I have been trying in recent times, to a) take more notice of the seasons, the micro changes that happen on a weekly basis, and b) get back into baking for pleasure. I’ve been wondering how I might do this without pressure. No new projects, just a regular practice. One of the things that came up when I started to think about my values was the importance of creativity at work. I was surprised by this because, although I am creative in my non-working life, I had never thought of work as necessarily being creative. Writing forms a core part of what I do, but often, writing does not feel particularly creative.
So how might I stimulate creativity in my workspace? Well, one way is to focus on creativity in my home life, and in my relaxing pursuits. If I am being creative when I am not working, that will feed into my work life. How? I will be exercising the creative side of my brain. My brain can be working on writing and figuring out arguments or stories while my hands are occupied doing something entirely different. Occasionally, the task is so consuming that my mind stills and allows time for thoughts to unfold in my unconscious. I become a happier, more functional person when I prioritise creativity. And that makes me better in my work.
What kinds of creativity am I talking about? Knitting. Colouring in. Cooking. Gardening. And making cake. I love making cake and I love thinking about baking as a creative activity. Better still, I love being able to link my baking to the ever-changing seasons. Concentrating on the small changes in the seasons is reasonably new to me. I’ve joined Folk & Field as a way to become more informed about seasonal changes, and to find people who think similarly. I am paying attention to celebratory holidays, like Mabon, the celebration of the autumn equinox, and the waxing and waning of the moon.
So that leads us to this cake. Blackberries started ripening on my allotment back in July this year. I even made a quince and blackberry crumble over the bank holiday weekend at the end of August but realised it still felt too early for such desserts. But now, as the mornings are crisp and the nights are colder, blackberries really come into their own. I have been squirrelling my blackberries away, keeping bags in the freezer, and now, as the weather changes, jam making is on the horizon, and it is no longer too hot to bake. Coupled with hazelnuts, ripe in September, this cake is best now.
Blackberry and hazelnut cake
For the cake:
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
150g plain flour
75g hazelnuts (buy whole and grind in the blender)
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of sea salt
For the frosting:
100g caster sugar
1 egg white
110g unsalted butter, softened
blackberry jam, for sandwiching
Preheat the oven to 170C and line two (three if you have them)
15cm cake tins with butter and parchment paper.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light
and fluffy. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time,
followed by the vanilla. In a separate bowl,
mix the flour, ground hazelnuts, salt,
and baking powder together.
Add the flour into the butter mixture in three parts,
alternating with the milk.
Divide the cake mixture between the two tins,
putting 2/3 in one tin and 1/3 in another (or evenly
across all three tins if you have them).
Bake for approximately 25 minutes
until the cakes are golden,
and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
The bigger cake will take slightly longer
so be sure to check on them once they've
been cooking for 20 minutes.
Remove and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes
before turning out and cooling completely.
For the frosting, put the sugar and water
into a saucepan and heat until the sugar
reaches soft ball stage, 116C.
Whisk the egg white until stiff (I did this by hand).
In a steady stream,
pour the sugar into the egg white,
whisking all the time.
Transfer to a standing mixer
(or use an electric mixer) and beat until thick
and slightly cooled.
Add in the softened butter in small pieces
and whisk until the frosting is thick.
Once the cake has cooled,
split the larger cake in half.
Ice the cake using the frosting,
the layers together with frosting and
The recipe makes enough frosting
for one layer on the outside,
so it has a naked cake vibe.
Decorate with blackberries
and strips of lemon peel.