The soundtrack to the film Camelot features a wonderfully uplifting song with a dubious title and lyrics, called the Lusty Month of May. To a child’s innocence, it describes the joyous awakening of summer, when all the world is brimming with fun.
Apart from all the lovely flowers blooming, other phenomena such as flip flops, watering cans, beer gardens and 99s certainly do reappear this month. The backyard barbecue hero also emerges from hibernation, clutching a bag of last summer’s charcoal in one hand and a tongs in the other.
Barbecues used to be very gung-ho affairs when I was growing up – crackling driftwood bonfires; sandy cutlery; dubious food hygiene and shifting smoke plumes that always followed you.
With adulthood comes an appreciation of the more sedate elements of a controlled barbecue environment – a rattan armchair, solar lights and a glass of chilled rosé.
Grilling has become food theatre. The sausage on a stick has progressed to sophisticated creations such as grilled whole sea bream, turf-smoked salmon, hickory smoked ribs, or the day-long affair of creating the perfect pulled pork.
At Cooks Academy, our barbecue classes even include baking. My husband describes it in the simplest way. Just as you might switch between the oven and grill setting on your oven appliance, most of today's barbecues with lids operate in the same way, with direct heat (for grilling) and indirect heat (for baking).
On gas or charcoal, we bake chocolate puddings, brownies and a glorious upside-down cake. This plum version is definitely my favourite. For best results, and a darker sponge, use Demerara sugar if you have it, but soft brown sugar or caster sugar can be used instead.
This recipe can be baked in a normal oven at 190 degrees fan/gas 5, as well as on a barbecue using an indirect heat method. You can bake it in a gas or charcoal barbecue, providing it has a lid and a temperature gauge, and if gas, it has two burners or more.
To set up a charcoal barbecue for baking, move all the coals to one side of the barbecue, leaving a space for your cake tin with no coals underneath it. Make sure you have the bottom and top vents open to avoid the coal fire dying out.
For a gas barbecue, simply bring it to temperature and then turn one burner off. This is the one above which you will place the cake tin. This is where we get the term “indirect” for barbecuing.
BARBECUE UPSIDE-DOWN PLUM CAKE
For the plum top
60g demerara sugar (or soft brown or caster sugar)
8-9 ripe plums, halved and stoned
For the cake
150g butter, softened
150g demerara sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g self raising flour
150ml whipped cream, to serve
Preheat a barbecue (or oven) to 190 degrees fan (if using an oven)/gas 5, or equivalent. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with a sheet of greaseproof or parchment paper cut to size.
Place the 60g butter and 60g demerara sugar in the lined tin. Transfer to the barbecue over indirect heat (or oven) and allow the butter to melt. Once melted, stir in the sugar so it is evenly distributed around the base of the tin and continue cooking for 10 minutes to caramelise the mixture.
Remove the tin from the heat and place the halved plums cut side facing down over the sauce on the base of the tin, leaving as few gaps as possible.
With an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Sieve the flour then fold it through the mixture to give a smooth batter (add a tablespoon of milk to loosen the batter, if it is very stiff).
Spoon the batter over the plums, spreading the mixture evenly.
Return the cake to the barbecue (or a preheated oven) and bake for 50 minutes. For best results, the top should have a dark golden colour (ensuring a nice crunchy caramelised base). Leave to sit in the tin for five minutes before inverting the cake.
To remove the cake from the tin, place a plate over the top of the tin and invert the cake so the plums are on the top. Remove the tin and peel away the paper lining.
Serve the cake warm with freshly whipped cream or ice-cream.
You can make this cake with tinned pears or pineapple, and you can add a sprinkle of mixed spice, nutmeg or cinnamon to the batter mixture.