Comfort, in cake form

If there were ever a time to go easy on oneself, we think perhaps this would be it. Whilst the days are getting incrementally longer, there’s no pretending that the lack of daylight seems to have a knack for making Lockdown 3.0 even harder than its predecessors. And so, we think it’s all about finding joy in the little things- things that might, in another time, have made you feel self-indulgent… even guilty. It might be a lie in. It might be that 5pm G&T. Or, most joyful of all, you might choose to seek comfort in cake form.

We’ll humble-brag enough to say we’ve had the recipe for this particular cake requested enough times to merit putting it in public domain, and a chilly, dark Sunday afternoon in January seemed to fit the bill nicely.

Pear, cardamom & hazelnut cake

For the pears:

3 Williams Pears, as ripe as possible, de-cored and cut into 6ths

Juice and zest of 1 lemon (preferably unwaxed, but if not it’s worth rubbing gently under hot water to remove the outer layers of wax. Trust us).

5 tbsp brown sugar

2 pinches of ground cinnamon (not ‘sweet’- regular is preferable here)  & 1 cinnamon stick

2 cardamom pods, crushed

1 star anise

1.       Place the pears and the rest of the poaching ingredients into a small, heavy-bottomed pan

2.       Cover with water (just) and the poach gently until tender and the liquid has reduced slightly. Remove from heat, remove pears from liquor, and reserve both.

For the crumble topping

100g plain flour

75g fridge-cold salted butter, cubed

2tbsp plus of demerara sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 small handful toasted flaked almonds

1.       Using cold hands, crumble the butter into the flour until it reaches breadcrumb stage, with a few good clumps. Add in the other ingredients.

For the cake base:

175g butter, cubed and slightly softened

85g caster sugar

85g light brown sugar

80g blanched hazelnuts

2 free-range eggs

165g plain flour, mixed with 2 ¼ tsp baking powder & a pinch of salt

3.5 tsp cinnamon powder

1 tbsp whole milk

1.       Grease and line a 23cm springform tin, and preheat your oven to 170 degrees.

2.       Beat the butter and two sugars together with electric beaters until creamy and whipped. Don’t skimp on this stage.

3.       Meanwhile (but whilst paying attention) toast your blanched hazelnuts in a dry pan until you can smell them, and they’ve turned a tempting golden colour. Remove them immediately to a board and chop them finely. If you use pre-chopped and roasted, these will still need going over with a knife.

4.       Add in your two eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate in between.

5.       Gently add in your flour mixture, your chopped nuts, and your cinnamon, using a spatula. Make sure you try to retain all the air in your batter.

6.       Gently loosen the batter with the milk, and then spread (with a light hand) across the bottom of your tin.

7.       Place the pears across the batter carefully, and then top with the crumble mix. Sprinkle with a couple of tbsp of demerara sugar, and place into oven for 53 minutes.

8. Whilst the cake is cooking, reduce the pear liquor until syrupy. Once your cake is out of the oven, pour syrup gently over the top whilst still warm.

Because we’re a restaurant and we have the time (and inclination) to be a little fancy, we serve ours with pear crisps- mandolined slices of pear dried slowly in a low oven, drizzled with honey and then dipped into more chopped hazelnut. We then top it off with a big ol’ scoop of Chiltern Ice Cream co. Brown Bread ice cream, which we’re smug enough to say they make just for us (but you can still get your hands on, if you ask us nicely). But, do what you like, and garnish with whatever else brings you comfort. Perhaps that G&T? 

Happy Sunday


A post about aubergines

We *suppose* we ought to open with, ‘Well, hey there! Welcome to the Little Lata Blog. It’s nice to have you.’ We hope to provide you with a little inspiration, a bit of light-hearted (often irritatingly vague…) instruction, or, if nothing else, a pleasant respite from the bleaker corners of the internet as 2020 continues to go tits up.

Before we turn to the main purpose for today’s post (aubergines, FYI), we thought we would mention three things that might cheer up the end of the week:

  1. David Attenborough has joined Instagram, and already made it the best place on the Internet.
  2. A dog was rescued from a 30-foot hole in North Carolina using beef jerky to lure it to safety, which is the kind of light relief we all need to hear about at the minute.
  3. Apparently it is now autumn. This means multiple things- the return of the Knitwear & Pumpkin Spice Latte Selfie across all forms of social media; something of a Groundhog Day with every polite exchange you might have between now and Hallowe’en (‘I don’t know where the year’s gone!’/’I can’t believe it’s bloody October!…’ ad infinitum), and… we launch our new autumn menu! 

As such, we thought we would treat you to a recipe. We have just about enough business savvy to not kick off with something we’re going to try and sell you over the next three months, but instead are going to let you into the carefully guarded secrets of a Lata favourite; the caponata.

The late summer heat left us with a glorious glut of aubergines that you can still get your hands on, and the recipe itself is a beautifully reliable stalwart of Sicillian cooking. Like most Italian recipes, it’s seasonal, fiercely contested (every Sicillian will tell you THEIR caponata is the *only* way to cook caponata) and starts with a relatively frugal collection of ingredients made to sing with love, and the quality that comes from being at their best. It also epitomises what we at Lata love best about southern Italian cooking- contrast, unabashed discord between the sweet and sour elements, and zero attempt at subtlety. 

Our recipe has been tweaked endlessly by me over the years, but I’m pretty happy with this version. The chocolate adds richness, which is balanced out by the acidity of the wine, vinegar and capers. The tip is to use everything in season, and for goodness sake- salt, drain, and brown off your veg properly! There is little sadder than a pale, flobbery caponata soaked with oil. Whack on some good music, pour yourself a glass of Primitivo, and take your time. We’re in Sicily now- there’s no rush.

The dish can be served warm or cold, and will keep for a week nicely- if it lasts that long 😉

Caponata Agrodolce

3 large aubergines, diced to roughly 2.5cm

3 large courgettes, ditto

Table salt, a good handful

Veg oil

A few sprigs of thyme

Extra virgin olive oil

3 large red onions, sliced

450g ripe plum tomatoes, diced roughly (into 8ths, approximately)

120g cappucine capers, drained

120g pitted kalamata olives

2 tbsp brown sugar

120g sultanas

200ml red wine (nothing you wouldn’t still drink- that Primitivo would do nicely)

100ml red wine vinegar

3 tbsp grated dark chocolate- as good a quality as you can get hold of. We use callebaut.

Toasted almond flakes to garnish

Flat leaf parsley, to garnish

Mint leaves, to garnish

Salt the diced aubergine & courgette liberally, tossing well to coat. Leave this to drain in a colander over the sink for a minimum of 30 minutes.. Pat dry with a jay cloth (or decent kitchen roll).

Heat 1cm of veg oil in the largest pan you have until it passes the breadcrumb test (bread will sizzle and turn golden upon being dropped in), and batch-fry the aubergines and courgette with the leaves from the thyme sprigs until golden. Don’t overcrowd the pan, and allow oil to come up to temperature in between. Drain the batches on kitchen paper and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan on a medium to low heat. Fry the red onion with a pinch of sea salt until it softens a little, and begins to take on colour.

Add your diced  tomatoes in for five minutes or so, stirring gently.

Add in your drained capers, pitted olives, sultanas, sugar, vinegar & grated chocolate. Bring to an enthusiastic simmer, before adding the aubergine & courgette back in. Lower to a more relaxed bubbling for an hour.

Serve at room temperature for the truly authentic experience, with toasted flaked almonds, torn mint, parsley and an extra glug of decent extra virgin olive oil. Warm foccacia and the rest of that Primitivo will help things along just beautifully.

That’s all for this week- keep an eye on our Instagram where we’ll no doubt be bombarding you with content about all the lovely new menu dishes. Until then keep being nice to each other, and try to remember that a good plate of food with people you love is enough to fix most things.