16 June 2021

Summer Bitterness

Posted by the Cake Shop

The warm weather has finally arrived – for better or for worse. At the Cake Shop, we’re finding relief from the heat in bitter foods. Bitter is an invigorating flavour which cuts through the haze like a hot knife through butter – a sophisticated, intriguing taste with a dangerous side.

Terry says:

It’s getting close to high summer, and the heat is making people fractious and greasy. There’s a pigeon-feather-grey film over everything in the city, and a spaced-out Lana Del Rey undertone to the heat. Summer can easily get a bit too sticky and cloying – overly sweet, like a Pimms Cup. It’s good to balance things out with a strong contrasting flavour, a little ying to summer’s yang.

Bitter tanginess has always been one of my favourite top notes, even as a kid. Bitterness gets a bad rap compared with the other basic tastes – sweetness, saltiness, sourness and umami – but I’d argue that all the best ingredients have a bitter twist. Think blood oranges, lemons, radishes, artichokes, broccoli rabe, endive, rocket – plus tea, coffee and hops. I recently got turned on to turnips while testing a recipe for chef Alan Rosenthal’s recent book Foolproof One Pot: a roast turnip, sweet potato and mushroom situation with a dreamy miso sauce. I said: turnip, you and I could become friends.

Bitter leaves and vegetables grow in easy abundance in these Isles. Kale, cabbage and Brussel sprouts are the stuff of Britain’s breast bone – dark, mellow, brooding flavours that keep my feet on the ground during the high summer heat wave. There’s some science behind this, I’m told: bitter foods are especially nutrient rich and promote healthy digestion by increasing the amount of digestive enzymes produced in the mouth and stomach and boosting the microbiome.

I’ve been leafing through Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavour once again; a deep plunge into the biology, botany and cultural history of the taste. I’m particularly drawn to Kinfolk magazine’s description of Shibui, the Japanese word for tangy bitterness: the flavour is personified as a silver-haired man in a tailored suit, with a hint of a bad-boy aura. I know I’m seduced.

We’ll be bringing out the bitter notes for our Boozy Saturday on 19 June – strawberry Campari cheesecake balances sweet summer fruitiness with a sophisticated twist. We’re using a homemade tonic syrup from Jennifer’s book along with bitter blood orange marmalade for a refreshing cocktail; swing by the courtyard from noon to 6 p.m. and grab yourself a cool glass.