Are you a lark, an owl, or a hummingbird? I am a lark, and have been for as long as I can remember. I find it really genuinely hard to sleep in of a morning: I wake up early and once I’m awake, that’s it, I am not getting back to sleep. Even if James and I have been out until 2am, I can’t stay in bed past 8am. As soon as I am up my mind is going full pelt and I am usually chatty and busy and keen to organise the day in excruciating detail (this is incredibly annoying for my husband, because he is an owl and cannot hold a real conversation until he is dressed, breakfasted, and topped up with coffee). I do my best work first thing in the morning: I will sit down at my laptop and start blasting through emails and tick seven tasks off my list before 9am.
If you are thinking that I am incredibly smug and irritating and getting ready to slap me, then let me tell you the flipside of this: I am utterly, completely, totally useless in the evenings. I can’t do any meaningful mental work past about 9pm, and really ideally I’d stop all work before dinner. I find it nearly impossible to stay up late – if I had my way I’d sleep from about 10pm to 6am, but sadly my life doesn’t allow for this as I teach in the evenings and we do a lot of late-night socialising. I have fallen asleep on friends’ sofas and in pubs and on the backseats of cars because I have been forced to stay out late and my body is just not having it. I am always to first to bail out of any rowdy late night social occasion. Basically, I am deeply uncool.
And I am in the minority! I understand this. Most people glare at me when I start cheerily rambling on at them at 7am. Everyone sighs at my pathetic nature when I leave the pub and head for bed at 9.30pm. Normal people have decadent weekend lie-ins and wish for a later start to the workday, while I merrily got up at 5.30am for a year and trundled onto the 6.55am train to get to London, loving the empty streets and sunrises.
Anyway, here is my effort to join in with the crowd that is out late drinking, whilst still being at home before dark and spending all my time baking instead of socialising. Wine cake. I should really call this cake something more sophisticated but, guys, let’s be real: it’s got Moscatel and grapes in it. It’s wine cake. Wine. Cake. What is not to love?
Source: Adapted from BBC Good Food.
Notes: Dessert wines often have hints of honey, apricot, and other citrus fruits. That’s why I think the demerara sugar and the lemon and orange are lovely in this cake, it all works together. It’s not overly wine-y – it just has a pleasant backnote of wine. The oil makes it lovely and moist, and it keeps well.
I talk about using a mixer (which could be a hand whisk, a food processor, or a kitchen aid type thing), but it would be fine to do it by hand. I am just lazy.
250ml dessert wine (dessert wine can be super-expensive, but I use Sainsbury’s Moscatel de Valencia, which is only £5.35)
175ml extra-virgin olive oil
200g light muscovado or light brown soft sugar
100g softened butter
zest 2 oranges
zest 2 lemons
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g seedless grapes, any colour, halved
5 tbsp demerara sugar
- Bring the wine to boil in a small pan over a medium heat, then simmer for around ten minutes to reduce to 100ml. Pour into a jug, then add the olive oil and leave to cool. Meanwhile, butter a 23cm cake tin, then shake 1 tbsp of plain flour around it and tap out the excess. Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.
- Beat sugar and butter together with the zests until creamy and smooth then, with the mixer running, add the eggs one by one. Weigh your flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. With the mixer running, pour around a third of your wine and oil mix into the batter, then a third of your flour mix, then a third of your oil mix, and so on, alternating the liquid and dry mixes until everything is in and it’s all well-combined. You will be left with a smooth, fragrant, fairly liquid batter.
- Pour the batter into your tin, then scatter it with the halved grapes and the demerara sugar. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until it’s firm and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Start checking at around 40 minutes. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes in the tin before removing, and eat warm (lovely with cream or ice cream for a dessert) or cool.