I might call this “Surprise Victory Cake”, instead of its actual descriptive name, because I did not expect this to work, and my god, it did. It really did.
I just about half-followed a recipe: made the topping up as I went along; tasted and guessed at the spice quantities; set to work bringing it all together with bowls strewn around the kitchen. The mixing stage was nerve-wracking, and for a split second, I wondered if it was a a waste of time and ingredients.
But then I put it in the oven and the kitchen filled with the smell of autumn. Cut into it and found it had the perfect level of springiness, just the right amount of cinnamon and nutmeg flavour.
It turned out to be a cake that you take into the office and ten minutes later start getting “Oh yes 10/10” messages. A cake that might make your flatmate mutter, “Marry me,” as they take a bite. Maybe a couple of “I feel all warm and cosy inside”s. Read More
This courgette cake was a long time coming. The cake stand in my kitchen had gathered dust. Perched atop the cabinets, it’s stood unloved since the Marvellous Night Circus cake, a state of affairs that 2012 me would never have predicted.
She also wouldn’t have predicted me being caught out with a cache of enormous courgettes that need eating.
Those ones went into courgette and Comté gratin (recipe tbc), but they got me thinking about courgette cake. When I said those words, people recoiled slightly, much like they did with avocado cake, but I’ve proven ’em wrong once and I’ll prove ’em wrong again.
This cake is perfect for this time of year, when strawberry season comes to an end, courgette gluts leave home gardeners desperately pressing the vegetable into the arms of visitors, and the clouds open to remind us that yes, we’ve had a delightful three days of summer but we are still in England, giving you just enough time to put the oven on and consider branching out into wearing sleeves again.
-l-l. Lemon and lime loaf would have been a much more pleasing name for this easy-peasy cake, but we can’t miss out the gin drizzle. Really, even lemon, lime, and gin loaf isn’t its proper name – since I dreamt it up on a rogue afternoon off work, what I’ve called it in my head is Victorian malady cake, with scurvy and mother’s ruin in mind. And it’ll certainly have you saying, “Please, I want some more.”
It’s possible I’ve binge-watched too much Dickensian.
In a distinctly non-austerity move, this cake calls for real butter. Almost a whole block of it! I was pro-margarine before, mostly due to its significantly lower price, but you really can’t beat butter* for the flavour it gives, not to mention that oh-so-tempting yellow colour.
The gin, meanwhile, isn’t a boff-you-in-the-face taste, but more of a back-of-the-mouth hint. Just enough to subtly evoke summer days. If you want the gin flavour to feature more? Increase it in the drizzle by a tablespoon or two.
This cake is an easy flash-forward to sunny afternoons, a creation you can whip up without any real elbow grease at all. A beat, a mix, a fold, and a drizzle, and you’re done.
“You like baking, right? Do you accept cake commissions? She said you’re really good at cookery.”
Flattery may get you everywhere, but it doesn’t make receiving a message like that from your friend’s dad any easier.
“Chocolate. Would you like a challenge?”
Eek. Only a little hesitance. “What are your ideas?”
“Popping candy and jelly pieces. Is that possible?”
“Like the Marvellous Creations?”
Obviously I had to say yes, despite the unshakable feeling that it would all go horribly wrong, based on past experience. Not because I can’t bake, but because I only ever seem to fluff it when it’s important.
Sometimes, the things you love most are the things you fear. I adore enormous bookstores but sometimes when I walk into them my heart beats faster, because Oh, excellent, there are so many books! but also Oh no. There are so many books and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to read even a small percentage of them all, why isn’t there more time in the day?
I love holding my niece, who is six months old and squishy, with big blue eyes and very little hair, and she is wriggly and I. Must. Not. Drop. The. Squirmy. Baby. I stand her on my lap, one tiny, ticklish foot on each thigh, and I do not know what to say to her. Small talk is hard enough with a fully-grown human.
I will always want crispy bacon on my burgers, but if I grill it, I will watch it, cross-legged and unblinking on the floor like I’m on the Bake Off, just in case the fat catches and bursts into flames like it did that one time when I was a kid.
There’s a big place in my heart for huge, fluffy muffins – the properly craggy-topped ones, not supermarket double chocolates, all sticky on top and dry at the bottom – and I am convinced that I can’t make them. Read More
couple of weeks back, on one of those many days when people were questioning if somebody had twisted the planet to place us back in February, with the threat of rain hanging over us, I went to a talk at Borough Market with Stephanie. It was based around what makes good food writing – the styles of recipe writing, how best to introduce a dish, how many ingredients is too many. The best bit of the night was probably the food after the panel, but as I tucked a blanket up around my neck and listened to how food writing should carry emotion and take a reader to another place, I couldn’t help thinking What if it’s just a recipe you like? What if it’s no more complicated than that?
So. Here’s something that I like. It doesn’t need a personal essay or a link back to childhood. The recipe is all about a sweet, pillowy dough that makes a light floof sound when you turn it out and the joy of painting with jam and studding it with chocolate. Read More
ell. This isn’t very festive, is it? There’s no way to make a lemon cake seem of the season, but it’s too good to hide away until the sun comes back.
There’s something inherently terrifying about making a layer cake – for me, knowing that a bake has a purpose and so has to be really good almost always means I mess it up.
There was the salted caramel crumble bars for dessert after a roast at a friend’s which turned out to be appley shortbready mush. The cookies that I tweaked, which resulted in a too-gooey dough. Before that, the chocolate birthday cake that was so loaded down with ganache that it could have been used as a weapon.
So when making this for my best friend’s birthday, working roughly off a loaf recipe and making the rest up as I went along, there were a lot of nervous frowns and shaky hands. I knew what I wanted it to be: a strong lemon flavour but not overridden by too-sweet curd; a creamy frosting that would be rich enough to be satisfying but still light. Read More
his cake was borne of a feeling that told me, Yes, okay, it’s time to bake now, stop claiming lack of inspiration and just look around you. Eggs that supposedly went out of date days ago (still fine!), tubs of yoghurt, and a couple of limes. I desperately wanted to be back on the baking wagon right away; to be able to say, Whisk, whisk, fold, oven, done – victory! But my first attempt at this cake was honestly poor.
My ever-so-polite colleagues ate it even though the glaze was too thin and soaked through to make the cake the texture of gummy bears, so moist that it sat heavy in your stomach. But I knew it needed a lot more work – I knew I’d made mistakes, and I almost decided not to admit that on the internet.
Growing up alongside the invasion of social media makes it amazingly easy to have a skewed view of everyone else’s lives. It brings you to just a few clicks away from being fully mired in grass-is-greener delusions and gives you the tools to compare yourself to every single friend or stranger that pops up your feeds, while you sit there thinking, Oh my god, I know at least three people with book deals and I couldn’t even find a matching pair of socks this morning. (True story. I only have socks in three colours and I still struggle.)
Buuuuut of course that’s ridiculous. We all have different paths, and this small segment of mine means I can tell you guys what changes absolutely should not be made to this recipe (see notes!). It took a couple of tweaks – and a couple of batches of cake forced upon those colleagues – but it’s finally just right. Read More
So that was a bit of a gap between posts, eh? 2014 has already been somewhat bonkers, to the point that food has been about what can be cobbled together in the few hours between getting home and going to (sweet, sweet) bed, rather than something of experiments and long weekends in the kitchen.
Letting go of the festive season has been a struggle. Our Christmas tree came down long after January 6th, and the rest of the month saw me gleefully throwing leftover Roses and Quality Street down my gullet and swigging beer while I chuckled at the poor chaps giving up sugar and taking part in Dry January.
But it’s February in a few days, and nothing makes you realise you need to step out of Hotel Chocolat, even if there are bargains to be had, like facing Valentine’s Day as it rushes at you head-on.
Of course, I realised this after I made this cake. It was a multi-purpose delight: a birthday cake, a look-how-strong-my-willpower-is-I’m-not-even-saving-myself-some cake (kidding no-one, I know), and as the last slice was devoured with a cup of tea by a friend, fork in one hand, tissues in the other, a break-up cake.
The cake itself is layers of salted caramel, carried by a simple vanilla sponge and wrapped in white chocolate buttercream, the sweetness offset by the touch of salt. What a way to wave goodbye to January. Read More
It’s struck me recently that as you get older, you not only find surprising things you’re good at, but also things you’re truly, woefully bad at. I always thought that one day I’d just discover something I had a natural talent for – say, gardening (nope), or baking bread (also nope). In another life, I might have been able to grow my herbs and then whack them into a really impressive artisan loaf. Alas, it’s not to be.
In the last year, I’ve discovered that I’m excellent at navigating the tube network when tipsy, but awful with London buses, even when sober; that I cannot for the life of me paint any of my nails without looking like I was at an explosion in a paint factory; and that I’m completely useless at making icing. Read More