Although we had already been covered by the first blankets of snow here in early November, somehow, much of the vegetation that should have fallen into deep slumber with the arrival of the frosts, has remained alive and somewhat content with the progression of the cold temperatures. I am rather embarrassed to say that by the beginning of October, I had already begun to neglect my humble little garden. I have allowed it to grow rugged and wild, not even having cut back the lady’s mantle or the catmint, nor have I planted next years tulips as I had meant to do. Only now have I taken note of its predicament and noticed its yearning for some much needed affection. Of all the stubborn flora in my garden, the roses have bewildered me as much as they keep captivating me. They seem to still be budding and blossoming, even in these freezing temperatures the Peaks have on offer. Their deep magenta colours against the white frosty backdrop enchant me as if I were in a fairytale, with me as the misunderstood but neglectful evil gardener. Nevertheless, I have made it a point to tend to the needs of my garden over the coming weekend before more snow begins to fall, and the simple notions of leaving the warmth of the house, becomes a mere fantasy.
These colder, darker months have me imagining the oh so distant future, when a strawberry will be plucked from its stem, suddenly filling my nostrils with its strong, sweet perfume. Such images have made me start to appreciate the beauty of harvesting and storing fruits and vegetables for these wintery times. Luckily, earlier in the year we had decided to freeze a batch of blackberries we had picked, to enjoy later on in crumbles and pies, which is what I crave for most when the soul needs some much needed reassurance of the coming of warmer, sunnier tidings.
Much of the inspiration for this recipe came from fondly watching our little ray of sunshine. Cheerful yet cheeky, she was dashing aimlessly through last month’s snow, smiling and playing, with a single pink bow tied around her neck given to her by her new found friends at the local dog grooming place. The notion of pairing such a light delicate pink, with contrasting, darker, richer tones – which, I found, particularly suited her light coloured coat – seemed immensely exciting, particularly the concept of recreating our labrador’s personality into a harmonious amalgamate of flavours.
My family, particularly my brother, refers to the little ray of sunshine as “one that is soft and lovely”, and I could not agree more. However, this sock-grabbing, on-my-leg-dribbling, squirrel-chasing, muddy-puddle-splashing pooch is also an incredibly mischievous little monkey: full of life, energy, spirit and personality. A wonderfully perfect balance of playfulness and serenity which I cannot help but admire, and hopefully can learn from.
But onto the main event: the Spiced Cranberry and Hibiscus Mousse Cake. There is an airy lightness to this mousse cake, which really brings out the tarty sweetness of the richer, jelly centre which is finished off with the wonderful contrasting texture of the crust. There is an element of aromatic complexity there that I absolutely adore. Bring frozen blackberries to the table, and suddenly, the creaminess and sweetness is cut sharply with the refreshing tanginess of the berries. Sublimity!
The complexity, I like to believe, can be attributed in part to the use of a spiced hibiscus infusion. Luckily for me, the flowers themselves grow in abundance back home and can easily be purchased in the Summer months to dry their petals so that their citrusy tartness can be enjoyed later on in the year.
Hibiscus, I have often been told, symbolises happiness and joyfulness, as well as delicate beauty and unity. These traits I found to be rather fitting as today Djamo’s brother, Gyano, is getting married to his beautiful bride, Censa. To add some comfort and calm, cinnamon and all-spice bring a warming element, and the infusion itself imparts a hauntingly playful and flavourful note, which I hope they, as well as you, will enjoy.
Spiced Cranberry and Hibiscus Mousse Cake with an Almond Vanilla Crust
Hibiscus is a very common drink back home, and I remember going to my grandparents’ house to find hibiscus tea, made from the petals, being served. The taste has always reminded me of cranberries, perhaps due to its tartiness. Upon my return to England, I brought along a small little bag of dried petals that I had found in the local market: a simple but beautiful reminder of the sweet memories and flavours of childhood.
Almond Vanilla Crust
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes: 1 x 7 inch cake tin
2 cup of almonds, finely ground
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Preheat the oven to 160ºC (140ºC fan oven, 325ºF). Line a cake tin with a removable bottom with parchment paper. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and using your hands, rub the butter into the almond mix until you have the consistency of wet sand.
Pour the crust into the cake tin and press it down hard so that the crust is compact (tip: I use the bottom of a measuring cup to press the crust down and ensure that the crust is level).
Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
Once cooled, line the cake tin with cling film (this can be achieved by remove the bottom of the cake tin and lining the cling film around the tin bottom before placing back into the cake tin so that the film protects from leakage). Set aside.
Spiced Hibiscus Infusion
Cooking time: 10 minutes + 1 hour infusion
Makes: approximately 700 ml
This infusion can easily be made into a syrup by boiling for approximately 30 minutes, until the liquid is significantly reduced and the infusion is thick like molasses. It can be used in drinks, over ice-cream, as an ice-cream flavour, cakes, etc. The syrup would be lovely added to a lemonade.
3/4 cup of dried hibiscus petals
3 cup water
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp clementine juice
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 stick cinnamon
5-6 all-spice berries
Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes until all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid has turned a dark, ruby red. Take off the heat, cover and allow to cool completely. Allow to infuse for 1 hour before discarding the spices and petals.
Cranberry and Hibiscus Filling
Cooking time: 45 minutes + resting times
Makes: approximately 1.2 litres of cranberry and hibiscus sauce
The frozen blackberries, which I picked earlier in the year, really finish off the dish, cutting through the creamy richness and adding a refreshing note. It should be noted that the frozen blackberries are best taken out of the freezer and placed on top of the cake as late as possible or just before the cake is ready to be served, no sooner, or they will begin to the thaw and become soft.
100 ml pomegranate juice
700 ml spiced hibiscus infusion
1 3/4 cup caster sugar
3 cup cranberries
5 leaf gelatine
500 ml heavy cream
250 g ricotta
1/4 cup confectionary sugar
200 ml full fat milk
1 cup frozen blackberries (decoration)
Pour the cooled infusion and pomegranate juice into a saucepan with the cranberries and caster sugar. Over a medium heat until it comes to a boil and, stirring occasionally, allow to cook for 20-25 minutes until the cranberries have been broken down (+ resemble glacé cherries) and the liquid has thickened slightly. Take off the heat and allow to cool and thicken more.
Once cooled, place the sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a sieve or cheesecloth to catch any pulp. Pour 1 1/4 cups of the cranberry sauce into a jug or bowl and set this aside.
Place 3 leaves of gelatine into a bowl and follow the package instructions (usually pouring cold water over them and leaving them to absorb the liquid for 3-4 minutes). Squeeze any excess water out before placing into a saucepan of 100 ml milk. Over a very low heat, stir the gelatine and milk together until the gelatine has just melted. Take off heat and pour into the rest of the cranberry sauce (the largest amount). Pour this over the pre-made almond crust and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours until it is firm.
When the cranberry and hibiscus layer is firm, whip the heavy cream in a bowl with the confectionary sugar. When thick, add the ricotta and the 1 1/4cups of the cranberry sauce that was put aside. The cling film can be removed from the cake tin, if you chose to do so.
Take 2 leaves of gelatine into a bowl, as before. Squeeze any excess water out before placing into a sauce of 100 ml milk. Over a very low heat, once again, stir the gelatine and milk together until the gelatine has just melted. Take off the heat and pour into the whipped cream mixture and stir until a thick consistency is achieved. Place this into the cake tin on top of the cranberry and hibiscus layer and allow to refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, take out of the refrigerator and using a sharp knife, go around the edges to ensure the mousse has not stuck to the sides, and remove the mousse cake from the cake tin. Remove the cling film from the sides (if not removed already) and place on a plate. Decorate with the frozen blackberries and serve immediately. Can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Thank you for reading.
To Censa and Gyano,
We wish you all the happiness and beauty your new shared life together can bring you. That you may have a magical wedding day and a blissful marriage.
Yasmin and Djamo x