It’s only when November arrives that I completely part with summer. Finally something I’ve been looking forward to – chilly nights, gentler air, less oppressive crowds. A time of warming, cosy suppers of sustenance.
Baked potatoes, salt-crusted, stuffed with bacon and chives, sumptuous feasts of rich pork or slowly cooked, melting beef stews. Time for crumbles, rice pudding and bread and butter, as snug as a teddy bear.
But above all, to me November is the time of nuts.
Walnuts and coffee in the retro classic confectionery, the merest bitterness of both flavours, complementing each other flawlessly. Sticky pecans and honey laid out on a buttery sheet of pastry and served with a pool of warm custard. Dense and fleshy chestnuts in a velvety mushroom soup, with a scattering of parsley and savoury bacon crumbled on top.
My favourite is the hazelnut. The fruit bowl never feels more autumnal than when those are around.
A handful tossed into a pan of amber, caramelised sugar to make praline for topping ice-cream – a small amount toasted until fragrant and ground, to substitute for flour in short, crumbly, messy pastry enclosing a tart of blackberries or figs.
This time a cupful of hazelnuts ended up in a moist, deep, flourless cake. Not only are the nuts incredibly friendly with the clementines, but they impart their warm, crisp qualities and oils to moisten the crumb.
It has no flour or sugar added – surely this must be health food. If not, though, it’s virtuous comfort food – a cake for an afternoon once the leaves have fallen, taken at teatime with the aroma of an open fireplace.
Clementines, 275g (approx. 2 medium-sized ones)
Pitted dates, 100g, finely chopped
Large eggs, 6
Hazelnuts, 250g ground*
Baking powder, 1 teaspoon
* It’s actually a lot better tasting if you grind these yourself: toast the whole nuts in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Rub them together in your palms, the bitter skins should just peel away. Place in a food processor and blitz until finely ground.
Put the whole clementines in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to the boil and let simmer for 2 hours. Drain, halve the fruit and discard the pips.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC, butter and line the bottom of a 21 cm springform cake tin.
Tip the whole lot – skin, pith, pulp and all – into the processor and whizz until smooth, before adding the rest of the ingredients. Blitz further until you’ve got a velvety, cake batter-like mix. Transfer into the prepared baking tin and bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes. The baking time really does depend on your oven – so check for doneness with a skewer – if it comes out clean, the cake’s done.
The cake needs neither icing nor syrup – it’s moist and sticky as it is – but I think serving with a dollop of thick greek yoghurt complements it well.
Photography by Arek Zagata