No mess at all

There are a great many recipes lev­elled at this sea­son’s se­duc­tive straw­ber­ries, but they reach no greater he­do­nis­tic height than when adorned only with a dust­ing of sugar and lemon juice along­side this pain de Gênes al­mond cake

The Guardian - Cook - - King Of Puddings - Jeremy Lee Jeremy Lee is the chef­pro­pri­etor of Quo Vadis restau­rant in Lon­don; @jere­myleeqv

Pain de Gênes is a del­i­cate cake war­rant­ing a lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort for a most spe­cial sum­mer’s pud­ding

I’ve of­ten thought the Eton Mess to be a great al­le­gory for a pop­u­la­tion done in by the long haul to sum­mer. At the height of the sea­son, when folks are near col­lapse, gasp­ing to­wards the hol­i­days, pud­dings are all bowls of straw­ber­ries, meringues and sponges, cream ga­lore and yet more mounds of straw­ber­ries, the whole lot then heaped with ice-cream and made into that almighty epony­mous mess.

I used to like straw­ber­ries left un­pre­pared – even the hull left in as I thought them so beau­ti­ful. I still think the best way to eat them is un­adorned but for a dust­ing of sugar and some of the best jer­sey cream. I do find, though, that even in the sum­mer it can be hard to spot a straw­berry that is a gen­uine, home-grown, real sun­shine­drenched, rain-starved fruit that has had to fight to grow and ripen.

I won­der if it is the old story that the straw­ber­ries I ate as a child in Scot­land – in that ex­tra­or­di­nary berry­great coun­try along the banks of the river Tay – re­main the finest I ever had? They were with­out doubt splen­did and we cer­tainly feasted: jammed them, jel­lied them, gorged on them in the fields un­til my mother is­sued a re­prov­ing “tut”.

Teamed with straw­ber­ries, scones and meringues are mar­vel­lous be­yond any whis­per of doubt. Be­ing an avid fan of Scots bak­ing, I would still rate my mother’s scones – lit­tle scud­ding clouds of a de­light­ful soft­ness heaped with cream and straw­berry jam that sang sum­mer sun­shine from a spoon – over any other I have tried, and there are many.

There are, though, a great many other recipes to fan­fare the straw­berry. A par­tic­u­lar favourite is an al­mond cake that is as light and lovely as can be: a pain de Gênes, a French recipe with Ital­ian an­ces­try. Lifted from Anne Wil­lan’s em­i­nent book French Re­gional Cook­ing, this recipe has never failed to de­light.

Pain de Gênes is a del­i­cate cake – de­li­cious too – war­rant­ing a lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort to en­sure a most spe­cial sum­mer’s pud­ding. Just be­fore com­pany de­scends, hull the straw­ber­ries and slice them ho­lus­bo­lus into the most ran­dom of shapes and sizes, dust with ic­ing sugar, then dress with a gen­er­ous squeeze of lemon juice. Toss all to­gether with care and let sit. With the straw­ber­ries heaped upon the cake – or not as the case may be, for the cake is hand­some – with much cream along­side, this makes for beau­ti­ful sum­mer fare and a lovely fi­nale to a fine lunch.

Al­mond cake with straw­ber­ries and cream

Serves 8

For the cake 125g 100g125g 3 eggs caster soft­ened­w­hole sugar al­monds, un­salted finely but­ter ground 1 30g vanilla corn­flour­pod ½ tsp bak­ing pow­der A pinch of salt For the top­ping 125g pine nuts 3 large spoon­fuls of plum or apri­cot jam The juice of a small lemon For the straw­ber­ries At least 750g straw­ber­ries

2 tbsp caster sugar

The juice of a small lemon A gen­er­ously charged jug of jer­sey cream, to serve

1 Line a 20cm cake tin with parch­ment and set the oven to 160C/325F/gas 3. Melt the but­ter over a gen­tle heat.

2 Com­bine the ground al­monds and sugar. Crack an egg into the bowl, mix, then add an­other, mix, then the third. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the bowl. Beat the con­tents un­til lighter and slightly thicker.

3 Sift the corn­flour, bak­ing pow­der and salt into a bowl and strew it over the bat­ter. Pour in the melted but­ter and mix it all to­gether deftly and swiftly.

4 Pour the bat­ter into the tin. Bake for 30-35 min­utes, or un­til a skewer in­serted comes out clean. Cool in the tin on a wire rack.

5 Put the pine nuts on to a bak­ing tray, pop them into the oven and bake for 5-8 min­utes, or un­til lightly coloured. Set aside to cool.

6 Warm the jam with the lemon juice on a low heat, stir­ring, un­til quite melted. Worry not about any pieces of fruit, as they add charm. When liq­uid, brush the warmed jam over the cake, then cover with the pine nuts.

7 Not too long be­fore the cake is re­quired at ta­ble, hull the straw­ber­ries. Slice into myr­iad dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes. Tip into a hand­some bowl, pour over the lemon juice and add the sugar. Mix with care and let sit.

8 When ready to serve, re­move the cake from the tin and place on a fine plate. Take all to ta­ble.

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