Friday, September 18, 2015

Heritage Almond Cake

 I don't know much about my great grandmother, Beatrice Versfeld except that her and my great grandfather, Alexander lived and farmed on the now wine-growing estate of Groote Post in Darling. It's where my grandfather and my mother also grew up. Judging from my genes, I've always thought it safe to assume that she was an excellent baker. 'Cos, well all the woman (on my mom's side of the family) are! Well, that was an assumption until I found the Cape's very first cookbook written by Hildegonda Duckitt amongst my Great Aunt's things the other day. 

You'll notice that, for a cookbook, it is suspiciously spotless - mainly because it came from my dad's side of the family ;)
The author, Hildegonda Duckitt also grew up on Groote Post (with my great grandmother) and is credited as being the first collector of typically South African recipes - Dutch, English, German, East Indian and Malay - which she started collecting in her teen years from servants and then later from the high society groups in which she moved. Basically, this book contains the who's-who of excellent bakers and cooks from the 1850's. And guess who I found... On the very first page in the 'cakes' chapter too!

Turns out my great grandmother's almond cake was legendary in the Cape. Not just legendary, but Hildagonda penned a 'very good' next to it too. 
Now, these recipes are so old that most of them indicate cooking on an open fire and there are a few that use a 'plateful' of flour as a measurement! (The ex-pastry chef in me gasps in horror!)

Mrs Versfeld's Old Dutch Almond Cake calls for one pound of loaf sugar - don't worry, I also asked what the heck is loaf sugar?! Turns out in the 19th century, sugar was sold in cones called 'sugar loaves' to ensure it's quality and weight, as it was such an expensive ingredient. To use it, you'd need sugar nips (tongs) to break off lumps which were then ground down to a finer consistency. 

Can you imagine grinding sugar like this for any of my recipes?
You'd be in the kitchen for days!
Great Granny Beatrice would turn in her grave if she saw how much of this 'expensive' sugar I use each week but I don't think she'd mind that I added my own touches to her beloved recipe. A few inky raspberries, a touch of lemon zest and a sprinkling of flaked almonds was it. This cake is light but moist and gets even better after a few days. 
The method is seriously on the vague side - something I noticed to be a trend in this book. The assumption in those times was that everyone could bake, so most instructions are only 3-4 sentences long. This cake, for instance, doesn't even explain that you need to whip the egg whites... Because, I mean, duh! 

Do you have any treasured family recipes? Why not dig them up and bake something truly special (rather than braaing - bleh) this Heritage Day 24 September. 

Great Granny Beatrice's Almond Cake
Serves 8-10

50g flaked almonds
5 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g ground almonds
80ml (1/3 cup) crushed plain biscuits (about 6 biscuits) - I used Marie Biscuits
zest of 1 lemon
1 cup frozen raspberries (optional), dusted in flour
Natura icing sugar, for dusting

Line a 18-20cm springform cake tin with baking paper then sprinkle half the almonds on the bottom. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius (160 degrees for a fan-forced oven).
Whip the egg yolks with 200g of the sugar and the vanilla with an electric or stand mixer until very pale, thick and light. 
In a clean, seperate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peak stage, then gradually add the remaining 50g of sugar until thick and glossy. 
Combine the ground almonds, biscuits, and lemon zest and fold into the whipped egg yolks alternately with the whipped egg whites. 
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin then press the flour-dusted raspberries into the batter. Sprinkle with the remaining flaked almonds over the top and bake in the preheated oven for an hour and a half until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before unmoulding. 
Serve with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a dusting of icing sugar. 


No comments:

Post a Comment