This is a cake I made for May. We’re currently eating a piece at my dining room table, a pot of coffee between us. We’re eating from a shared plate.
We have a habit of portioning out a bite each, carving down the final morsel to a stupid size; neither of us willing to take the lion’s share.
It’s silly and kind, all at the same time.
It’s the kind of thing you do with very old friends.
When we met, I thought she was terrifically cool. Our first ‘date’ involved coffee after school. She was dressed in the senior uniform of a navy skirt and a white shirt. She had black doc martens on her feet. I was in a blackwatch tartan tunic and had orthotics in my shoes. She was both a little older and frightfully bright. Keeping up required some earnest mental paddling.
That afternoon was, as M.F.K Fisher would say, ‘the first of 10 000 completely enjoyable drinks’
Neither of us were really auditioning for new friends, but somehow, we stuck.
Since then we’ve ruminated about life over coffee in Sydney, Melbourne, London, Rome and The Hague. She introduced me to the joys of ricotta on toast. She’s the only person in the world who could convince me to go camping. She match made me with The Hungry One. She was one of my bridesmaids.
She gets me.
We haven’t lived in the same city for five years now. For the past nine months she’s been ‘in the world’; making her way through Asia, South, Central and North America.
Having her here sharing a table and a pot of coffee while we potter next to each other on our laptops is very, very special.
And it should be said; nobody can deliver a home truth quite like a friend who’s been away for a while.
The coffee in the pot was one of her gifts- it came in her backpack straight from the eastern tip of Cuba, where she bought it from a female coffee farmer who lives just outside Baracoa. It carries a subtle flavour, of chocolate and earth. It smells a little like the ground after rain.
It’s currently found a home in this ricotta cake. It’s tall and puffed, carting the burden of six eggs, ricotta and a smidge of flour, almonds, chocolate and sugar.
It’s half way between a cheesecake and a coffee cake. It’s a sturdy thing that’s not too sweet.
We’ve got some other plans for the next few days she’s here; long walks along the Thames, some lamb chops at Tayyabs, a few jaunts down to Monmouth and an excursion to the press the ‘push for champagne’ button at Bob Bob Ricard.
But if I’m honest, I’d be just as happy spending our time at this table, drinking coffee, carving off smaller and smaller pieces of cake.
With each bite that disappears I’m slowly reckoning with the fact by the time the cake is gone, she will be too.
Safe to say, it’s been too long between drinks.
Coffee Ricotta cake*
1 23cm springform pan, lined with baking paper. 1 spatula. 1 sifter. 1 electric whisk. 2 bowls.
6 eggs, separated
175 g caster sugar
30 g dark chocolate, chopped into pebbles
1 tablespoon of ground coffee
125 g ground almonds (or ground hazelnuts)
300 g ricotta
100 g self raising flour
1 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 160 C/ 325 F, line springform 23 cm cake tin with greaseproof paper
2. Beat sugar and egg yolks until fluffy, then stir in ground almonds, chocolate pebbles and ground coffee.
3. Sift the four into the mix and gently combine.
4. Crumble in the ricotta and fold together.
5. In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt into firm peaks.
5. Fold the egg whites in to the mix in batches, trying to keep in as much air as possible.
6. Gently transfer into the lined baking tin and bake at 160 C/ 325 F for 50 minutes.
7. Cool the cake completely in the tin. Serve with a cup of coffee.
*(I had to do two versions of this cake to get to the texture I wanted. The first was fine, but not as stellar as I’d hoped. Rather than hugging our middles it found some happy owners at the ‘Occupy London’ protest in Finsbury Square. For a cake made of coffee that came from Cuba, brought to us by a woman who believes so profoundly in social justice, it felt about right).