The originator of meta-theatre, The Taming of The Shrew is a play about a play. It opens with a Lord, who thinks, wouldn’t it be funny to trick the sleeping drunkard he’s just stumbled upon into thinking he’s a nobleman? He dresses him in fancy clothes whilst he sleeps, and gets a group of actors to put on a play for the drunkard to watch.
Set in the Italian city of Padua, the play (that’s being performed for the drunk, geddit?) stars the Minola sisters; beautiful and charming Bianca, and her older sister, Katherine- fiery and cantankerous, and the titular ‘shrew’. There’s a queue of suitors a mile long waiting for Bianca’s hand, including the elderly Gremio, the younger Hortensio, and the student, Lucentio, but the sisters’ father, Baptista Minola, won’t allow his younger daughter to marry until he finds a husband for the elder. They argue in the street, because no one wants Katherine- they tell her she won’t find a husband until she tames her temper- and Katherine couldn’t care less. But Gremio and Hortensio want to marry Bianca, so they set off in search of a husband for Katherine. A husband? A devil!
Petruchio, best friend of Hortensio, arrives and just so happens to be in the market for a rich wife- it doesn’t matter how old, how ugly, or how bad-tempered she is, as long as she’s rich- be she as foul as was Florentius’ love, as old as Sibyl and as curst and shrewd as Socrates’ Xanthippe- and so Hortensio offers up Katherine.
They meet, and Katherine throws insults, which Petruchio laughs off and decides that they will get married, and kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’ Sunday! (So long as Kate doesn’t have him hanged, first).
They marry and the ceremony’s a mess- Petruchio is late, wearing a vest and inside out trousers, and he punches the priest. They ride off into the sunset and everyone is glad to be rid of them both. And so begins the taming; Petruchio gives Katherine a taste of her own medicine- shouts and rants, criticises everything, and is generally unpleasant- and this, he thinks, will make her see the error of her ways.
So that leaves Gremio, Hortensio, and Lucentio fighting for Bianca’s affections. Baptista decides that whoever can offer the greatest dower gets the girl, and whilst Hortensio and Lucentio pretend to be teachers in a bid to woo her behind Baptista’s back, Gremio and Lucentio’s servant Trantio bid on Bianca like she’s an eBay item.
Trantio, bidding on Lucentio’s behalf, outbids Gremio, and convinces Hortensio that Bianca isn’t worthy of his affection, which leaves Lucentio as the last remaining suitor. Bianca and Lucentio elope, Hortensio marries a rich widow, and by the end of the play, the three husbands- Lucentio, Hortensio, and Petruchio, sit in a bar and talk marriage. They make a bet about whose wife is most obedient and when a servant is sent to summon the wives, it is Katherine who arrives and wins the wager for her husband- and everyone marvels as how well Petruchio has tamed the shrew.
So where does caramel cake fit into this? Well, it doesn’t. I don’t know, maybe a slice of caramel streusel cake would have calmed fiery Kate. Ropey analogies aside, this caramel streusel cake has to be tasted to be believed. Unlike most caramel cake recipes, the caramel is used not as a topping but inside the cake- and it tastes so good. The streusel (which is a Mary Berry recipe, which I’ll put in here for convenience) adds a crunchy topping. You can’t have one without the other, and the caramel cake and streusel topping go together like a super sweet sister and her sharp-tongued sibling.
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MAKES 1 eight inch cake
PREP 25 mins
COOK 40 mins
▪ Will keep for 3 days in an airtight container
FOR MARY BERRY’S STREUSEL TOPPING
50g plain flour
FOR THE CARAMEL CAKE
85ml carnation caramel (plus a little extra for drizzling over the top)
2 tbsp milk
50g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 Begin by making the streusel topping. Melt the butter in a small bowl in the microwave- it will only need thirty seconds or so. Set aside to cool slightly. Mix the flour, semolina, and sugar together, and pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients. Stir together, then use your hands to press it into a ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge until needed.
2 Next pre-heat the oven to 180°c/350°f/gas mark 4. Line the bottom of an 8in springform tin with greaseproof paper and grease the sides of the tin with butter.
3 Heat the caramel and milk together in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramel is smooth and mixed with the milk. Leave to cool.
4 Beat together the butter and sugar using a wooden spoon or an electric hand whisk, until light and fluffy and the mixture is no longer grainy. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and beat well, then pour half into the butter and sugar and mix in. Add a spoonful of the flour to stop the mixture from curdling, then repeat again with the rest of the egg.
5 Pour in the melted caramel and use a metal spoon to stir it through the cake mix, then sieve in the remaining flour, baking powder, and bicarbonate of soda and fold in with the metal spoon until the batter is just mixed together and smooth. Pour into the lined cake tin.
6 Take the streusel dough out of the fridge and grate it, then sprinkle it all over the cake mix. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 40 minutes. It will be a golden brown colour, slightly springy to touch, and a skewer inserted into the centre will come out clean. Serve with extra caramel sauce, heat it in the microwave for a few seconds to make it pourable beforehand. ▪