The fresh, wistfulness of the North Sea wind beckoned me across a sandy beach, toying with the curls of my hair, brushing my skin with particles of coarse sand as they continued their journey further and further down the beach. Half-heartedly, perhaps even carelessly, I had prepared for this endeavour, with only a thin jacket and wooly scarf for protection from the elements before me to show for it. The skies had gradually turned grey and cloudy, threatening us all with the possibility of spring showers, and yet, I found myself barefoot, moccasins in hand, tasting the salty air that lingered on my lips, delighting in the sound of children laughing in the distance, as they watched their little kites dancing violently, high above them.
Djamo, who had recently returned from his adventures in Uganda, and Gyano, his ever-smiling brother, were my companions on this particular day, having travelled half-way across the Netherlands, in search of tulip fields, a gesture I was very much grateful for. It came as rather a surprise to me, to learn that neither Djamo, Gyano, nor their mother, although Dutch, had ever witnessed this particular scene before. Some people used to eat the bulbs instead of potatoes during the Second World War, Djamo had once informed me, whilst we feasted on broodje kroket together, as we sat in the airport lounge, awaiting our flight back to the UK. I had not been aware that the bulbs were (mostly) edible. It makes perfect sense now, when I look back to the times where I have caught my neighbourly squirrels thoughtfully digging up freshly planted tulip bulbs in my little garden.
We continued watching the heavy waves push white, frothy sea foam up the beach towards us and listening to the long grasses rattle as the wind danced passionately through them before making our way back to our little car, to continue the journey we had begun.
* * * * *
Needless to say, tulips were not what we discovered that day. Instead, we found ourselves driving from field to field, only to find lines of hyacinths in all the richest pinks, blues and purples. At first, we were all taken aback by this discovery, for none of us had known that these flowers retained their own moment in the spotlight in the same regard as the infamous tulips. Even now, I can still feel myself breathing in their intoxicating scents that perfumed the air around us. The sight of flowers, regardless of their family or genus, is enough to set my mood alight with joy and frivolity, something that spilt over from the confines of my happily crowded little mind straight onto the smiles of my companions. Somehow, in the midst of my impatience and focus on tulips, I had almost forgotten the extensiveness of other Spring blossoms. Of course, next year, we hope to go further north to find the matriculate rows vibrant beautiful flowers, but somehow, although we had not accomplished what we set out to achieve that day, it did not make for a failed journey.
Sea Salt, Honey and Yoghurt Cake
Serves: 4-6 people
Makes: two x 5inch cake layer
Cooking time: 1+ hours, + extra for cooling
The inspiration for this cake came from that wonderfully breezy day; the taste of strong sea air; the sight of soft sea foam racing up the beach; the floral, sweet smell of the rows of hyacinths that we discovered on our tulip-searching adventure. I used lavender sugar here, but you could substitute it for 1/2tsp of rosewater or orange blossom, or even cherry blossom if you prefer. The floral notes are suppose to be fleeting, as spring blossoms usually are, but add more if you wish.
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2tbsp vanilla sugar
1/4tbsp lavender sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup + 2tbsp (125g) butter, room temperature
1 cup plain natural yoghurt
1tsp sea salt
5 egg whites, large
2tbsp baking soda
2 cups plain flour (minus 2 tbsp)
Mascarpone Chantilly Cream
2 tbsp mascarpone
600ml heavy cream
1/2tsp vanilla extract
2tbsp confectionary sugar, sifted
fresh, organic edible flowers (I bought mine from Maddock Farm Organics)
Preheat the oven to 170c (150c fan-assisted) 325f. Place parchment paper on the bottom and around the inside of the cake tin to be used. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and add the sugars and sea salt to this. Give it a mix to distribute the dry ingredients, then add the butter into a bowl and mix, ensuring that no lumps remain.
In a separate bowl, place the yoghurt, honey and egg whites and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, a little at a time, until incorporated. Stir gently to ensure you do not knock the air out of the batter. Gently pour batter into each cake tin and fill each approximately 3/4 of the way up.
Place in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. (Tip: if the cake begins to brown, place a sheet of baking parchment over the tins to slow down the browning). Take out of their tins, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool down completely. When cool, cut each cake in half.
Meanwhile, place the cream into a bowl, add the confectionary sugar and vanilla, and stir. Beat the cream until whipped. Add some of the whipped cream to the mascarpone (this can be done on a separate plate) until the mascarpone blends and softens into the cream. Add this to the bowl full of the chantilly cream and mix well to incorporate.
If decorating with flowers, wash the flowers first, before removing the stalks, sepals and stamens. To assemble to cake, pipe some of the chantilly cream on top of each cake layer, spreading it evenly before stacking another cake layer on top. On the top layer, spread the cream thinly (as you would with a crumble layer) and across the sides, filling in any holes between layers. The cake should still be visible, providing a somewhat rustic affect. Place each individual flower on top of the cake before serving. Eat immediately.
To my dearest Grandma Ida, and my darling nephew, Babel: I hope you both have the most wonderful day, full of laughter, joy and most importantly, that you are surround by those you love and those who cherish you. Happy Birthday!
Thank you for reading.