Friday, 29 June 2012

San Sebastian

This week I ran away from cake-making to spend three nights in the Basque territory starting in San Sebastian, a beautiful old city on the coast. Its Basque name is Donostia.

I'd been told that San Sebastian was good for tapas, or 'pintxos' as they're called in Basque but I wasn't quite prepared for its full-on food orgy. I should have guessed when I read in the guidebook "if the people of San Sebastian didn't have to sleep, they'd be eating 24 hours a day". The choice was bewildering, particularly if you speak neither Spanish nor Basque, so we signed up for a pintxos tasting with San Sebastian Food. It cost €85 and was worth every cent. Our lovely guide Eli took us to half a dozen pintxo bars and explained the system - help yourself to the huge pile of snacks on the bar or order a house speciality from the board, have a drink, then move onto the next bar for more food.

Basically the locals eat in the way that northerners drink except their bar crawl involves a lot more ham. There were even some vegetarian pintxos available.
Patatas bravas; tortilla; pimientos di padron; gazpacho
The night ended all the same in pie-eyed exhaustion; I might look like Miss Prim in this photo but I'm off my face and have little recollection of the rest of the evening and absolutely no recollection of the next morning because we slept until 3pm.

The next day was hot and sticky, a bit like us. Luckily there was a massive choice of ice cream and I tried coconut, sesame and the winner ginger spice biscuit (Speculoos).

And of course there was cake. Tonnes of the stuff.

Here is a photo of Petra modelling a pastel di piƱon along with the tarts we ate on the train to Bilbao - a Basque tart with almonds and a fruit & nut tart on egg custard.

In Bilbao we headed straight for the Guggenheim Museum and sat in their cafe eating pintxos. Luckily the David Hockney exhibition was on so there were so paintings I could understand and the Yorkshire place names sounded charming translated into Spanish, like Valle de Bugthorpe. There was also a massive puppy made of flowers which we had our photo taken with. We definitely did not make this photo into a postcard and send it to the dog back home.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rhubarb, Ginger and Polenta Cake

Today I saw 500g of rhubarb reduced to 29p - God's way of telling me to buy it and bake a rhubarb cake. Who am I to argue? I make this cake every summer and it's a firm favourite. 

The cake is excellent served hot like a pudding (your mother was lying when she said hot cake gave you tummy cake. She was just saving it all for herself while you ran off to play). It's also great served with a cup of tea in the afternoon or for breakfast (ahem) apparently. The polenta - against man and God in a savoury dish - comes into its own in the cake as it lends a pleasing grittiness and helps soak up the juice from the rhubarb.

Here's the recipe:

500g rhubarb, cleaned and cut into 1 cm slices
8 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, chopped finely
5 tablespoons of syrup from the stem ginger
300g caster sugar
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
150g polenta
2 medium eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g unsalted butter, softened
250g natural yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/gas mark 4 and line and grease a 9 inch/24cm springform tin.

Mix the chopped rhubarb and stem ginger with 100g of the caster sugar.

Cream the butter and remaining 200g caster sugar until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs, vanilla extract and ginger syrup. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and polenta and add this to the mix. Then add the yoghurt and stir in the chopped rhubarb and ginger.

Bake for about an hour until the cake is springy to the touch. After 35 minutes of baking, cover the cake with foil to prevent the top from burning. Let the cake cool in the tin on a wire rack. If you can...