Astronomical Springtime begins in March. It is during this month that we can finally claim back a little daylight and, along with it, perhaps a little lost optimism. Though the ground is still hard with frost, this is the time to start looking out for the peeping, green tendrils of spring. Bluebells begin to carpet our woodlands and daffodils adorn our banks and borders; colour is returning to the landscape. All is fresh and fledgling. We can look forward to glimpsing the first sights and sounds of new life. If you live in the countryside, then you will be familiar with the distant bleat of lambs and the gentle babble of water as the land thaws. Seasonal culinary pickings remain slim but for the pink glow of forced Rhubarb. I like to poach this quirky, tangy vegetable with ginger and a little sugar before spooning it onto yogurt or atop sweet tarts.
When it comes to baking, I can think of nothing more representative of spring than the humble egg. Across many different religions and belief systems the egg symbolises birth and the potential for life. In the trees and hedges our native woodland birds are busying themselves with procreation; building nests and perching upon their precious, bespeckled clutches. Since prehistory this fragile fare has provided us a valuable source of protein and, much later, played a fundamental role in modern cuisine. If flour is the backbone of baking, then eggs are the essential lifeblood
Before manufactured leavening agents, eggs were one of the ways we could incorporate air into doughs and batters. Many recipes today incorporate eggs for lighter textures and a softer crumb. Traditionally, mousses, meringues and custards all rely on eggs for their silken textures calling upon the lightness of whipped whites or the rich, emulsive quality of yolk. I marvel at the texture-enhancing abilities of eggs and their diverse range of uses, without this unique ingredient our cakes would be a little less airy, our brioche a little less rich and our custards non-existent. Not only are eggs an apt symbol of life and abundance, they are the powerhouse of traditional baking and deserve to be celebrated.
Spring Celebration Cake – (Gluten-Free Hazelnut Cake)
7 eggs (carefully separated)
230g white caster sugar
250g ground hazelnuts
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt
butter (for greasing)
- Place the ground hazelnuts into a dry pan and toast gently until slightly browned and emitting a strong, nutty aroma. Allow to cool completely before using.
- Preheat oven to 150°C Fan/170°C/gas mark 3.
- Line the base of a 23cm spring-form cake tin with a disc of baking paper (cut big enough to form a slight lip around the edge) and butter the sides generously.
- Separate the eggs carefully, ensuring no traces of broken yolk contaminate the whites.
- Place the egg yolks, vanilla extract, salt and sugar into a bowl and whisk until very pale and mouse-like (an electric beater is useful for this).
- Fold the toasted hazelnuts into the egg and sugar mix.
- Place the egg whites into a large, clean bowl (any grease may prevent the whites from whipping) and whip into stiff peaks (an electric beater is useful for this).
- Add a generous dollop of beaten egg white to the hazelnut mix and beat to combine, this helps to loosen the mixture for folding.
- Now gently fold the rest of the egg white into the hazelnut mix, aiming to include as much air as possible, this will help the cake to rise.
- Gently pour the batter into the pre-prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. The top of the cake should be slightly brown.
- Allow the cake too cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack.
- Once it is completely cool either dust with icing sugar and serve plain or add whipped cream, toasted nuts and seasonal fruit.