Sweetmeat cake

Serves 6-8
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Indy Lifestyle Online

This is one of my mum Jane Grigson's old recipes, which she called a sweetmeat cake. It's actually a tart with no meat in it whatsoever. The recipe goes back a long way; it's an 18th-century, very traditional English dish which she included in her book of English food in the early 1970s. But I always associate it with being in France, in the village we went to every year for the summer from the 1960s. I still go back to the same place every year with my family, to our tiny house, which is half-cave, half-house, with a big fireplace to heat the stone walls.

I remember my mum making this cake to take on picnics and big communal meals in the village where each family would take a different dish. This year I had a request from a friend in the village for an English pudding, and this is what I took. It's made from tart pastry, with candied peel and roasted hazelnut filled with butter custard, eggs, melted butter and sugar.

In the early days when we stayed at the house in France, there was no running water or electricity. My mum did everything, washing our clothes by hand, heating water for our baths, cooking our meals. My father was not the most domesticated man and he expected two meals a day, but he would go and fetch water from the well or the tap behind the bandstand in the nearest town.

One might think that coming from a family of food writers you'd have the most wonderful food all the time, but it could get rather repetitive if my mother was working on one particular theme. I remember that she wrote a book on mushrooms which took a year or two – I never wanted to see another mushroom again.

'Spices' by Sophie Grigson is published in October by Quadrille, £20





Shortcrust pastry
125g (4oz) chopped candied peel
60g (2oz) chopped roasted hazelnuts
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
175g (6oz) caster sugar
175g (6oz) lightly salted butter, melted
Line a 23cm (9in) flan tin with the pastry. Scatter the chopped peel over it, then the hazelnuts if used. Beat the remaining ingredients thoroughly together and pour the mixture over the peel. Bake at 180C, gas mark 4, for 35-40 minutes.The top should be crusted with a rich golden brown all over – so keep an eye on it after 30 minutes in the oven. At first the filling will rise with the baking, but once the cake is removed from the oven and transferred to a plate, it will sink again as these egg mixtures usually do. Do not worry if the centre part of the filling is a little liquid beneath the crust, as it makes a delicious sauce. The consistency is a matter for individual taste.

Like most sweet tarts, this one is best eaten warm.

Serve with cream.

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