A thing I find a bit frustrating about having people round is Shy Guest Disorder. You know what I mean, the sort of people who come in apologising for something, (it's never clear exactly what), and then when you put food on the table they sort of take a nervous sideways glance at it, as if you had just put a large stack of porn mags down.
They then say something like "May I just pinch a tiny bit of this?" Or "Can I steal a piece of bread?" or something else so defensive and insecure and insanely unintentionally pass-agg given then you have invited them to your house to eat your food that I find it difficult not to scream JUST FUCKING RELAX WILL YOU.
I confess that I used to be a bit like that as a guest until I had my friend Oz round a few times. Oz is the staggeringly handsome husband of my husband's ex-girlfriend (keep up) and also the owner of London's current best restaurant, Kitty Fisher's in Mayfair.
Oz will show up at your house, give you the sort of troubling bear hug that sends you reeling backwards into the kitchen, get a drink, pour everyone else a drink, tell a filthy joke, gaze into your eyes and tell you how much he loves what you've done with the place and then sit down at the table, shout "WOW I hope there's a lot of this because..." he will then lean over and snort your, his, everyone's dinner.
"Amazing," he will say, his mouth full, "immense. Is there any more." He will then get up and stagger over to your sofa, manspread, tell more filthy jokes, pour more drinks but then leave at a completely reasonable hour. Probably to go to a party in Hackney that's just getting going.
A guest like that is such a relief. It's so relaxing, as a host, to have someone round who is so enthusiastic and on your side with what you are trying to do, which is to have a dinner party. And since then that is usually what I do as a guest. Not the manspreading, but pretty much everything else. I am always the one leaning in, helping myself, starting, passing things. To sit there with your friends, in a totally informal setting and act like you're at an Edwardian tea party is mad and makes your host nervous. Doesn't the food look nice? Aren't you hungry? What's going on? WHY IS NO-ONE EATING?!
And it's a thing that is, as a host, very difficult to correct. I'm not sure what Oz does about it. I'd ask him but he's always at work and you can't get a table at Kitty Fisher's these days, doesn't matter who you're married to. But I suspect what Oz would do is just have a lot of people who are just like him round to eat - fellow scoffers and bellowers and eaters and drinkers. I've just got the wrong friends.
Except for my friend A- who has recently bought a house in the countryside and invites us there a lot I suspect because I am not scared of her Aga and she is. She glares at it, terrified, saying "I don't know what temperature it is?!" having not got her head round the fact that the top oven is HOT and the bottom oven is LESS HOT and that's all there is to it.
Anyway the other day I bullishly made a Dundee cake in a way I have heard tell of, which is to cook it in the simmering oven (i.e. the LESS HOT) oven for a long time, like 3.5 hrs. I have made Dundee cake in a conventional oven before and it didn't work very well, it came out very dry and just not nice - so I reckoned that having a crack at this couldn't possibly turn out any worse.
So I took Delia Smith's Dundee cake recipe and put it in A-'s simmering oven for 3.5 hrs, took Sam out for a walk, came back, messed about a bit, everyone had lunch, then at 2.30pm I got the cake out of the oven and it was freaking perfect and when it had cooled down at about 4pm we had it with tea.
A Dundee cake is a very good thing to have in the countryside as people drop round unannounced awfully often and there are no corner shops to run to for Fondant Fancies.
If you do not have an Aga then you cook this in a conventional oven at 170C for 1.5 hrs. But I can't promise that it will be as good.
Aga Dundee Cake
you will need:
1 18cm cake tin with a loose bottom (it is VERY important that the tin is 18cm - no larger, no smaller). You must grease this well all over with butter and line at least the bottom with baking parchment. You can get a very good Tala 18cm tin off Ocado.
225g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
150g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
2 large handfuls currants
1 handful sultanas
2 level tablespoons ground almonds
1 small handful mixed peel
glace cherries, to decorate (about 10)
Also, massive respect to me by the way for doing all this with only a rotor hand whisk, rather than an electric whisk.
You will NOT need to preheat your oven to any temperature, because it is an Aga, so it is always on.
1 Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl
2 Add the caster sugar, butter and eggs and whisk with your electric whisk OR if you are doing this with a hand whisk, add the sugar to the flour, then whisk the butter and the eggs together and then add and whisk in one spoonful of dry ingredients to wet at a time until you have a sort of batter then add this starter-batter to the rest of the dry ingredients and turn well together using a spatula until you have a good consistency. (Does that make any sense? I'm a bit tipsy, as I'm in the countryside and all they do is fucking drink here.)
3 Add to this the ground almonds, assorted fruits and mix to combine
4 Turn out into your tin and dot with the glace cherries. Do not push these too far into the batter or they will disappear completely while cooking.
5 Cook for about 3.5 hrs. You might want to decorate this when cool with a lemon icing. I certainly did.
This cake keeps exceptionally well and in fact is best cut into about 2 days after baking. But don't stand on ceremony! I chopped into it as soon as it was out of the Aga and chortled "What's everyone else having?" Because that's what terrific guests do.