one good plate

Anna Foster's Desert Island Dish

Anna Foster, fashion editor and creator of E.L.V Denim talks to Ravinder Bhogal about inheriting her late mother’s recipe books and a missing recipe for the perfect orange cake

Ravinder Bhogal | 14.10.2019

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Ravinder Bhogal

Journalist. Cook.

Author. @cookinboots

As a mother to three small children, a stylist and founder of E.L.V Denim – a brand that’s taking major strides in making universally wearable jeans sustainable and eco-friendly – you would think Anna Foster’s thoughts would be as far away from the kitchen as possible. Not so. “I know everyone says their mother is a brilliant cook,” she says, recalling the biggest influence on her cooking. “But my mum Diana was extraordinary.”

Diana passed away prematurely, aged just 59, some years ago, but she remains very much alive in Anna’s memories. She describes her mother as naturally beautiful with a year-round tan. “She loved the sun and spent a lot of her time in our conservatory wearing very little,’ she says. ‘She was an ex-model, and sometime Benny Hill girl who had an incredible figure. I remember her ironing in a terry towelling bikini.” (A Juergen Teller photograph begging to be taken if ever there was one.)

As well as inheriting her mother’s Jane Birkin-esque looks, Foster has also acquired her recipes. They’re filed in recycled school folders, which still bear Anna’s adolescent doodles of love hearts containing the initials of teenage crushes. The contents are the sum total of the life of a devoted mother who loved cooking traditional English food for her family.

“I wish I could tell you that the collection is a brilliant, well-curated trove of culinary gems, but the truth is the pages are full of scatty scrawls – either of additional ingredients she may have added to zhuzh-up recipes or sometimes notes to remind her of her children’s homework or extracurricular schedules.”

The pages are stained with the aftermath of some long-ago spill. Bits of dried sauce still cling to them. But for Anna, it’s the mess she treasures the most. “It’s the physical evidence that a recipe was loved and repeated, and the scribbles give me an insight into her everyday preoccupations,” she says.

Much as she misses her mother’s classic repertoire, which included a tender rolled pork stuffed with apricots and nuts, it’s the memory of a sponge cake stuffed with cream and oranges that makes her misty-eyed. “It’s not in the recipe book,” Anna says sadly, “but I will never forget how light it was, the silky cream and juicy oranges. She always made it for me because she knew it was my favourite.” We both sigh.

“I’ll always treasure the folder. It connects me to a moment when she was alive and well, flicking through it deciding what to cook for our dinner, just like I do for my children now.”

Sponge cake with orange curd cream

For the orange curd cream and filling:

Finely grated zest from 2 oranges and 1 lemon

Juice of 2 oranges and half a lemon

225g caster sugar

110g butter

4 egg yolks

250g mascarpone cream

3 oranges, peeled and sliced into 1cm circles

For the sponge:

225g unsalted butter, softened

225g golden caster sugar

Zest of an unwaxed orange

225g self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 eggs, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons fresh orange juice

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To decorate:

1 small orange, peeled and sliced into circles or segments

Edible flowers

Icing sugar

To prepare the curd cream, whisk all the ingredients except the mascarpone together in a heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk until thickened, taking care not to overcook or it will curdle. Allow to cool before folding into the mascarpone.

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (gas mark 3), and grease and line two 20cm sandwich cake tins.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the grated orange zest. Sift the flour and baking powder into another bowl. Gradually add the eggs to the creamed mixture, a little at a time, adding four tablespoons of the flour (one for each egg), one by one, to stop the mixture curdling. Beat the mixture well after each addition. Gently fold in the remaining flour and baking powder, then fold in the orange juice.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins and level the surface out by tapping the tins gently on your kitchen surface. Bake the cakes in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes or until they’re light and springy to the touch.

Leave the cakes to cool in their tins for five minutes, then turn each one out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. When they are completely cool, cut each one in half, spread with a generous layer of cream, top with sliced oranges and sandwich the four cakes together. Decorate the top with edible flowers and oranges, and sprinkle with icing or sugar before serving.

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