Saturday, May 24, 2008

Whe-where-where d'you put the lemons, my dear fellow?

This cake begins with a bedtime story.

For the last few years, I've been listening to an excellent series of recordings of Sherlock Holmes stories, broadcast in 1954 by the BBC, with John Gielgud as Sherlock Holmes, and the inimitable Ralph Richardson as Dr. Watson (special bonus: Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty).

These beautifully written and produced stories have become near-nightly listening, and they have become part of the background noise of my mind, with lines popping up here and there. The radio scripts are for the most part light-hearted, slightly goofy, especially when showcasing the relationship between the detective and the doctor.

For Christmas, I was given an amazing book, Dining with Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. No mere novelty item, this strange little book is written by none other than Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt, charcuterie expert and former head of the Culinary Institute of America. It's full of slightly cultish writing, with detailed reference to the stories and carefully researched and updated period recipes, arranged into menus that correspond with the stories. Chapter headings include 'The Sideboard,' 'On the Chase,' and 'A Singular Set of Recipes, Watson.' It's great reading, but until this weekend, I had never prepared a recipe from the book.

Enter Sugar High Friday: The International Sweet Tooth Blogging Extravaganza. In the words of its creator, Sugar High Friday is "your best excuse to make something sweet and different, at least once a month. And to do it with tons of other people from around the world. It occurs during the last week of every month, entries due on the Monday and the round-up posted on the Friday (the Sugar High Friday that is!)."

I've been following Sugar High Fridays since the days before the blog, and always regretted not having an opportunity to participate. This month will be my very first, hosted by the elegant Tartelette. Of course, as beginnings are, it was fraught with halts and troubles. I began by procrastinating until the last possible day (today). This month's theme, citrus, just didn't do much for my spring-fevered rhubarb-crowded imagination. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to make.

Food imagination letting me down, I turned to literature and remembered that my Christmas book was sitting untested on the shelf. Mr. Holmes would never approve. I started poking around in the index for citrus recipes, and came up with Orange Cake with Orange Icing. At first, I was going to go for Broiled Grapefruit with Ginger, but this blogger beat me to it.

Cake it was. After all, Holmes and Watson do live in Baker Street. And I have a birthday party to attend tonight. Once I had made my decision, things flowed more smoothly. I did make one change to the recipe--in honor of my favorite radio play, the Christmas story The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

In the beginning of this joyfully ridiculous story, Watson comes to visit Holmes on Christmas Eve (all the following facts and quotations are from the radio play, the story has different language and a different timetable). The Doctor finds his friend puzzling over a bowler hat, which a gentleman has dropped in the street, along with a fat goose. Watson tells Holmes to tell him all about it, while he brews some punch. Then follows an insane and amazing sequence wherein Holmes tells the tale of the missing items while sustaining constant interruptions from Watson, who is hunting down everything from the nutmeg grater to the lemons, muttering to himself and obviously only listening to half of Holmes' narrative. The above mentioned lemons are first supposed to be on the gasogene (soda siphon, as the cookbook helpfully points out) stand, and are ultimately discovered on the hideous smoking companion. You get the idea.

So, in honor of the great radio writers and the genius of Ralph Richardson, I bring you...

Lemon Cake, with Lemon Frosting
enriched with a bit of mandarin juice, and frosted orange

adapted from Dining with Sherlock Holmes,
by Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt

Cake:

2 1/2 cups pastry flour (I used bread and white whole wheat mixed)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons grated lemon rind
1 cup mixed citrus juice
1/2 cup (4) egg whites

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Cream the butter and sugar, add the zest.
Add dry ingredients to wet, alternating with the juice. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. Beat until smooth.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter until just combined.

Pour the batter into two ei
ght inch buttered pans and bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes (I think I slightly overbaked them, check them carefully). Cool and turn out onto a rack.

Frosting:

2 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon grated lemon rind
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup

Combine all ingredients in a double boiler and blend.
Cook over boiling water while beating with a whisk or an electric mixer until peaks form. Remove from heat and continue to beat until it cools and holds a shape.

I didn't trim it and just frosted the layers right on top of one another, with a layer of orange marmalade in the middle of the bottom piece. Aside from a 20-minute wrestling match with the corn syrup bottle, I had this one licked. The final product is a little cow-pat-esque, (the icing is marshmallowy and drips), but everything tastes good, and I'll clean up the look once it is cool, and take it off to the party for a final verdict.

(Update: Partygoers (and the birthday girl were pleased, and as far as I could see in a dark backyard, it looked very pretty sliced.)

I'd like to end this post with a little shout-out to Mrs. Hudson, Holmes' and Watson's landlady, who served complex meals at any time of the day or night, minus sophisticated kitchen equipment of any kind. I, for one, am deeply impressed with all of those Victorian housewives, elbows deep in stews and aspic, lucky to even see a fresh orange more than a few times a year. As I try to eat seasonally, citrus becomes a rarer thing, and a special treat. In the end, what better choice for Sugar High Friday than season-defying, rare and special citrus? As Watson say, complements of the season, whatever season it may be, to all of you.

1 comment:

Helen said...

Baker street...my dream address!! What a lovely cake! Thank you for participating this month!