"Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people - those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment and those who find comfort in food." Or so declares this month's choice for the Cook the Books club on its first page. "The Little White Horse" by Elizabeth Goudge was a childhood favourite of an earlier generation, and a charming choice for us to read. The story follows many of the conventions of children's fiction including dead parents, odd uncles, wicked strangers, a search and a mystery, thrown together with a menagerie of highly intuitive animals, fairy-like people and the inevitable triumph of good over evil. The book was delightful to read and such a change of speed from the sort of novels that I generally find myself engrossed in.
While reading the book, I contemplated what to cook for this challenge. It had to be something that was very traditional "English" food, in keeping with the book. Sausages were a definite possibility because they kept turning up in the descriptions of breakfast, but after a less than successful attempt at Toad in the Hole, I decided to focus on the climax of the book - afternoon tea. The cook, Marmaduke Scarlet, created a high tea banquet with plum cake, saffron cake, cherry cake, iced fairy cakes, eclairs, gingerbread, meringues, syllabub, and more. I decided, if I were Marmaduke Scarlet, I would make for Maria and Robin something light and dainty as the kiss of Loveday Minette, and serve it with strawberry tea. So here are some strawberry sponge kisses, also called powder puffs, that are soft and sugary and perfectly delicious.
The recipe for these sponge kisses comes from The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander, which seems to have every recipe that you could ever want to find, but did not know where to start. The direction to line your trays with baking paper is important - otherwise removing your cakes from the oven trays will damage them. I also think I didn't get my egg whites stiff enough before adding the sugar. The hardest part of the recipe is allowing them to sit for three hours to soften after they are filled with the cream. I'm sure there will be no complaints if I need to try again to perfect this recipe.....
Strawberry Sponge Kisses
from "The Cook's Companion" by Stephanie Alexander
75g plain flour
¾ tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 eggs, separated
¾ cup castor sugar
stiffly whipped cream
Preheat oven to 210C (if using a fan-forced convection oven, 200C may be better) and line four baking trays with baking paper. Sift dry ingredients, except sugar, three times. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually beat in sugar until mixture forms a glossy, stiff meringue. Add yolks one at a time. Sift dry ingredients over mixture, then fold in very gently and thoroughly. Do not stir mixture after this point. It should be firm and when spooned onto trays should not settle or run. Quickly spoon heaped teaspoons of mixture onto prepared trays, well apart to allow for spreading. Cook for 5-7 minutes until sponge-coloured.
Allow cakes to rest on trays for one minute, then, using a spatula, slip them onto a wire rack. When cakes are completely cold, store in pairs in an airtight tin for at least three hours, then fill each pair with a strawberries and whipped cream three hours before serving. They will take about 30 minutes to soften. Dust surface with icing sugar before serving.