- Food & Drink
The milk keeps going off in my fridge. I could blame the fridge. Suggest it has a faulty dial that makes it run warm, or a loose seal that means the door quietly pops open in the middle of the night. Maybe it has ambitions to be an oven. But it isn’t the fridge’s fault. It’s mine. I’ve stopped drinking tea.
I don’t remember my first cup of tea because, unlike my first kiss, it wasn’t disappointing. It happened somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12, when my parents finally decided I was old enough to be trusted with a cup of hot liquid. My dad would make tea after dinner and pass the cups round his food coma-ed family, all settled on the sofa and the floor.
You might think that the early evening is a reckless time of day to feed a child caffeine, but I drank my tea made with half milk, half hot water and 6 spoons of sugar. Essentially, it was a drinkable pudding and no more likely to keep me awake than the jelly and ice cream or Angel Delight I’d already scoffed.
Tea became one of the stations in my day. In the morning I’d dance across the cold kitchen floor and hop from foot to foot while I waited for the kettle to boil. In the evening, Dad would make the rounds. On weekends there was an extra dose of tea in the middle of the afternoon (mid-mornings were for coffee and it took me another 20 years to like inky black shots of that). Tea was where the day started and ended.
I carried on the tea-drinking rituals when I left home. Filling the kettle was an instinctive reaction to being awake and on my feet. Pottering about with spoons, mugs, teabags and – when I was feeling upwardly mobile – a teapot was how I closed the curtains and drew the night in. Then, somewhere along the line, I just stopped making it.
I still drink tea, but only at work, when a walk to the makeshift kitchen is my best excuse for leaving my desk. It’s not a domestic lodestar anymore. Just a little pause, a moment’s breath among the deadlines and the documents.
This change in habit still hasn’t registered with me, though. I keep buying milk because I know I like to drink tea, so I must need milk. It’s a shopping loop I can’t get out of. But the kettle stays unboiled and the milk grows thick in the fridge. Which brings me to cake.
A solution to all problems, cake can suck up sour milk like a, well, like a sponge. Using sour milk (or buttermilk if you don’t have bottles of bad milk stacked up in your fridge) in the batter means you end up with a soft, damp cake that has a good amount of squodge. The sort of cake you eat with a fork – by itself, or maybe with fruit and cream for an in-joke afternoon tea.
Sour milk & lemon cake
200g salted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
250g sour milk
200g self-raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease a 23cm round cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.
Beat the butter and sugar together for a few minutes till they’re a pale, milky colour and fluffy looking. Beat the eggs together, then beat in a little egg at a time till you have a thick, liquid batter.
Pour in the sour milk and beat that in, too. The batter will start to look like cottage cheese that’s been left in a smoking room for a few years – worry not. All will be well.
Finely grate the zest off the lemon. Add to the bowl. Juice the lemon and add that. Sift in the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Use a flexible spatula to fold the flour into the batter. It will be look terrible and should be fairly liquid still. Pour it into the cake tin.
Bake for around 45 minutes to an hour till the cake is golden and firm. It won’t rise massively, but should look a lot more like a cake than you were expecting. Leave it to cool in the tin. Serve in slices by itself (parsimonious) or with summer berries and cream.