Most of the people I love have birthdays in November: Scorpios the lot of them! Not least my Spero, whose half-Greek heritage inspired me to bake birthday treats accordingly. He has often spoken fondly of his grandmother’s Pastitsio: that, then, was to be the savoury component, and for that I turned to George Colombaris. For something sweet the choice was selfish: an almond lemon syrup cake because out of all the cakes I bake my most adored are dense, moist, nutty, sticky ones drenched in syrup.
Both, I now brag, were a triumph. The pastitsio, a sort of Greek lasagne: bottom layer pasta, middle layer a beef ragu and the top a deep couple of inches of exquisite cloud-soft béchamel lightened by eggs and enriched with loads of freshly grated parmesan (in the absence of the recommended keflagraviera). We dined on it, shamelessly, two nights in a row.
As for the cake, one of New Zealander Annabel Langbein’s, it was all I could have asked for, and more. The syrup especially – an infusion of cardamon pods, star anise, vanilla bean, loads of sugar and water and the tediously peeled rind – no pith! – of three lemons – was spicy and complex. Whole blanched almonds adorned the top and all it needed was thick cream. Several days later it, like the pastitsio, was only better.