A classic French cake adapted to suit either a gluten free diet or those who favour a super light sponge.
Although this is a food blog I don’t often write recipes on it (there are plenty elsewhere on the web). However I was recently chatting with a friend who is struggling with a dilemma between gluten intolerance and a sweet tooth. She was bemoaning how most gluten free cakes tend to be too robust and filling. I can see her point, as although there may be times when only a filling flapjack will do, I think that patisserie should be similar to witty banter: light, frivolous and full of the joy of life.
Biscuit de Savoie is a classic French cake. Traditionally it is made with a mixture of potato and wheat flour (50/50 or 60/40 depending on the cook), however I have made it successfully with 100% potato flour, meaning it is gluten free. As this cake is even lighter than a classic Biscuit de Savoie, you really need a fairy touch when folding through the ingredients, plus as with all fatless sponges, its shelf life is limited to hours. So eat on the day of baking. I like to fill this cake with cream and jam, however I’ve also had it served plain accompanying stewed fruit.
My thanks to Shaun Pritchard who gave me his mother’s recipe (using 60 g potato flour and 40g plain wheat flour), as she is from Savoie region in France it is the real, tried and tested, thing. Here’s my adaptation:
Biscuit de Savoie
100g potato flour
190g castor sugar flavoured with a vanilla pod
100ml double / clotted cream or crème fraîche
2 tablespoons of jam
Beat egg yolks and sugar until they are thick and white in colour. You may need to add a tablespoon of cold water if the mixture is very dry.
Very gently fold through the flour.
Whisk the egg whites till stiff.
Fold egg whites through the mixture with the lightest of touches.
Pour this into a greased tin.
Bake for 40 mins at 180°c.
When cool slice across the middle and spread with jam and cream. Eat that day.
For those friends and family who have been angling for my orange cake recipe, also gluten free, I’m afraid to say that it remains a closely guarded secret which proves that some cooks are just mean.
Grandpa’s attitude to eating reflected his attitude to life. For him food was just fuel for the physical although he particularly enjoyed dinner time banter with family and friends and always chose home cooked over restaurant meals.
My Grandpa, Reverend George Arthur Hemming, born 19th September 1915, died on the 20th January 2009 aged 93. He was a complex and popular man with a wide range of interests. (I am sure the 120 people who attended his funeral would agree.) I could write many, many words about him quoting Shakespeare and the Bible, his pedantic insistence on good grammar, his ability to vault a five bar gate wearing shorts and long woolly socks and his way of getting to the heart of a problem in one pithy sentence. But as this is a food blog here I will focus on Grandpa’s attitude to food and how (as with us all) this mirrored his attitude to life.
He was not a gourmet, he enjoyed food but he was not extravagant about it either in quantity or expense. He always preferred a homemade blackberry and apple pie, preferably made by my Grandma, to a frivolous shop-bought patisserie. Perhaps this was because he always believed that ‘the Lord would provide’ and what better illustration of that than hedgerow fruit.
Grandpa was a Congregationalist minister; he had a profound conviction in Christianity. His belief in God and the Bible as God’s word shaped everything that he did and thought. For him the body was just the earthily vessel for the spirit, something that should be mastered and controlled. He pushed himself physically and frequently spent the day fasting and praying. Then in the last years of his life he completely lost his appetite and he would pick dissolutely at his plate, particularly as incapacity meant that most of the food that he and Grandma shared had to be frozen ready meals.
But even when he was suffering physically Grandpa was never a dour companion, far from it, as many people at his funeral fondly remembered he was a great joker. And he enjoyed mealtimes because he really appreciated how breaking bread brought family and friends together. Mealtimes at his home, The Sheeling, were lively, often argumentative, and fun. He was a great conversationalist, an exceptional raconteur with a love of witty banter, word games and traveller’s tales.
For his time Grandpa was exceptionally well travelled. During World War II he served with the Royal Corps of Signals and was posted to India. This was his first trip of many. Later on he became a missionary and visited India, Pakistan and Bangladesh many times. He came back with a love of curry that unfortunately my Grandmother didn’t share, however English food was still his favourite.
Grandma was an exceptional cook and baker. Her apple pies, trifles and jungle juice are legendary and she used to win rafts of prizes at the village show. As she grew older losing her ability to cook was very, very hard, yet she could still make a Victoria sponge aged 89, which Grandpa particularly enjoyed. And Grandma still tucks into a roast potato with relish.
The last meal I cooked for them both was beef stew with mashed neeps and potatoes followed by leftover Christmas pudding and custard. Both he and Grandma ate with appetite as we shared a bottle of Côte du Rhône and put the world to rights. He knew he was dying and after dinner we said goodbye. I am so very glad I had the chance.
Grandpa never ate a meal without saying grace first. He never took food, the fuel for a life well lived, for granted and for that, and so many other things, I miss him. But I know I have been very, very blessed to have shared so much with such a wonderful person.
George Hemming is survived by his wife Nina Hemming, four children, eight granddaughters, and five great-grandchildren.