‘I’m really not all that interested in Valentines Day’…I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but seriously I really do not have any sort of emotional attachment to this day. Fortunately for me (and more so for my husband) I can quite easily know of this day approaching and only think of the one thing, the one thing I think about everyday…cake. Or rather an excuse to make a cake, (like I even need one).
Such a nonchalant reaction could be interpreted by some as defensive, to soften blows of rejection, or a fear of feeling forgotten about. Ok, so whilst I’m crazy neurotic about some things, this is not one of them.
I truly and might I add, gratefully believe that I am lucky enough to possess a disposition in which it just isn’t all that important to me to have a single day ruled out, highlighted on the calendar, framed by pink love hearts, as the day that someone will profess their undying love for me. I mean I am perfectly within my rights to expect that my husband should do this everyday!
Joking aside, no matter what your stance is on Valentines day, whether you get swept up in the romantic hype, use it as an excuse to berate your significant other for forgetting yet another thing, or sideline the whole shebang in staunch protest of consumerism, I would like to put the case forward for seeing it as a little window of opportunity. Why not turn the farse on its head a little and maybe see it as a day you show yourself a little bit of love, kindness, forgiveness even.
But what exactly does that look like?
Of late to ‘love yourself’ to ‘be well’ and to ‘treat yourself with kindness’ have become trite phrases and misconstrued ideals. Flippant remarks which to my mind quite often wind up as justifications to drop mega pounds on scented candles, hand woven throws and more cacti than the Gobi desert, (Sidenote: I do all these things, unashamedly and without much need to justify).
What I’m talking about is like really love your ‘self’. Love your legs, arms, hands, feet, head, mind, eyes, everything, the whole you, the complete marvel of a human being that you are. Why!?! Well, there’s someone that really does love you. It may not, at this moment in time be in the romantic sense but there’s a strong chance that you fall into at least one or a multitude of the following categories; mother, father, sister, brother, friend, wife, husband, cat momma and/or plant parent. Thus meaning you will be loved and valued by someone and with any luck for them that feeling is reciprocal to some extent or another.
A lot of this thinking has been heavily encouraged by my pal Laura Thomas PhD and in particular by a couple of her most recent podcast guests, blogging power woman, Chidera Eggeru of ‘The Slumflower’ and leading academic Dr Linda Bacon Haes. Both episodes provide genuinely open and honest accounts from women who have come to accept and most vitally, love themselves. The conversations explore issues such as valuing yourself beyond your physical presence, confidence, empowerment and health at every size. They highlight the fact that to do a good job of loving others you ultimately have to love yourself, your actual tangible self, recognise you are here, you’re a real life human and therefore YOU matter.
This isnt an easy concept to grasp for many people but even just contemplating it breathes a little life into the possibiility of it being a notion that you’ll take on board at some point, when you’re ready. And remember, when all else fails you then days like today can and should most definitely be used it as an opportunity to share something sweet, because in my book, that is one of the most defining aspects of love. So step to it, theres no better place to start than with this cake.
*Hints & Tips.
I used frozen strawberries for this cake, they taste infinitely better than any of those gargantuan fresh ones grown out of season that you might find at this time of year.
If you’re feeling adventurous I’ve added a couple of side notes to the ingredients list with options to add either pink peppercorn or rose water to the cake. Whilst neither are necessary, both variations work brilliantly.
Ditched the dairy? You can always sub the butter with a dairy free maragrine alternative.
This cake is a little like love in that its a bit of a slow burner. Bear with me here though and be patient. We aint dealing with a quick rising, flash in the pan sort of recipe here. You need to pay attention to the process and you will be rewarded, I promise.
Please make the effort to carefully swaddle the cake in preparation for its bake and take it slow, cover as described to protect the fruit from burning and operate with restraint once it is baked, allowing it to cool completely before removing from the tin.
Finally, share with abundance and take the credit and the plaudits of love that follow.
For the cake batter
100g caster sugar
80g soft light brown sugar
1 tsp ground mahleb^ or vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
210g ground almonds
25g buckwheat flour
25g brown rice flour
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
1/2 tsp sea salt
150g unsalted butter (melted)
For the cake topping
250g strawberries (frozen if not in season)
50g flaked almonds
20g caster sugar
^Mahleb is a spice, ground from the pit of a particualr cherry species and traditionally used in Middle Eastern baking and desserts. It can be found in Turkish supermarkets and online. It has a distinct almond like flavour but can be easily substittued in this recipe with vanilla extract.
*If you wish to add pink pepper, grind 1 tsp of pink peppercorns and add to the dry ingredients before mixing.
*If you fancy a floral flavour, fold 1 tbsp rose water into the cake batter before placing in the tin.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 165 degrees celcius.
2. Grease and line a 9 inch (21cm) spring form cake tin.
3. In a large mixing bowl measure out the caster sugar, soft light brown sugar, baking powder, mahleb, ground almonds, buckwheat and brown rice flour, stir to combine.
4. Seperate the eggs, add 4 yolks to the dry ingredients and place the 6 whites in another large, spotlessly clean bowl, along with the 1/2 tsp sea salt. Reserve the extra two egg yolks for another use or freeze to use at a later date.
5. Add the melted butter to the dry mix and yolks and stir to combine, you can use a wooden spoon or a spatula to do this, the mix will seem quite dry but should come together.
6. Whisk the egg whites with an electric hand whisk until they form stiff peaks. Ensuring the bowl is spotlessly clean is an important step in helping the egg whites to whip up to maximum volume, trapping as much air as possible.
7. Once the whites are whisked to maximum volume take a spoonful and fold into the flour mixture, it will be quite stiff to begin with, add the remaining egg whites a third at a time, carefully folding in the whites, ensuring they are evenly folded in before adding anymore. Be patient and incorporate the whites slowly to preserve as much air in the mixture as possible.
8. Once all the whites have been added place the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top.
9. Halve the strawberries and arrange on top of the cake. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds, followed by the caster sugar.
10. Take a sheet of foil, large enough to wrap around the circumference of the tin, fold in half width ways and wrap around the tin to protect it during the baking process.
11. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, after which time cover the top of the cake with foil. This will help to protect the tender fruit on top of the cake from burning. Continue to bake the cake for a futher 35 minutes. Check the cake after this time, it maye require up to an additional 15 minutes baking, (depending upon your oven). Test with a skewer to ensure it is completely baked. The flaked almonds will be lightly toasted and the strawberries jammy. It will still be a little soft under the strawberry layer due to the moisture from the fruit.
12. Remove from the oven and discard its foil shroud. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack for at least 3-4 hours before removing the sides and base of the tin to serve the cake.