Recipe: Smooth and spicy

We begin our series on spiced breads and cakes with a recipe submitted by Patricia Jeanrenaud of Ramsgate, Kent. 'My mother made this cake when I was young, and I continue because there is nothing else like it,' she writes. Her mother found it in The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Ms Jeanrenaud will receive a bottle of 1989 Bukkuram de Bartoli muscat purchased from Reid Wines in Bristol.

Mrs Jeanrenaud stresses that this cake should be baked in a 9in tube pan or cake ring, to ensure even cooking in the middle. It is a good idea, but not strictly necessary. Our soft British flour, so tricky with bread, is perfect for this recipe. The specification for organic stone- ground flour is mine and, as a regular baker, I cannot stress its importance enough. By comparison, most conventional flours have the goodness (and taste) of sawdust.

I should admit that we received recipes with more interesting ingredients, notably a Scottish treacle and spice cake with ale, which I hope to publish later in this series. However, this one excels in its clear technique. It is a blueprint for any spice cake and one could endlessly dabble with its ingredients.

Start with the flour. For an earthier texture and flavour, a fourth or even a third of the white cake flour could be replaced with soft wholewheat flour, and some of the sugar replaced with honey or honey and treacle. The grated zest of a lemon would lend fragrance and kick. Come to that, a splash of whisky or brandy would not hurt.

The recipe's only ''flaw' is, perhaps, over-cautiousness. Provided the cook uses buttermilk or yoghurt, only 1tsp of bicarbonate of soda should be necessary as a raising agent. I tested it that way and it rose well. Those who prefer belt and braces, or those attempting to replace buttermilk or yoghurt (which will react naturally with the bicarb) with sweet milk, should use both the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda listed below.

Velvet Spice Cake

Yield: 1 x 2lb (1kg) loaf; serves 10

Ingredients: 12oz (340g) organic stoneground cake flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

6oz (170g) soft butter

8oz (230g) caster sugar

3 large eggs

7oz (200g) yoghurt or buttermilk

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350F/ 180C/gas 4. Grease and lightly flour baking tube, shaking off excess flour. Sift together flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt, then sift again. Separate eggs, placing whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl. In another bowl, cream together butter, caster sugar and egg yolks. Add sifted ingredients gradually to butter mixture, alternating with additions of milk or yoghurt, ensuring each time that the batter is smooth. Whisk egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold them into the batter. Retaining their structure is important: they help to aerate the cake.

Pour batter into cake tin and bake immediately for 1 hour, or until a skewer poked in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes on a rack before removing from tin. Dust with icing sugar.

Next week: more spiced breads and cakes. New entries, stating the source, should be sent to: Emily Green, Recipe, Weekend Features, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB. Those whose recipes we print will receive a bottle of the above-mentioned figgy Sicilian muscat.

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