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The Bundt Stops Here

Nigella Lawson's five-spice cider cake is like a gingerbread that's all grown up
Nigella's Five-Spice Cider Cake
Photo: Dave Katz/Tasting Table

It's Baking Month: Switch your oven on and get warm, cozy and festive with us this December.

Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson is just about the last person we would ever expect to throw out the "I don't have a sweet tooth" card.

"I love baking. I mean there are times when I really want to bake a cake, but not necessarily eat it," she explains while getting ready to, well, bake a cake in the Tasting Table Test Kitchen.

The British cookbook author and TV host continues, "I find not having an exceptionally sweet tooth a great aid. It's not sugar at any cost, so flavor is very important to me, and getting some complexity of flavor into something sweet matters."

That might explain why her cider and five-spice Bundt cake (see the recipe)—which is a bit like a gingerbread cake but with a lighter crumb—trades intense sweetness for depth from cider and molasses, a hint of something savory from Chinese five-spice and smoke from an updated salty caramel sauce that's drizzled atop just before serving.

"I felt wintry-ness and the idea of spices and apples and a log fire, and I suppose I was trying to get [at] those flavors . . . . For me, it's sort of winter in a fairground, a seriously grown-up candy apple," Lawson explains in her signature way that makes you want to slip into her enchanted world and never leave.

That nuanced approach to sweets shows up in many of the desserts in her new book, Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food ($35). There's pumpkin cake with orange zest and juice, another recipe that pairs lemon with thyme and a Persian-inflected apricot almond cake made with rose water and cardamom.

The book doesn't focus on a specific cuisine or technique, but rather it captures what Lawson is cooking now. "The recipe is a very highly charged autobiographical form . . . almost like a diary entry. What I eat and how I cook and what's in my kitchen is telling the story of my life and how it's lived," she says.

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These days, she's making a low and slow Italian veal shank stew, creative but simple vegetable dishes like broccolini with clementine and red pepper flakes, and heaps of things that fall into a category she calls "bowlfood," a one-word catchall for "food that is simultaneously soothing, bolstering, undemanding and sustaining," she explains in the book. That includes recipes like Chinese-inspired chicken noodle soup and Middle Eastern minestrone. "There's something quite Zen like about having your two hands embracing a bowl," she says.

It's hard to not be entransed when she says things like that or when she talks about serving the five-spice cake like this: "I do think [that] . . . when it still has the warm breath of the oven on it—just soon after it's been unmolded—with vanilla ice cream is pretty fantastic."

But, she concedes, "In winter, I wouldn't say no to it with a cup of tea midafternoon." Neither would we.

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