I’ve baked many many simple vanilla cakes over the years but I think this might be my favourite. For a good strong vanilla cake you really do need to use a vanilla extract with the seeds in, vanilla bean paste or powder…or even an actual vanilla pod. Any of those will give the best flavour to your cake and I love seeing the little vanilla seeds dotted throughout. I’m a really big fan of vanilla powder, I’ve only used the Ndali brand so I can’t comment on any others but it gives such a wonderful vanilla flavour to everything I’ve used it in.
Of all the things I bake, layer cakes are the most fun to make and I haven’t made nearly enough recently so I’m throwing myself back into frosting. Plus I finally restocked up on piping bags so I need to practice my piping.
What this blog is, really, is a series of love letters about the people in my life, and sometimes to vegetables. There’s even one love poem, about speculoos. It’s never truer than with cakes, and a round cake on here is almost always a food-based emotional outpouring, because I’ll only make a big, proper dessert, big enough that it could almost be a weapon, for someone I really care about*.
This one was for the work wife.
It’s weird, the intensity of the relationships you form at work, with people you see more than your housemates and family. The ones that are right there when things go wrong, and bring snacks to remedy it, and the ones that make you cry with hysterical laughter. 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.
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
We’ve all been there: desperately trying to level your latest cake creation with a bread knife before stepping back and realising that, if anything, it’s more wonky than it was before, andnow you’re going to have to battle with crumbs to frost the damn thing.
Or worse, attempting to stack domed cakes and fill the gaps with frosting, leading to an inevitable sponge landslide. There’s a plethora of gadgets and recommended methods for making your cake layers flat-topped and ready for stacking…but really, all you need is a bit of thread or some safety pins, and an old flannel, to create a wrap, like a headband, for your cake tin. Then, simply wet it and wring it out, wrap it around your cake tin, and cook as normal for a perfectly flat-topped cake.
How does it work? The wet towel stops the sides of the cake from getting hot, so it doesn’t bake early on – instead, the whole cake bakes at the same time, and so rises to the same height.
You might be able to buy strips for this purpose from a cookshop – but it’s worth spending a few minutes cutting and sewing, or pinning, to make something that will cost you pennies and last for ages. If you plan on making a few – for different-sized tins, for example – you may be better off cutting up a hand towel.
To make the wrap, cut your (clean!) flannel into strips as wide as the depth of your cake tin, then sew or pin them together end to end, creating a long strip of towel. Run this strip through your hands a few times to remove any fluff or loose bits of towel. Wrap this around your tin, then pin or sew it closed so it’s firmly wrapped around but loose enough to wiggle off when the cake’s done cooking. Each time you want to use it, simply wet it again – and rejoice in never having wonky layer cakes again.