Tag Archives: fresh

Let Them Eat Cake

“Paris,” said Ernest Hemingway, “is a moveable feast.”  Today, July 14th and Bastille Day, is our daughter’s birthday which we always celebrate with something French, and always with red, white and blue flowers. When she was born we gave her the middle name of Marianne, the national emblem of France embodying Liberty and Reason. She of course has never forgiven us for giving her what she thinks is a naff middle name, but we were young and in love with Paris (still are). She lived in Paris for a while when she was  younger, and as Hemingway said, if you’re lucky enough to live there when you’re young, it stays with you forever. She still works sometimes in Paris, but the time when we traveled backwards and forwards to see her is long gone. Unfortunately!

                                                                        (picture from wikimedia commons)

Clarissa is fascinated by Marie Antoinette and the Revolution. Marie Antoinette never said ‘Let them eat cake,” nor did she say “let them eat brioche,” which was the actual phrase supposedly attributed to her by Rousseau. In the year of the Revolution bread was plentiful and cheap and not the reason for the Revolution.

Clarissa cheerfully admits to not being very good at cake-making, but when pushed she’ll produce a cake that tastes amazing but can sometimes look a bit haphazard.  We don’t eat much cake, even less chocolate cake (or chocolate!) but for today’s birthday celebrations she made a chocolate cake, one so rich it should carry a health-warning, death by chocolate indeed…

 A Cake for le quatorze juillet, and for Marianne.

This cake will be sufficient for 16 slim portions, I’d serve with small cups of black coffee and Serge Gainsbourg on the gramophone.


150 g plain chocolate, the best you can afford

6 eggs, separated

150 g caster sugar

150 g ground almonds

Grated zest of 1 orange

150 g unsalted butter, melted then allowed to cool

For the filling,

110 g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

2 tbs icing sugar, sifted

1 drop of almond essence

For the topping,

200 g plain chocolate

200 ml double cream

Some chocolate stars (optional), because my daughter is a star. You can find these in cake-making shops such as Cake Expectations.  You might find them in supermarkets.

Grease and flour a loose-bottomed cake tin, I used a tin 15 cm in diameter and 8 cm tall. You could use 2 shallower tins.

Heat your oven to 175 – 180 C, and meanwhile melt the chocolate in a bowl balanced over a saucepan of simmering water. Beat the egg yolks and sugar till the mixture is fluffy, then add the ground almonds and orange zest. Add the cooled melted butter and the melted chocolate to the mixture. Beat the egg whites in another bowl till they are stiff and in peaks, then fold into the chocolate mixture. Do this gently till everything is well combined. Then pile the mixture into the cake tin.

Place on a baking sheet and put into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes if you’re using 2 shallow tins, or 45 minutes if a single deeper tin. You can test for done-ness by piercing with a skewer, if it comes out clean the cake is cooked.Remove from the oven and cool still in the tin on a rack. The cake will have risen soufflé-like, but will collapse back as it cools because there is no flour in the ingredients.

While it cools make the filling by mixing the softened butter and the sifted icing sugar till smooth, then adding a drop of almond essence. When the cake is cooled, remove from the tin and slice in half so you have 2 cakes. You won’t have to do this if you used 2 shallow tins. Spread the filling onto one half and cover with the other half. Now make the topping by melting the chocolate as before in a bowl over simmering water, and when it is soft stir in the cream till everything is smooth and glossy. Swirl the icing over the cake with a palette knife, I added chocolate stars and red white and blue flowers from my garden.  Vive la Révolution!


©2011 David Porter

When Did You Last See A Bloater?

Last week a magazine asked me to go to Sheringham in North Norfolk. I’d been there before, and to nearby Cromer famous for crabs and the pier.  A bit of research turned-up Richard Little, now in his 80s he’s been fishing for crabs for over 60 years and is a Sheringham legend.  About 12 years ago Richard went into partnership with fishmonger Angela Barrows, and together they opened “Richard’s” a seafood shop in Church Street.

I rang Angela and asked her to arrange for me to meet Richard at the shop, she told me ring on the way. With visions of crates of live crabs being unloaded from an old wooden fishing boat by an even older fisherman, just past Fakenham I stopped and telephoned Richard. But he was too busy to see me. No amount of wheedling, “…but I’m coming all the way from London…its a 300 miles round trip…please…” would change his mind. “Leave me alone,”  he pleaded.

Fishermen always have one eye on the tide, and I expect he had pots to pull or nets to mend.  Nevermind, I thought, I’ll turn the car towards Cley Next The Sea (pronounced Cl-eye) and visit the  Smokehouse.

The Cley Smokehouse never disappoints, and after deliberating over the possible delights of smoked eel and smoked prawns,  I bought two bloaters for about £3.  Bloaters have all but disappeared from the nation’s fishmongers, and most people have neither heard of bloaters nor tasted one.  150 years ago bloaters were the most popular smoked fish , more popular than kippers, and always associated with Yarmouth in Norfolk, where the locals described themselves as Yarmouth Bloaters.  Yarmouth was founded on the herring fishery, just 100 years ago  Yarmouth was home to 3,000 herring boats, and in the season 5,000 women were brought by special trains to gut and pack the herrings. The shoals moved down the East Coast for 6 months followed by these migrant fishworkers.

Bloaters are herrings, salted or brined and then cold smoked whole, with their innards intact, for up to 18 hours. Smoke them for longer, perhaps 3 weeks,  and they become the legendary ‘Red Herring’, crisp and very dry.  But after 18 hours the result is a light smokey taste, not so strong as a kipper, and because a bloater is a whole herring the flesh stays plump and moist, bloated.  Cold-smoking doesn’t cook the fish, it lightly cures them, fish have been preserved by smoking and salting since prehistoric times, but these days the smoke is more of a flavouring than a preservative.

Along the coast road I stopped at Cookie’s Crab Shop in Salthouse, every time I’d been in the vicinity of Cookie’s it had been closed, but today it was very much open and busy.  I joined the queue and bought a crab sandwich (£2.70), and mused at the perfection, simplicity and sheer freshness of this quintessential English sandwich, compared with the usual pre-packed sandwiches you see in supermarkets and service areas.

Continuing towards Sheringham along the coast road I passed cottages offering ‘Crabs: Boiled and Dressed’, and ‘Samphire’.  I thought to myself that if I lived here I’d probably live on crab, and samphire too, when they were in season.

In Sheringham I drove around looking for Richard’s,  a friend had asked me to bring back some bloater paste.  A nice lady (Mrs Little?) sold me the last pot of bloater paste (£1), and a whole boiled crab (£3).

We had the bloaters the next day, though they’ll keep for a week in the fridge, the fresher they are the better. I deliberated about the possible cooking methods, grilling or baking, and decided on grilling them as recommended by Jane Grigson in ‘English Food’.  By chance I’d been given a lettuce, and not any old lettuce.  It was the opening day of the Brockley Open Studios,  and Clarissa was showing her paintings and drawings, we fell into a conversation with Laszlo, a new neighbour, who noticing the lettuces, beans and tomatoes growing in our front garden enthusiastically told us about all the things he was growing in his garden. He promised return with a special lettuce,  a Fat Lazy Blonde. I thought he was joking but no, there he was beaming and holding a large plump floppy lettuce. The Fat Lazy Blonde is a heritage lettuce, something the Victorians’ would have recognised. The name is a corruption of  Grosse Blonde Paresseuse, a French butterhead lettuce from 1859, and as the name implies a comfortable laid-back leaf!  The lettuce took pride of place on the mantlepiece under “Chanel Headscarf” and next to some rhubarb brought by another visitor.

Grilled Bloater with Mustard Butter

You’ll need 1 or 2 bloaters per person. Cut off the heads and fins.

50g (2 oz) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

25g (1 oz) Hot Horseradish Mustard, or Dijon mustard


Black pepper

Prepare the mustard butter by simply mashing the mustard into softened butter, do it to taste. You could add some chopped chives if you wish.

Slash 2 or 3 cuts into each side of the bloater and brush with the mustard butter. Lay some chives across the bloater and put them one at a time in a buttered pan and place under a hot grill for 2 minutes each side. Scatter with black pepper and serve with plenty of chunky bread, and a quarter of lemon. I added some Fat Lazy Blonde lettuce leaves, a perfect foil for the hot fish.

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