I first met Rebecca when she came to work on Woman and Home Magazine. She and the Food Editor, Jane Curran sat opposite me and the Homes team and let me tell you I learnt a thing or two from that dynamic duo. I also got to do a lot of taste testing for them- but nowhere near as much as they had to do – such a hard life! I used to nip down to the test kitchen to ‘heat up my lunch’ but really it was to snag any cakes they had been making and soak up their extensive knowledge. Rebecca has since gone on to Delicious Magazine which I know all you bakers love as much as I do and is now the Deputy Food Editor. Busy times.
It gives me huge pleasure to have Bex as one of my ‘Ask the Experts’ and I know first hand how amazing her recipes are. She really is an expert in all senses of the word. She has such a natural flare for creating easy to follow recipes that taste just amazing. Her gourmet chocolate brownie recipe is the only one I have ever needed and as such it has been featured here on this very blog. I can’t wait to share with you her Cherry and marzipan cake with orange blossom syrup and toasted pistachios recipe below. But first a little bit about the expert…….
Ask the expert : Rebecca Smith
How did you get into cooking and baking?
Bizarrely it was a Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes book that I was given when I was still at school. Roald Dahl’s wife had worked with a cook to create some of the recipes from his book and Quentin Blake illustrated them. It’s an incredible cook book for children and the Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake was absolutely divine!
Who inspires you most in the cooking arena and why?
I have to mention Nigel Slater as I grew up on my mum cooking his recipes – they always work, and they were and are always delicious. My biggest hero at the moment is probably Ottolenghi – I think the effect he’s had on the way people cook and the breadth of ingredients that are widely available now, virtually just by word of mouth, is absolutely astonishing – and he’s solely responsible for the obscene amount of pomegranate molasses we get through in our house. His food is complex, balanced – just unbelievably good and I can’t stop eating it!
What’s your favorite cook?
The book I return to again and again for advice and help with the classics is my Leiths Bible. It has pretty much everything you could need to know about in there and there’s a copy constantly on my desk. Other than that, I go in phases. At the moment I’m salivating over Rick Stein’s new India book, and before that it was Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. For baking, I love Fiona Cairns’s Bake & Decorate (she’s so effortlessly stylish), and the American baking book Outsider Tart. I also was once fortunate enough to borrow my friend’s copy of The Last Course by Claudia Fleming, the old pastry chef at the Gramercy Tavern in New York. This is the single most beautiful book I’ve ever come across and I made copious notes from it. It’s out of print now and they’re fetching hundreds of pounds on amazon. So if anyone spots one in a charity shop…
How did you come to be at Delicious
I’d been at Woman and Home for three and a half years, and BBC Good Food before that, so when the job came up I went for it immediately – I was really excited at the thought of working in a solely foodie environment and for such a beautiful magazine.
How long have you worked on Delicious
Just over a year – I came after the first May bank holiday last year.
What does your job entail?
We’re a very small team so it’s incredibly diverse. I could be in the kitchen one day testing recipes (either that I’ve written or that we’ve commissioned), food styling on a photo shoot the next or out at a press day. A day at my desk will comprise of working out costings for each issue, liaising with book publishers, responding to reader queries, writing recipes or editing copy, compiling our canny cook section or planning for cover, style or issue meetings.
What’s the best part of your job?
Being able to dream up and cook some fantastic food that you might not have contemplated otherwise. For instance, yesterday I created a dessert based on a Twix bar…it’s pretty good if I say so myself!
What’s the worst part of your job?
The washing up!
Tell me about the Cherry and marzipan cake your sharing from the current issue.
It celebrates our British cherries which are some of the best in the world and only available in the summer. It has some of my favourite things in it – marzipan, pistachios, cherries (obviously) and orange blossom (thank you Ottolenghi). I love cakes that are drizzled in syrup – not only do they keep longer but it means they’re moist enough to be served as a pudding.
What’s been your most successful cake?
The red velvet cake that was on the delicious. January 2013 cover is probably one of my best. We had amazing feedback about it and making it satisfied my love of big brash American cakes.
Have you had any big baking disasters?
Tons! Though less so in the last few years. Creating cake recipes makes you very aware of how far you can change basic formulas before it goes wrong. My worst was probably a couple of Christmases ago when my parents had a load of people for dinner. I decided to make a pithivier but with pistachios instead of ground almonds and the whole thing exploded in the oven. It wasn’t too bad though, everyone was somewhat merry by the time pudding came around so I scraped it up as best I could and everyone thought it was hilarious.
What do you do for fun?
I’m in a show choir called the Adam Street Singers, and we rehearse every week as well as having socials. Belting out songs after a hard day in the kitchen is an excellent way to relax!
Are you a Tea or coffee drinker?
It depends entirely on my mood!
Where is your favorite place to go out to eat?
Dinner –in Clapham – it’s a lovely little neighbourhood restaurant that does absolutely wonderful Med-inspired food.
Lunch –on Bermondsey St. A tiny tapas bar owned by the fabulous Jose Pizarro. You go in for a quick lunch and emerge four hours later slightly wobbly.
Tea – For real luxury I love thefor afternoon tea. But any of the big hotels are always so much fun and a serious treat.
What kitchen gadget could you not live without and why?
A very sharp chef’s knife. I think my enjoyment of cooking would be significantly reduced if I had to use tiny blunt knives to chop everything. It’s an absolute hassle.
What’s your favorite dinner party meal and dessert?
I love cooking very slowly roasted pork belly. The meat falls apart and the crackling is perfect – everyone always enjoys it and its utterly low maintenance – it just needs a salad and some sort of potato to accompany it. For pudding, affogato with homemade ricciarelli biscuits – for exactly the same reason. It takes no effort, and it’s an immediate crowd pleaser. I don’t hold with doing complicated things for dinner parties. It should be about relaxing with your friends, not sweating in the kitchen while everyone gets drunk on your booze next door.
What’s your guilty food pleasure?
Where do I start?! Bowls of noodles slathered in Sriracha chilli sauce, Laughing Cow cheese, chunky peanut butter straight from the jar, Haribo tangfastics…actually I’m not really guilty about any of it. Everything in moderation…
Cherry and marzipan cake with orange blossom syrup and toasted pistachios
(Taken from the August 2013 issue of Delicious Magazine – out now)
This is a very moist, dense cake – quite middle Eastern in character. It will keep well in a cool place, well wrapped for 3 days and is wonderful served for pudding with a dollop of honey sweetened Greek yogurt.
Takes 25 minutes to make, 1 hour 10 -1 hour 20 minutes to cook, plus cooling
Freeze the finished cake without the pistachio topping, well wrapped in cling film for 1 month. Defrost thoroughly, then garnish and serve.
Know how If you’re adding anything heavy to cake batter, (like the cherries and marzipan in this cake) tossing them in flour helps to stop them sinking. Pushing half into the top of the mixture also helps them to stay more evenly spaced.
- 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 185g caster sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tsp orange blossom water
- 4 large free-range eggs
- 150g self-raising flour
- 100g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 150g marzipan, chopped into 1cm square chunks, tossed lightly in flour
- 300g cherries, stoned, quartered, patted dry and tossed lightly in flour
- 50g pistachios, toasted
- icing sugar, to dust
for the syrup
- juice 1 orange
- splash orange blossom water
- 1tbsp caster sugar
- Heat the oven to 170ºC/fan 150ºC/gas 31/2. Lightly oil and bottom line a 20cm springform cake tin, wrap a doubled up sheet of baking parchment around the outside and tie in place with string. This will protect the sides of the cake while it’s cooking. Set aside. Beat the butter with the sugar and orange zest for 3 to 5 minutes until pale and fluffy, then beat in the orange blossom water.
- Beat the eggs in one by one beating well after each addition, then stir through the flour, almonds and baking powder, with a pinch of salt. Stir through half the marzipan pieces and cherries, then transfer to the prepared cake tin and poke in the remaining marzipan and cherries, making sure they’re just covered with cake mix. Place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160ºC/fan 140ºC/gas 3 and bake for a further 60 minutes. Cover the top with a piece of foil after 30 minutes if it’s getting too dark – not before as the cake will sink. It is cooked when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
- About 5 minutes before the cake has finished cooking, make the drizzle. Place the orange juice and orange blossom water with the sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has melted. When the cake is cooked, remove from the oven, poke holes all over it and drizzle over the syrup. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Make sure the cake isn’t left to cool on the base of its tin or the bottom will be soggy. When ready to serve, roughly chop the pistachios, scatter over the top of the cake and dust with icing sugar.
All that’s left to say is thanks so much to Rebecca for taking the time to do the interview and for sharing this delicious recipe with us (Sorry no ‘Delicious’ pun intended!)