cane syrup - black

It’s International Restaurant Day tomorrow – a great idea from Finland encouraging people to set up restaurants for a day, anywhere, for fun. The idea of the day, according to the website, is “to have fun, share new food experiences and enjoy our common living environments together.” Since it started up in 2011, it’s grown from 45 restaurants in 13 cities in Finland to a whopping 2017 restaurants popping up, just for the day, in 30 countries around the world. Amazing! In a moment of crazed enthusiasm on Tuesday, me and my 9-year-old daughter decided to get involved and serve Gumbo from the communal barbecue in the park in front of our house. I’m now looking out of the window at a full-blown Scottish November storm, wondering when I mistook Dundee for Louisiana…

Despite inclement weather conditions, for 2 hours only, Special O’Cajun (geddit? Puns courtesy of Stanley, age 11 – yeah, don’t blame me ok?) will be serving up Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Baked Beans and Gateaux de Sirop from the shelter of the Magdalen Green cherry trees. They’re all recipes from Sarah Savoy’s beautiful book, The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food which we were very proud to publish last year. Of all of them, it’s the Gateaux de Sirop that I love the most: a dark, moist spiced cake that smells to me of childhood and takes me back to the sticky gingerbreads my mum used to bake, and her mum before her.

Where my mum would have used treacle and golden syrup, the ‘sirop’ in this recipe should really be dark cane syrup.  Sarah says: “This is a very old-fashioned recipe that Cajun ladies used to make to bring to their friends when visiting. My dad used to grow sugar cane and cut and peel pieces of the cane for us to chew on as an afternoon snack. When he was younger, one of his favourite treats was getting to sample the ‘cane beer’ made during the process of making the cane syrup. As the cane boiled, the foam and chuff that rose to the top was removed to a pot beside the fire. In the heat the sugar would ferment and that would be used to make the beer. I’m gonna get around to trying that some day.”

Here’s Sarah’s recipe, just in case you can’t swing by our restaurant tomorrow. Happy International Restaurant Day everybody x

Gateau de Sirop

Serves 10

  • 260g (1½ cups) brown sugar
  • 125ml (½ cup) vegetable oil
  • 350g (1 cup) dark cane syrup or black treacle
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 375g (2½ cups) plain flour
  • 200g (1 cup) raisins or chopped dried figs
  • 100g (2/3 cup) chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 23 x 33cm cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and flour your cake tin, then line it with greaseproof paper.

Mix the brown sugar, oil, and cane syrup or treacle in a large bowl. Put the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda in a cup with 250ml (1 cup) of very hot, but not boiling, water then pour it into the syrup mixture. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, cocoa powder and lemon zest and stir until combined. Beat in the eggs, one by one, then gradually fold in the flour, then the raisins, and then the nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake it for about 50–60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Serves 10

N.B. Sometimes, instead of mixing the pecans into the butter, I like to candy them in butter, sugar and cinnamon, then chop them roughly and sprinkle over the baked cake.

Buy The Savoy Kitchen – A Family History of Cajun Food by Sarah Savoy here.