One day I hope to live in a house with a library, or the very least, a decent shelving unit. I have been buying a lot of books this year. Investment shopping, I call it. I do not have a lot of time for reading at the moment. But one day, when I have those floor to ceiling wooden shelves, I will read every day. In the meantime, an artful stack to look at will do.

The wonderful thing about investment book shopping is the anything-goes rule. One day, I will read this! Short story collections, yes; crazy whacky poetry, yes; books of essays, yes; cookbooks requiring ingredients I can’t yet afford and kitchen ware I don’t yet own, yes; food writing, yes; novels, yes. Do you see how this game works?

This week has been a stand out week for buying books. There was a Vic Books sale, a clearance sale, books for as little as $2 I has been told. It was miserable weather and Francesca and I were feeling slightly sorry for ourselves. We trudged up the hill to Victoria where there was the promise of coffee and quiet book shopping. We bought poetry books, novels, a book of plays, a book of essays. And then, almost as an after thought, I picked up a pretty pink french cookbook called Taste Le Tour.

It has a padded cover with pink stripes and looks quite uncharacteristic of french cuisine. Where are the beautiful pictures of french markets and countryside, teeming with rounds of cheese, hanging sausages and plucked poultry? Instead there is a sketch on the front cover and the motif of a lurking black cat. It could be mistaken for a children’s picture book. My collection of querky french cookbooks is growing. I’m realising I buy french cook books because the stories between the pages, rather than the list of ingredients on them, is worth more to me.

But each cook book needs testing. I made the Gateau de Savoie from Taste le Tour, mainly because I had all the ingredients, but also, I feel a certain loyalty to the Savoie-Alpes region after living there for a while. I don’t think I ever tried this sponge cake while there, but I wish I had. I imagine it would be feather light in France. The recipe calls for six eggs, separated. A little daunting really, especially as personal experience tells me the risk increases exponentially as the quantity of eggs increases. I was worried. But, lo and behold, my cake rose like a soufflé with a crisp shell, almost biscuit like. Beneath this was soft sponge, almost plain but for the slightest whisper of lemon. The author of the book says his grandmother used to serve this cake with fresh fruit and runny custard. I would have liked some berries to macerate in a little sugar, maybe a dash of rum, and wait for the ruby juices to soak through the pale sponge. Instead, we ate ours in the fading afternoon sun with whipped vanilla cream and glasses of Pimm’s, admiring our books.

Savoie Sponge Cake
From Taste Le Tour

Note the size of the cake tin; this is a large mixture. My cake rose above the sides of the tin, threatening to spill over, hence it developed a little muffin top.

90 grams plain flour
90 grams cornflour
6 eggs, separated
grated zest of 1 lemon
300 grams caster sugar
a pinch of cream of tartar
icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 25cm round cake tin.

Sift the two flours together and set aside.

Beat the egg yolks, lemon zest and 150 grams of the sugar in a bowl until very pale and mousse like. Wash the beaters well.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 150 grams of sugar and beat slowly, or whisk, until well incorporated. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolks, followed by the flours. Be careful not to over mix.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Dust the cake with icing sugar and bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack. Cool completely before serving.

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