Bakewell tart with raspberry jam layer, soft and chewy frangipane filling and almond and cherry topping. A lot going on, but the flavours are well balanced: no death by almond essence here.
There is something very off-putting about classic English cakes, perhaps that’s why there is no word for ‘patisserie’ in English language. The enormous scones, bigger than your hand, stodgy like sludge. Chelsea buns drowning under inch thick blankets of icing. The Victoria sponge – the very idea of calling a cake ‘a sandwich’ is preposterous. The sponge itself only in this country is made with butter instead of eggs and air. The Battenberg – form over substance. Madeira cake - the ‘sponge’ from above in another guise with nothing going for it. Christmas cake – the less said about a dessert covered BOTH with icing AND marzipan, the better.
And the Bakewell. Death by almond essence.
The Germans call their cakes according to main ingredients (mohnkuchen) and like to eat them for breakfast. The French love descriptive words (millefeuille) and dizzyingly complicated concoctions. The Spanish commemorate their saints (Santiago) and make the cakes flat and ingenious. And the English seem to overcompensate by giving these boring baked goods lofty given names: Victoria, Battenberg or Bakewell.
On the other hand I always reproach everyone for condemning without trying, writing off without giving a chance. Mindful of my own success with scones (cut the size and the baking powder); and sponges (just don’t call it sponge; it’s a pound cake or quatre quarts), I set out to improve Bakewell’s reputation. It’s not named as funkily as Manchester tart, a close relation, but it’s better known.
I did a run around local cafes and inspected their cake stands. I researched the lot, Mary Berry including, and liked the sound of the Baking Mad’s recipe by Luis Troyano, the Great Bake Off finalist. After a few tweaks: almond essence out, no icing, topping nicked off my panettone recipe covered with a shower of almond flakes – mainly because I could not possibly match BM’s decorating style – I was really pleased with the outcome.
The Bakewell tart must be gooey. Otherwise it’s just another cake baked on top of a cake, both soused with almond essence. If you layer the shortcrust base with frangipane-like texture, it comes to life: you get the firm, then jammy, then chewy and fragrant, finally topped with crunchy almonds. Really gorgeous. Quite un-British. Almost – French.