This delightful page comes from the novel A Mind to Murder by P.D. James (1963), the second of the Adam Dalgliesh novels. In my announcement for the current edition of Novel Food, I mentioned that I was reading it:
I read the first one Cover Her Face and liked it a lot, so now I am on to the second one. "In 1962 P.D. James' first novel, Cover Her Face, was published. In that novel she introduced the sensitive, taciturn, and hardworking Inspector Adam Dalgliesh" (source).
The murder to which the excerpt refers occurrs at the Steen Psychiatric Clinic, in London. An interesting detail is that at the beginning of the story, Superintendent Dalgliesh (of Scotland Yard) is asked to visit the scene of the crime while he is at a party:
At the other end of the square Superintendent Adam Dalgliesh of the Criminal Investigation Department was attending the ritual autumn sherry party given by his publishers which had coincided with the third reprint of his first book of verse. He didn't overestimate his talent or the success of his book. The poems, which reflected his detached, ironic and fundamentally restless spirit, had happened to catch a public mood.
Dalgliesh is a published poet: see, I told you that he is an interesting character. And P.D. James is a skillful and sensitive writer. I hope that the excerpts give you a glimpse of her art. With both novels, I had difficulty putting down the book, the traditional hallmark of the deeply absorbed reader.
The passage about the tea offered to Dalgliesh by Mrs. Fenton struck me particularly, since we are told in detail what was prepared for Dalgliesh and his reaction to the feast. Having recently presented two recipes for scones, I decided try my hand at something different to offer Superintendent Dalgliesh. I started my search using "iced sponge" as a trace, and, after looking at a number of recipes, I chose the one for Lemon Sponge Cake with Mixed Berries.
For Superintendent Dalgliesh, in the case at hand the conclusion does not come easy. In fact, in the lead up to the novel's denouement, he voices his uneasiness. This being a mystery, saying more would put me in the difficult position of revealing important details of the story and I'd much rather pique your curiosity and make you reach for the volume.
And now for the cake that I contribute to the tea prepared for Superintendent Dalgliesh. It a lightly sweetened cake with an soft texture that is just perfect for a proper English tea. I halved the quantities of the original recipe, halved again the sugar and made a couple more adjustments. I also used a mix of fruit, rather than jsut berries: raspberries (lamponi), mango and cherries (ciliegie). Instead of honey, I drizzled some fruit syrup on the top. The syrup is a by-product of macerating fruit for making preserves. At a preserve-making class I took from June Taylor, I saw her drain some of the juice produced by the fruit, when it was too much, which can happen, depending on the kind of fruit used. I boiled the syrup to reduce it slightly, and jarred it with the intention of using it in situations like the one at hand. It is lightly sweetened and very fruity.
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup (50 g) superfine sugar: take 1 tablespoon of it after measuring
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup cake flour
- Mixed fruit
- 2 tablespoons fruit syrup
Follow the instructions as on the original recipe with the following adjustments:
- Add the tablespoon of sugar you separated to the egg whites.
- Use an 8-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- If your oven allows it, use the convection bake option.
- Check the cake after 30 minutes in the oven.
- Drizzle fruit syrup over top of cake; however, if you don't have syrup, use the honey and lemon juice blend as in the original recipe.
Considering the challenge I face every time I decide to decorate something, I am proud of myself for how I was able to keep my inner genie under control here. I think that a Kandinsky-influenced decoration would not have been appropriate in the case of Mrs. Fenton's tea.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
And I am submitting this recipe, bookmarked on the Prevention magazine website, to the July edition of Bookmarked Recipes, an event originally started by Ruth of Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments and now hosted by Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the torta soffice con frutta mista audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]