Wine and cake – the first of an occasional theme
Let’s try some word association. If I say the word wine, do you reply with cake? No, I thought not. Pairing wine and cake together only occurred to me on a miserable winter afternoon. Given the current spate of storms battering these shores (Storm Xena Warrior Princess* will be along soon), a short article about matching wine and cake seems comforting. Perhaps the British penchant for Afternoon Tea and for watching Bake Off repeats make it even more apt.
Munching on a slice of cake makes a good excuse for a glass of wine. A cake is typically sweet, based on some combination of flour, eggs and sugar and baked in an oven. And don’t forget pastries! Our word for cake comes from the Vikings, but cake recipes probably go back millennia and are part of many cultures. As a result, there’s endless variety, ranging from an easy packet Victoria Sponge to the fiendishly tricky Baklava and Baked Alaska.
Indeed, virtually every special occasion seems to call for cake as often as they call for wine – think of weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. And to create them, you don’t have to be Jane Asher, though that certainly helps.
Time then to begin an exploration of cake and wine matching. Admittedly it’s at some risk to your waistline, but with the advantage that half-bottles are often available to keep costs and calories down.
The first of an occasional theme
Hence this article is the first of an occasional theme; road-testing a homemade cake recipe with a wine recommendation.
Given my profound lack of baking prowess, we’ll start this time with a perennial favourite, Luscious Lemon Cake. I was so proud the first time I made this. A feeling that lasted only until a friend commented that they’d made far better ones, and that was when they were only five years old. Ouch, thanks, ex-friend. Who needs friends anyway when you have cake?
Luscious Lemon Cake
This recipe makes a 20 cm round cake. Feel free to add icing, but it isn’t necessary and is above my skill grade.
For the cake
275 g self-raising flour
275 g plain flour
400 g unsalted butter, softened
400 g golden caster sugar
Eight medium eggs, beaten
Zest of five fresh lemons
75 ml squeezed lemon juice
One tablespoon vanilla extract
Rest of the lemon juice, approx. 225 ml
140 g golden caster sugar
Preheat the oven and have all the ingredients at room temperature. Grease and line the cake tin. Zest the lemons, then squeeze them for about 300 ml of juice. Sieve the flours together. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then beat in eggs, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Add a few tablespoons of flour to prevent the mixture from curdling. Carefully fold the remaining flour into the mix. Finally, stir in the lemon zest, 75 ml of lemon juice and vanilla extract.
Now spoon the mixture into the cake tin and bake until risen and lightly golden. It needs 100 minutes at 140°C in a fan oven or 160°C in a conventional one. To check when done, insert a skewer into the centre of the baked cake; this should come out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup glaze. Put the rest of the lemon juice into a pan, add sugar slowly, stir, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. Once the cake is ready, spoon the lemon syrup over the cake and leave it to cool before removing it from the tin.
The result is a Madeira-like cake in texture and density, with a golden crust and a very intense lemon flavour, a perfect marriage that’s not overly sweet. It’s best eaten when fresh but will keep for up to five days if wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight container.
Time for wine
Lightness is the key here – choose a lighter style white wine with refreshing acidity that’s at least as sweet as the cake. There are plenty of candidates, but how about a classic refreshing fizz – Moscato d’Asti. Here’s one of the best.
Michele Chiarlo, Nivole, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piemonte, Italy. 2021. 5%
Yes, only 5% alcohol. It’s 100% Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains). This example is by the Michele Chiarlo winery in Piemonte. Indeed, this large and well known family-run winery also makes other famous wines such as Barolo, Barbaresco and Gavi.
Piemonte is also where the Moscato grape thrives, with DOCG status for the sparkling wines. Moscato d’Asti is always a frizzante style as the allowable maximum gas pressure for it is only 2.5 bar, created by using the Martinotti/Charmat method. When the fermentation reaches 5 % alcohol, it’s stopped by chilling to 0°C. Microfiltration removes the remaining yeast; hence the resulting stable wine is lightly sparkling, semi-sweet and ready to drink. Just serve chilled.
Nivole means “clouds”, and that’s the lasting memory of tasting it; light, fresh and pillowed. It’s creamy and semi-sweet, with enough acidity to freshen the palate. It’s aromatic too, with white flower, peach, apricot and a lingering grapiness that all reprise on the palate.
On first acquaintance, Nivole might seem like superficial, lighthearted froth. But this is a serious, carefully crafted wine of delicacy and finesse. Oh, and excellent with Luscious Lemon Cake.
The screwcapped half-bottle is widely available in the UK, offering tremendous value. Try Steep Hill Wines in Lincoln, £9.95
If this wine and cake combo doesn’t put a smile on your face, especially on a winter’s day, then I’m afraid nothing will!
Strada Nizza-Canelli, 99
*No storms are ever named using the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z. So please grant me a little artistic licence.
Like this? The second wine and cake article is here.