1st March 2013 - Gayle Lazda
One of our ten new things for March is What Katie Ate, the book based Katie Quinn Davies' award-winning food blog of the same name, which is particularly renowned for its stunning photography. But do the recipes live up to the pictures? Our very own baking blogger, Gayle Lazda, from our Westfield Stratford City branch, takes advantage of seasonal availability to tackle her blood orange and rosemary cake.
Find out more about our ten new things for March, along with interviews, events, competitions and much more on our enCounter Culture page
If you ever spend any time on the internet (which clearly, you do), you can't fail to have noticed that taking photos of food is not easy. These days everybody seems to think that pointing their phone camera at a plate of food will result in something that their Facebook friends will be impressed by. It almost always doesn't. And I'm absolutely including myself in this. The photos that make their way on to my blog posts are the very best of a very bad bunch. I'm really trying here, guys, but no matter how delicious the food is, making things look appetising in photographs is nigh-on impossible.
So being a professional food stylist and photographer is probably going to go a long way to setting you apart. Katie Quinn Davies, the woman behind the blog and now book, What Katie Ate, is just that. And what a difference it makes. Visually, What Katie Ate couldn't be further from most food blog photography - the photos here are painstakingly composed, more akin to Renaissance still lifes than can legitimately be expected from cookbook illustrations. Which isn't to say they're staid or boring; there's a darkly delicious playfulness to everything, a gloriously filthy gluttony, of pastry crumbs scattered around plates, of spoons that look like they've been greedily licked only moments before.
But is there more to this book than looks? As you would expect from a collection selected from three years worth of blog posts, there's a huge variety of recipes here, starting with breakfast and covering pretty much everything else, from canapes for entertaining, to chutneys, cakes, salads, sauces, pizzas, pies, drinks... She seems to have a habit of adding bacon to things, and I'm, therefore, very much inclined to like her. (Fish pie with crunchy bacon and leek topping? Yes, please.) But I guess I better stop drooling over the pages and actually test something out. After experiencing the revelation that is Nigel Slater's lemon and thyme cake, I can't resist trying Davies' blood orange and rosemary cake. And luckily, it's blood orange season, so I can.
I begin by creaming the butter and sugar, and adding Cointreau and three beaten eggs.
Next, I'm required to remove only the flesh from an orange and a blood orange, avoiding all the pith and membrane and general bitter horribleness. I've seen people do this on TV, and they always make it look terribly easy. It isn't. After about half an hour of fishing about in a bowl picking out rogue bits of pith, I'm left with a soup of mulched-up orange flesh - not the pretty individual segments I'd had in mind. But no matter - it's going into the food processor with the rosemary to be whizzed up anyway, so no one will ever know what a hash I managed to make of it.
I add the orangey pulp to the butter, sugar and egg mixture, which immediately begins to look worryingly curdled. Once the flour's mixed in, though, it starts to resemble something a bit more edible, so it goes into the greased tin, and into the oven.
I have a theory that the reason lemon drizzle cake is so popular is because it's basically foolproof: even if you overcook the sponge, you're going to soak it in delicious citrusy syrup, and that can pretty much rescue anything. So you know you're onto a good thing if a cake recipe involves syrup. And this one does. While the sponge is in the oven, I heat orange and blood orange juice with sugar until it boils down to a gloopy red syrup.
After 45 minutes, I open the oven and am greeting by a fragrant waft of warm rosemary. It smells incredible. After letting it cool for a bit, I skewer it all over and spoon on the warm syrup.
I'm still not allowed to eat it though. Urgh. Not only do I have to let the syrup soak in, I've also got to ice the thing. But actually, this turns out to be the best bit - icing made with blood orange juice and icing sugar is the most brilliant bright pink colour, and drizzled over the sponge, it looks wonderful.
But then from this book, you'd expect something that looks wonderful - more importantly, what does it taste like? Happily, the answer to that question is: totally divine. The sponge has all of the light, moist deliciousness you would expect from a drizzle cake, and the warm rosemary flavour is beautiful. And as you would expect, my photo utterly fails to do it justice. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Read Gayle's previous blogs on making Oliver Peyton's teacakes, The Hummingbird Bakery's Guinness cake, Dan Lepard's apple, walnut and custard cake, Marcus Wareing's egg custard tart, Marianne Magnier Moreno's chocolate éclair and Mark Hix's macaroni pie
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