Vanilla & hazelnut cake
Camellia has to be one of my favourite flowers. I love how beautiful and delicate this flower is and admire it for fearlessly and courageously daring to bloom amid winter, unlike most other flowers.
I believe my love for camellias goes back to my undergraduate years, when I lived near my grandparents’ for a while. Their house was one of those classic, astonishingly beautiful Athenian townhouses near the city centre and had the most gorgeous garden.
Back then, I usually visited my grandparents every Sunday for our weekly lunch get-together. I still remember their beautiful porch, filled with flowers and scents and tall trees everywhere around us. The climate in Athens provides such great conditions for so many plants and trees and around this time every year, I remember I always left their house holding huge bags with wonderful, fragrant lemons and tangerines.
My grandparents were always so happy to see me and used to treat me with my “favourite” meal (I let them believe beef stew was my favourite because I knew how much they liked it and didn't want to break it to them). And every time, after making sure I’d be there again next Sunday, they generously offered me some of their beautiful fruits, hand-picked from their garden.
Near the garden gate, in a shaded part of the garden (camellias love shade), my grandfather had two enormous white camellia bushes, the biggest I have ever seen. The sight of those huge bushes with their dark green, shiny leaves and beautiful white flowers was absolutely mesmerizing. Every time, at the end of my visit, he would always cut a few white camellia flowers for me before seeing me off.
As expected, my love for camellias grew stronger and stronger and the time came for me to plant camellias in my own garden. I was always looking for white camellia varieties that are harder to find and more sensitive to frosts –not that this would ever keep me from getting them. And I didn’t stop there; I also found a beautiful pale pink camellia that was basically love at first sight. It’s the one I’ve photographed here.
It’s now the peak of camellia season and my flowers have bloomed beautifully, like a surprising, unexpected oasis amid my winter blues and Covid fatigue. Getting out in the cold just to admire their beauty and touch my stunning camellia blooms feels deeply therapeutic, in a way perhaps that’s why I photograph them; to keep them alive forever.
This is a classic vanilla cake with ground hazelnuts, a simple recipe most of us make quite often, except this time I wanted to make my cake as beautiful as possible, worthy of posing next to my pretty pink camellias.
250g all-purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp baking soda
200g granulated sugar
120g butter in room temperature
½ tsp salt
Seeds from 1-2 vanilla pods
220g heavy cream
Zest from 1 unwaxed orange
100g ground hazelnuts
Confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top
1. Preheat the oven to 100C. Lay the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast for 1 hour (or more) until well-roasted and dried. Allow them to cool completely, transfer them into a blender and blend until almost powdered.
2. Now preheat the oven to 175C. Butter your cake tin. In a mixer’s bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk on low speed. Add butter and sugar. Continue until smooth and fluffy, for approx. 5 minutes. Add vanilla, eggs (one by one) and continue until the ingredients are incorporated into the mixture. Reduce the speed and add heavy cream and orange zest. Then stir in ground hazelnuts. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for approx. 45 minutes checking whether it’s baked through. Set aside for 15 minutes. Remove from cake tin and once it’s cooled completely, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.