Playing the gooseberry

It is not always about crumble and fool..

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Compared to many other berries the gooseberry is a bit of an ugly duckling.

The strawberry has notions of grandeur and luxury – all that Wimbledon stuff and the romantic ideal of feeding them to your scantily clad lover. The raspberry is a bit more homely but still red and gorgeous: with that dimple just perfect for retaining cream. The blueberry is as smooth and taut as a bodybuilder’s buttock.

The gooseberry, on the other hand, has a less secure place in the affections of the nation. They are seldom found in supermarkets and have the misfortune to be as bristly as a Shoreditch hipster. Once you get over these minor hitches, however, you will soon discover that they are a great asset to the garden. They are easy to grow – their only real problem is the gooseberry sawfly which, though capable of defoliating the plant, leaves the fruit untouched.

And, of course, the fruit is delicious. This is a recipe for Gooseberry and Thyme cake that my daughter Stroma (who is a phenomenal baker – her Tumblr is here) made at the weekend. The recipe is Diana Henry’s.

For the cake:

  • 125g (4½oz) butter
  • 125g (4½oz) caster sugar, plus 5 tbsp
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 75g (2¾oz) plain flour, sifted
  • 2 tsp lemon-thyme leaves,
  • chopped
 zest of 1 lemon
  • 75g (2¾oz) ground almonds (preferably freshly ground)
  • ¾ tsp baking-powder
  • 350g (12oz) gooseberries, topped and tailed

For the syrup:

  • 4 tbsp granulated sugar
  • juice of 2 large lemons
  • 1 tsp lemon-thyme leaves

To serve:

  • some thyme flowers
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • creme fraiche or whipped cream

Method

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Grease and base-line a 20cm (8in) spring-form cake tin. Beat the butter and 125g (4½oz) of the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle, add 1 tbsp of the flour.

Put the thyme leaves in a mortar with the lemon zest and pound together to release the fragrance. Add to the batter and briefly mix. Fold in the rest of the flour, the almonds and the baking-powder using a large metal spoon. Scrape into the tin. Toss the gooseberries with 5 tbsp caster sugar and spread over the top of the cake. Bake for 30 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin a little, then carefully remove and put on a plate. To make the syrup, quickly heat the sugar, lemon juice and thyme leaves in a saucepan, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Pierce the cake all over with a skewer and slowly pour the syrup into it. Leave to cool completely. Any thyme flowers you have will look lovely on top of the cake. You can leave it as it is or dust lightly with icing sugar just before serving.

Serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream if you wish.