Coconut, elderflower and almond cake

I made this to eat with gooseberries. But they weren’t available last weekend. So rhubarb was the eventual match. We’ll return to that at the end …

For me, there are two important things to remember if you’re thinking of serving a cake as a dessert.

The first is the sponges that work best as a dessert are ones with a bit of bite, a lasting taste and interesting texture. At least, I reckon that’s the case.

So I’d never be satisfied with a basic Victoria sponge at the end of the meal – I don’t want ethereal, light, fluffy and sweet, I want some wholewheat, spelt, polenta or almond in the mix.

This particular cake has much of the above, and then a bit more. The air bubbles that come from heating a couple of eggs and a touch of baking powder, are bound by almonds, polenta, desiccated coconut and just a smidgeon of flour. There’s a definite crust – which is very much wanted – but what all the different ground elements bring, is a layering (dare I say, complexity) of flavour, and a slight savouriness that works perfectly with sharp, tangy fruit compote and yoghurt. The elderflower sweetener is subtle, but helps to tie the cake to the rest of the pud.

The second thing, is that I think dessert sponges should always be served warm. This isn’t afternoon tea. This is pudding.

That doesn’t mean you need to factor baking times into your dinner party plans: wrap a sponge cooked many hours earlier in cling film and warm in the oven at 90C or so for the 15 minutes before you need it.

Ideally, the warmth of that sponge is in contrast to the temperature of the items it’s served with. (I love it when warm cake is paired with cold yoghurt or ice cream. Conversely, warm custard is best, I think, with cold compote or yesterday’s crumble, straight out the fridge.)

So on this occasion, the warm cake went with cold rhubarb that had, much earlier, been stewed with a dash of elderflower cordial, raw rhubarb macerated in more of that cordial, and Greek yoghurt stirred through with yet more of the flowery, sweet, sugary stuff.

I continue to look forward to the sight of a few gooseberries at the grocers. But, actually, being forced onto non-forced rhubarb was a total result. I often use the sugar syrup from candied ginger when stewing rhubarb, but it turns out the elderflower cordial I was fixated by (hence the desire for gooseberries), works really well, too, as the sweetener to rhubarb’s tartness.

If you give this a go, or are simply playing around with rhubarb, do try the macerated slithers. Great tang. You can spoon any residual cordial over a warm sponge …

Coconut, elderflower and almond cake

Serves 8 as part of a pudding

  • 130g demerara sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 75ml elderflower cordial
  • 50g plain flour
  • 6g baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 180g ground almond
  • 60g desiccated coconut
  • 55g polenta

1 standard rectangular loaf tin

This is easiest made in a stand mixer. But not impossible by hand – just make sure the butter has been at room temperature for a while.

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Cream the butter with the sugar so that the mix is light.

Add a tablespoon (15ml) of cordial and beat in. Add another and do the same until the liquid is incorporated. Then add the eggs one at a time. Again, beat the mix until the liquid is fully bound with the butter and sugar.

Mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. Then add and mix in the almond. Followed by the coconut and polenta. Finally, mix in the remaining (40ml) of elderflower cordial.

Line the loaf tin with greaseproof paper and fill the tin with the cake mix. Put into the oven and bake for 60 minutes. If your oven in uneven in its temperature, turn the tin once or twice during the cooking process.

After 60 minutes, check that a metal skewer comes out clean. Then leave it to cool in the tin. Remove once cool and carefully peel back the greaseproof paper. When it’s at room temperature, wrap in cling film until needed.

To serve, place in an oven at 100C for 10 minutes-20 minutes. After that time, remove the cling film and place back in the oven for up to ten minutes more to dry the outside a little. Cut in half lengthways with a sharp knife. Then cut each of those lengths into four cubes.

For the rhubarb

8 sticks, cleaned and cut into 3cm lengths. 5 tablespoons (75ml) of elderflower cordial. 1 tablespoon (15ml) water. Glass or earthenware baking dish or casserole. 150C until just softening. Leave in warm dish to soften some more. Check taste and add more cordial / sugar if needed. Chill before eating with your warm sponge.

When chopping up the stems, cut off 5 2mm slithers per person. Macerate in a spoon of elderflower cordial for an hour or more.