I frequently get messages from readers pleading for recipes which don’t require scales—most Indian “andaaz”-based kitchens, they say, simply don’t possess a set. Although I recommend investing in scales if you’re at all keen to explore home baking—personally, I’m a slave to mine—I come from a long line of cooks who weren’t. My mother, an excellent baker, would have been completely at home in an Indian kitchen, using a tablespoon to measure everything—at least until she went through a weird midlife crisis Cordon Bleu phase in the 1970s.
I have inherited her beautiful, but now rather thin and worn, old spoon and use it most days—it makes me feel as if I’m stirring some magic into a cake or biscuit mixture. Today, I have used it as the base measure for a gorgeous, fruity sponge cake which is a perfect showcase for every glorious soft fruit about to make its way down from the Himalayas: I’ve used the fragrant little peaches which are in season briefly now, but you could substitute apricots, plums, cherries and later the apples and pears.
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It’s inspired by a wonderful recipe in Jane Grigson’s 1982 masterpiece Fruit Book, given to the author by the owner of the village store near her French home. This, along with its companion volume on vegetables, is a book I refer to constantly—in fact, my copy falls open at this recipe’s page. Grigson named it Tarte de Cambrai but it’s really more of a cake. It requires minimal time in the kitchen—ideal for the next few months—about 5 minutes if you use fresh chopped fruit. I decided to use some peaches I had poached in a vanilla syrup first, again with imprecise measurements. I think it takes the cake up to new (Himalayan) heights.
Vanilla Peach Andaaz Cake
A word about the tablespoon measure: My mother’s spoon, heaped with flour or slightly rounded with caster sugar, measures one ounce (approximately 25g) but as long as you use the same spoon throughout, it doesn’t really matter, your cake will just be larger or smaller according to your spoon size—the main thing is to keep the ratios the same.
For the fruit
1/2 kg of just-ripe (not squishy) Himalayan peaches
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
2 vanilla pods
For the cake
10 level tbsp plain flour (maida)
1 tsp baking powder
6 level tbsp vanilla sugar (caster sugar which has been kept in a jar with vanilla pods)
4 tbsp sunflower oil
8 tbsp milk
2 whole eggs
Finely grated zest of a lemon
A pinch of salt
A little extra butter and sugar for the topping
First prepare the fruit: Dissolve the sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold all the peaches and bring to a boil. Place the peaches in the syrup and let them simmer for 3 minutes, no longer. Lift the peaches out of the syrup and when cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Slit the vanilla pods and remove the seeds. Add both pods and seeds to the sugar syrup, then put the peaches back in and leave to cool to soak up some of the vanilla flavour.
When you’re ready to make the cake, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Grease something to bake the cake in. This also can be flexible. I used my beautiful Assamese earthenware dish but it works equally well in Pyrex or a metal cake or pie tin. Just make sure to grease it well.
Remove the stones from the peaches and lay them in the baking dish to form a single layer—you might not need them all but whatever’s left is delicious with a dollop of cream.
Measure all the ingredients into a bowl with your trusty tablespoon, then whisk to mix, or use a mixer. Pour the mixture, which will be like a batter, over the peaches. Put small dabs of butter over the surface along with a sprinkling of caster sugar.
Bake for about 35-45 minutes until a skewer prodded into the centre comes out clean.
Eat straight from the oven with thick cream or cold later.
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at http://eatanddust. wordpress.com
Write to Pamela at firstname.lastname@example.org