After what felt like a more or less normal, if quiet, weekend I was expecting the reality of social isolation to really hit home this morning. That's partly because I live above a pub that's now closed, and overlook the car park and offices of what I think is still the finance department of a university.
The pub is closed to customers, but I'm directly above the cellar where quite a bit of work is still going on (I guess they're cleaning lines and shipping out beer, whatever it is involves moving a lot of kegs around and is noisy). The car park, and this surprises me more, is about a third full. Closing down the university clearly doesn't yet extend to administrative staff. All in all it feels like a fairly ordinary Monday from inside my flat.
That it looks so normal makes me want to go out and do normal things - I hope this is where the illusion would end, but as I'm going to stay away from the town centre today I won't find out just yet. I had a decent fruit and veg shop on Friday and Saturday and really don't need anything (although I'm starting to fantasize about an M&S crusty baguette).
One thing I bought in a fit of enthusiasm was quite a lot of forced rhubarb from the market. The stall had six stalks left and I got the lot because I can't judge the weight of rhubarb by eye and it looked so tempting. It turned out to be a kilo and by yesterday was threatening to go limp.
I could have baked it all, which was the original plan, to have on yoghurt or porridge, but as there was so much of it I made a cake too. The recipe is from Luisa Weiss' 'Classic German Baking', and for a while has been one of many slightly disappointing rhubarb cakes I've made. They're generally wetter than I like and no amount of tinkering has ever got me results I've found really satisfactory.
Yesterday I had a break through. The recipe suggests that you can also add streusel topping. It's a simple cake recipe and the addition of more butter and sugar hadn't really appealed before, but as both the butter I had in the fridge, and almonds in the cupbourd were getting near their best before dates it seemed like a good time to use them. And now I've got a cake which is amazing.
The disappointment with previous cakes was probably a combination of personal preference, the way my oven works (always as personal as preferences) and maybe the exact size of my cake tin. Regardless a slightly crunch topping has made everything good again.
The Mandelstreusel is 100g of plain flour, 50g of ground almonds, 100g of granulated sugar, a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 100 g of unsalted butter. Mix in a bowl until bean and pea size bits form. It doesn't need to be to uniform. This quantity will apparently cover an up to 33cm cake tin, but I saw no reason not to use all of it. Luisa says it will also freeze well for up to 3 months. Something worth remembering for if I have left over almonds and butter (after say Christmas baking).
The simple rhubarb cake recipe is 500g of rhubarb trimmed and cut into chunks of roughly a centimetre then tossed in 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Pre heat the oven to 180C and line a 25cm springform tin with baking paper letting the sides hang over the edge). Beat 125g of granulated sugar with 100g of unsalted butter until pale and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs, 1 at a time, add the grated peel of half a lemon, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Sift together 190g of plain flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt. Add half of this to the butter mix, loosed it with 60ml's of milk, and add the rest of the flour, beating until just combined.
Put the batter in the cake tin, it'll make a very thin layer. Top with the rhubarb which will make quite a thick layer, finish with the Mandelstreusel which should more or less cover the rhubarb. Bake for just over an hour, or until the streusel topping is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin. If you're not using the streusel topping add an extra spoon of sugar to the rhubarb, and it should bake in an hour.