recipe for a ring cake written out for me not long after coming to Italy, about 14 years ago. I remember making the recipe several times, before using it as a bookmark that was left at page 76. What I don’t remember or recognise is whose neat writing it is.

My memory lapse is frustrating. Sharing a recipe is an open-handed act, one made even more tangible if the person sharing has taken the time physically to write it out, maybe with notes, which is a small labour in these copy-and-photograph times.

Even if the recipe given is never made, I want to remember where the Post-It lemon pudding or back-of-envelope braised chicken came from. And if the recipe becomes part of my cooking life, it is no different from a recipe from a book or famous chef: it absolutely must have that person attached to it, like a name tag sewn into a collar. Then, every time the recipe is made, the person and your relationship to them, whatever it was, is remembered. Even if it means you have to relive a tired exchange about authenticity, or be reminded that Mario subsequently left his wife for his secretary, recipes have names: Mario’s red-wine risotto; my elegant neighbour Vera’s creme caramel; Lise from Bavaria’s liver and apple.

Shared name-tagged recipes are also a way of marking time. Years ago, I organised my mum’s loose recipes, gluing the loose-leaf pages and lips of envelopes into a book and noting where and who they came from. The book is now a sort of collective biography of our family – a strained one.

Freda Coleman was a neighbour in the late 1970s, and her marmalade cake marks the margarine years. It was, and is, an ideal cake for a family with congenital marmalade dependency: a rich pound batter into which you stir orange marmalade, which bakes into a bitter-sweet cake. The icing is as good as the cake, which you zig- zag over the top where it then sets into a hard lattice that can be pulled off, although hopefully not from the entire cake as once happened.

Part of the pleasure of a cake is the smell as it bakes: marmalade bakes into an almost toffee-like sweetness, and hopefully a bit of peel at the bottom of the cake catches and the smell of that, like dark treacle, assaults your senses.

Recipes are only recipes, but they can become fixed points in our lives around which other things move: with them, we can measure time, places, people. Freda’s cake – now our family cake – is one such recipe. If I could only remember the name of the person who gave me the recipe that fell out of the book, that would have a name tag too. Until then, it is just a ring cake. Both cakes are good, but the marmalade triumphs for its amber chunks of peel and icing which, because cake is 50% pleasure, 50% habit, I still want to pull off before eating a slice.

This is a cake of four equal parts, plus marmalade (thick-cut or thin, you decide). It is a preference based on habit, but a loaf tin (lined with parchment) seems the best tin for this cake.

Prep 10 minCook 40 minMakes 1 loaf

110g margarine or butter, at room temp110g sugar2 medium eggs110g self-raising flour4 heaped tbsp marmalade50g icing sugarHot water

Beat together the butter and sugar until soft and creamy. Beat in the eggs, followed by the flour, before stirring in three tablespoons of marmalade.

Scape the mixture into a loaf tin lined with parchment. Bake at 170C (150C)/335F/gas 3 for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is puffed up and cracked, and a strand of spaghetti comes out clean.

Leave to cool for 30 minutes, then lift the cake from the tin.

To make the glaze, loosen the remaining tablespoon of marmalade with a little hot water, then brush the cake.

Make a thick icing by mixing the icing sugar with just a little water, and zig-zag it over the cake, letting it dribble down the sides.


theguardian.com @racheleats
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