Category Archives: Sponge cakes

Apple cake with yuzu caramel (sort of)

It’s Bramley Apple Week this week, so I decided to make an apple cake.  The most adventurous one I could find in my books was an apple cake with yuzu caramel from James Martin’s Sweet.

I started off with a hunt for yuzu juice.  I’ve seen it on Masterchef and maybe the Bake Off, but nowhere else.  I didn’t think Tesco was likely to have any and I was right.  I thought Holland and Barret may come up trumps, but when I asked one of the assistants he just gave me a funny look.  I tried Marks – no luck, and then I thought about the oriental supermarket at the bottom of town. It didn’t have any yuzu juice, but it did have tinned lychees (something I’ve been looking for since last Valentines Day when I ended up making a coffee cake and not the super-pretty lychee and raspberry cake of my romantic dreams).

The only other positive thing about the yuzu hunt was that the journey to the far end of town would probably register about half an hour’s exercise on my Fitbit.  Ten minutes it gave me.  Ten minutes.  It credits me with more than that during martini hour* on a Saturday.  Pick up glass, lift to mouth, take a sip, return glass to table, repeat.

Anyway.  How could I make yuzu caramel with no yuzu juice?  I turned to the bloggers at Food Bloggers Central for help.  There was a consensus that some kind of citrus juice would work, and the recipe did say that yuzu tasted somewhere between mandarin and lime.  I didn’t have any lime, and I really couldn’t be bothered to hit the shops again so I went with mandarin by itself.

I made the sponge cake first.  There was no fat in it, just a lot of eggs creamed with soft light brown sugar with plain flour, baking powder, and grated apples folded in.  I put the mixture into a 23cm square tin and put it into the oven at 160° fan.  The cooking time in the recipe is 25 minutes. I’m not sure whether the oven temperature given was already a fan oven temperature (it said 180°), and I couldn’t find anything in Sweet that said anything about oven temperatures, but my cake took much, much longer than 25 minutes before it passed the skewer-in-the-middle-comes-out-clean test.  When I say much longer, I mean almost half an hour longer. Not a good start.

The next thing on the list was the Bramley apple filling.  I chopped my apples,

apples-resizeput some caster sugar into a saucepan over a medium heat, and tried to wait until it had melted without stirring it.  I just about managed it but the sugar had just started to catch when I added butter, water and the apples.  I cooked the apples for a few minutes and let them cool down.

Onto the yuzu/mandarin caramel.  According to the recipe, all I had to do was to put soft light brown sugar into a sauté pan and heat it (no stirring on pain of death) until it had melted and was dark brown.  Really?

p1020220I threw my first batch away and started again.  My mom and dad were visiting and, at one point, the three of us were stood over the hob prodding at the sugar with a wooden spoon.  In the end, we stirred before the sugar had melted, added butter and cream and then the mandarin juice.  The caramel was OK.  There was a bit of bonfire about it and absolutely no mandarin flavour at all, but it was edible.

Once everything had cooled, I cut the cake in half, put the Bramley apple filling onto the bottom half, and drizzled the caramel over the top of the apples.  I put the top half on and sandwiched the cake together.p1020221

The cake was fine.  A decent apple cake with a decent filling.  The caramel tasted slightly burned, although this was pretty well disguised by the apples.  There was no citrus taste anywhere though, not the slightest hint.applecake-resize

Usually, when I’m not particularly happy with a cake, I know that it’s my fault (or the children’s).   This time though, I’m not so sure.  The baking time for the cake given in the recipe was far too short and the instructions for the caramel were pretty vague (I’ve since found a video at DeliaOnline which makes everything caramel pretty clear – why I didn’t think of going to Delia earlier I have no idea).

I’m pretty depressed about the baking for this year.  Everything I’ve tried has turned out to be a bit on the disappointing side.  Fingers crossed for next time.


*Martini hour – new for 2017 following a new year’s resolution to dust down my lovely but underused martini glasses.  No longer are they underused.  It’s the first resolution I’ve kept until February for years.

Coconut cake

I needed 50g of coconut oil to make the coconut cake, from James Martin’s Sweet.  I almost changed my mind about baking it as I stood in Holland and Barrett, open-mouthed, eyebrows raised at the price (£8.99 for 300ml of the cheapest brand).  I got some from Marks and Spencer in the end.  Still pretty expensive, but not quite £8.99.

To make the cake, I heated my coconut oil with coconut cream.  Once everything was liquid – coconut oil starts out solid – I turned off the heat and left it to cool. Then  turned to my iPod.  I’ve decided to listen to it from start to finish of the stuff on it that’s not a soundtrack of a Hollywood musical, classical, a dramatisation of detective fiction or teach yourself Spanish.  The soundtrack for the coconut cake was Katie Melua Call off the Search which, Amazon kindly tells me, I bought in 2004.  Not very trendy I know, even in 2004, but I have to say, the scent of warm coconut, a sunny day, the promise of cake and, The Closest Thing to CrazyHeaven.

I beat softened butter and caster sugar together in the KitchenAid until it was very light and very fluffy (I wasn’t going to make the mistake I made with the Fraisier and not get enough air into my mixture).  I added eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla extract.  I folded in plain flour and baking powder, added desiccated coconut and my coconut oil and cream mixture and divided it between two tins (liberally coated with Cake-Release because I’d forgotten to get any baking paper).  They went into the oven at 160º fan.  The recipe gives a cooking time of between 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  My skewer was clean at 25 minutes.   I left the cakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes then said my usual prayer to the God-of-getting-things-out-of-tins-in-one-piece before turning them out onto a wire rack.

I turned my attention to coconut buttercream.  The iPod had moved onto the soundtrack from Chicago.  I know it’s a musical soundtrack – not on my list of things to listen to in my start-to-finish iPod marathon, but I bought my copy a long time before the film. Amazon couldn’t tell me exactly when.  Perhaps I bought it from an actual shop.

To make the buttercream, I put some butter into the microwave to soften up a bit, getting there in the style of a Bob Fosse dance routine (obviously).  The butter ended up a bit too soft because I overdid the jazz hands and didn’t get it out in time.  It didn’t do any harm though.  I beat it with icing sugar and coconut cream in the KitchenAid, and the buttercream turned out fine.

To put the cake together, James Martin pipes swirls of the buttercream onto one of the cakes, scatters coconut shaving over the top, sandwiches the two cakes together and pipes peaks of the buttercream over the top.  He decorates it with more coconut shavings and sprigs of lemon verbena.  Was it really worth piping the buttercream that’s going to sandwich the cake together?  I didn’t really think so, but I thought I may as well give it a go.  I haven’t bought any disposable piping bags yet, but I do have this.

piping kitI don’t think it’s officially called an icing syringe, but that’s how it works.  It’s not quite as messy as a piping bag, but it doesn’t hold very much.  Anyway,  I filled it with the buttercream and piped swirls onto the first layer of the cake.  Then, because I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough for the top, I used a knife to spread it out.  I didn’t put any coconut shavings onto the cake because James Martin says that dried coconut tends to dry out the buttercream.  There was no way I was going to use fresh coconut – I tried breaking one a few weeks ago and it took me hours . I left the coconut shavings out.

In Sweet, the picture of the coconut cake looks very stylish, with the elegant peaks of coconut buttercream adorning the top.  Here’s mine.

coconut cake with piped buttercreamNot so stylish I’m afraid (although I did take a photo that sneakily hid the missing topping.coconut cake

As you can see, I didn’t really get the hang of piping elegant peaks, and I ran out of buttercream.  Out came the knife again, and I spread the buttercream over the top.  I honestly do not know why I bother with piping bags at all.

Here’s the final cake – there were no sprigs of lemon verbena in Leamington Spa, so I also had to do without those.

coconut cakeThis was a really good cake though.  The sponge was really light, and the coconut flavour just lovely.

“I’ll miss this cake when it’s gone,” said my husband.  Truly the sign of a great cake.


I went back to my usual pile of books this week and made a Fraisier from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.  A fraisier is a strawberry cake.  Strawberries and custard (called crème mousseline in this recipe) are sandwiched between two layers of genoise sponge with a layer of marzipan on the top.  It sounded pretty complicated and, from the picture in the book, and those that came up when I  Googled,  it looked complicated too.  Here’s what I ended up with.

P1010932 (640x480)I was pretty pleased with my effort.  At least you can tell what it’s supposed to be.  It did take me a whole day to make it though, and the birds ended up with one failed Genoise sponge.

I started with the crème mousseline.  I put some vanilla bean paste and whole milk into a pan and heated it.  I put it on quite a low heat, to give me time to mix eggs, extra egg yolks, sugar and cornflour into a smooth paste/batter before the milk boiled. I poured the hot milk over the top of the cornflour mixture and whisked for my life.

I’m not sure whether the milk was too hot, or whether my whisking was below par, but my custard turned lumpy.  I kept going though and put it all back into the saucepan, put it back onto the heat and kept whisking until I had a thick custard.  It was still a bit on the lumpy side, but it tasted OK.  I put it into a clean bowl and mixed in some unsalted butter.  According to the recipe, I was supposed to add booze here (kirsch to be exact).  For the sake of the children I left it out.  I covered the surface of the custard with a layer of clingfilm and left it to cool.

Next, I made the sponge.  The recipe uses a 23cm cake tin and makes one sponge which is then cut in half.  I prepared my tin, whisked eggs and sugar in the KitchenAid, and then folded in flour, cornflour and melted butter (which I’d carefully mixed with some of the cake mixture first).  I know that a Genoise sponge relies on the air you beat into it for its rise and I thought I’d whisked enough (my mixture was pale and, when I lifted the whisk there was a slowly dissolving ribbon that sat on the surface as per the recipe).

P1010925 (640x480) I obviously hadn’t. After 20 minutes in the oven, this is what came out.

P1010928 (640x480)It wasn’t even cooked.  Out for the birds it went.  Off to the corner shop I went (more eggs).

My second attempt was better.  I whisked for ages.  At least ten minutes in the KitchenAid.  This time, the mixture was much thicker.  I decided to use a smaller tin. The 23cm tin was in the dishwasher and the recipe cuts the 23cm round into a 20cm round anyway.  After 20 minutes in the oven at 160° fan I had a very well-risen and golden brown Genoise sponge.

While the sponge was cooling, I made lemon syrup by dissolving caster sugar in lemon juice and I finished off the custard by adding it slowly to more butter which I’d beaten in the KitchenAid.  Oh, and, I almost forgot, I hulled and halved a punnet of strawberries.

To assemble the cake, I first cut the sponge into layers.  There were supposed to be two, but my sponge was in the smaller tin and, if I cut it in half, the layers would be too thick.  I cut three layers and used one as an early taste test.  Not bad.

I put one layer back into a cake tin and lined the sides with acetate.  I’m not sure whether you can buy acetate especially for baking, but I used one of those clear plastic folders you use for filing the bank statements you got before paperless billing.P1010929 (640x480)

I brushed the cake with the lemon syrup and stood halved strawberries around the edge with the cut side facing out.  I filled a disposable piping bag (i.e. a freezer bag) with the crème mousseline and got into a complete mess as it squirted everywhere.  I will buy some proper disposable piping bags for the next thing I make that requires piping.  I always say that and then the memory of the horror that is piping fades and I convince myself that a freezer bag will be fine.  No.  It will not be fine.  Just get some disposable piping bags for God’s sake.

I did manage to get some custard into the middle of the cake before giving up on the bag.  Spooning it in and leveling it off with a knife seemed to produce much the same effect as my piping.  I put a layer of chopped strawberries onto the custard and spooned some more custard on top. I brushed the second layer of sponge with lemon syrup and pressed it, syrup-side down, onto the top of the cake.  The cake went into the fridge and I started scraping the custard off the floor, the cupboard doors, the windows…

The cake stayed in the fridge for a couple of hours and, when I took the acetate off it, miraculously held its shape.  I topped it with a circle of marzipan and a sprinkling of icing sugar.  I was supposed to decorate it with strawberries, but I’d used all the good ones in the punnet to make the sides of the cake.  The rest were too mushy despite being within the sell-by date.  Shame on you Sainsbury’s.

Here’s the final fraisier

P1010932 (640x480)It was good.  Syrup-soaked sponge, all of the decent strawberries in the punnet, and a delicious vanilla custard (I couldn’t tell that there were any lumps in it at all).  Definitely worth a day in the kitchen.

Coffee, Cardamom and Pistachio Cake

P1010811 (640x480)After a tricky week with the macaroons, I did what I always do, and sought the relative safety of Mary or Delia.  I decided to try the coffee and cardamom cake with pistachios from Delia’s Cakes. The flavour combination sounded interesting, and could there be a better way of getting more nuts into my diet than putting them into a cake?

Even though I was doing a Delia this week (who usually doesn’t give me any problems), this cake certainly wasn’t trouble-free.  I started off with a dilemma about which size tins to use.  The recipe is for 18cm (7 inch) tins.  I have 20cm tins and 16cm tins.  I decided to use the smaller ones.  Better to have a cake that is too thick than too thin.  I greased them and lined the bottoms with baking paper.

Next thing, pistachios.  I managed to roast them without incident.  I put them on a baking tray and into the oven at 150° fan for the eight minutes stipulated by the recipe.  They came out smelling absolutely lovely.  So far so good.

While the pistachios were roasting, I split open 20 green cardamom pods and whizzed up the seeds in a spice grinder to a fine powder.  Now, in the recipe, Delia says that you should make the fine powder using a pestle and mortar, so I’m not sure whether using the spice grinder was the right thing to do here. When I opened the lid, my eyes started to water.  Perhaps, with a pestle and mortar, my powdered cardamom seeds wouldn’t have been quite so pungent.

I also used the grinder to chop half of the roasted pistachios.  very finely chopped pistachiosI know they were supposed to be finely chopped, but I think using a spice grinder may have been a step too far.  Next time, a knife and chopping board will be fine.

To make the cake, I sifted self-raising flour and baking powder into a bowl and used the KitchenAid to beat in butter, eggs, caster sugar and one half of my potent cardamom seed powder.  For the coffee flavour, the recipe uses instant espresso powder.  There is a lot of coffee in our house; pods, instant, and ground coffee for cafetière and proper espresso machines.  We don’t have any instant espresso powder.  I wasn’t really sure what to do here.  I couldn’t use the ground coffee because it wouldn’t dissolve, and I didn’t think the instant would be strong enough.  I ended up making a really, really strong espresso with the pods (I used three). I used a couple of tablespoons of that in the cake mixture and then managed to spill most of the rest over Delia’s Cakes.   

Once the espresso was in, I beat the mixture until it was creamy.  This took a bit longer than the minute given in the recipe because I used block butter, rather than the spreadable kind that Delia prefers.  I started to spoon the mixture into my tins, and then realised that I hadn’t added the pistachios. I scraped the mixture back into the mixing bowl, folded in the ground pistachios, put the mixture back into the tins and put them into the oven at 150° fan.

While the cake was in the oven I made a coffee and cardamom syrup to pour over the cakes, and a mascarpone filling and topping.  To make the syrup, I used another strong espresso, which I put into a saucepan with demerara sugar and the other half of the cardamom seed powder.  When I tasted it, I got more cardamom than coffee, so I put a teaspoon of instant coffee in to give the syrup more of a coffee kick.  Once the cakes came out of the oven, I made holes in them and poured the syrup over the top.

I made the filling by mixing mascarpone cheese and caster sugar in the KitchenAid.  The recipe, again, uses instant espresso powder to flavour the topping and also adds milk.  I made yet another strong espresso and didn’t put any milk in.  I was worried that the mixture would be too wet.  It seemed to work without the milk.  It tasted fine to me anyway.

Once the syrup-soaked cake had cooled, I sandwiched the two halves together with the mascarpone cream.  I also covered the top of the cake and covered it with roasted pistachios. Here it is.

P1010795 (640x480) Taste-wise I found this cake confusing.  The cardamom was very strong and, when I was eating it, not particularly pleasant.  It was as though someone had had the bright idea of disguising medicine in cake. My mom used to do this kind of thing;  cod-liver oil in orange juice,  travel sickness tablets buried inside a Finger of Fudge.  I’m not saying that the cake was anywhere near as bad as cod-liver oil in orange juice, it just tasted a bit odd.   That said, even though it tasted odd when I was eating it, it did have a really pleasant after-taste. Perhaps it was the topping – the only bit that didn’t have any cardamom in it.

I said that I thought the combination of flavours in this cake sounded interesting.  They were, but I don’t think “interesting” is what I necessarily want from a slice of cake and cup of tea on a rainy afternoon.


A Valentine cake that didn’t quite work

The cake I wanted to make for Valentine’s Day looked beautiful.  It was a rose, raspberry and lychee cake from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.   It had pink macarons, posh buttercream, Genoise sponge and sugared rose petals.  I decided to make this cake for Valentine’s Day as soon as I saw the picture.  It was the prettiest cake I’d ever seen.

I got as far as drawing round an espresso cup on baking parchment (templates for the macarons).  The cake I actually made for Valentine’s Day was this one, a coffee cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookboook.

P1010643 (640x480)

There were several things that scuppered my attempt at roses, raspberries and lychees.

First, I had a cheese on toast disaster.  I forgot to toast one side of the bread.  If I couldn’t manage cheese on toast, how was I going to cope with macarons?

Second, I couldn’t find any lychees.  The closest Tesco came was  a selection of tropical fruit salads and something called “Chunky Tropical Medley”.  You know the sort of thing, a mush of unidentifiable “tropical” fruit that would have been a treat at tea time on a Sunday in the 1970s.  I suspected Edd Kimber had something a little more sophisticated in mind.   By the time I’d finished hunting for lychees, my time for actually making the cake was running short (I’d planned that it would take at least two days – one for the macarons and buttercream, and another for the sponge).

Third, my husband told me that he doesn’t really like lychees, “they taste of plastic,” he said, either plastic or rubber, I can’t remember.  That was the final nail in the coffin for my beautiful cake.

I flicked through my books to see if I could find something (a) that my husband would like, and (b) that I could make without leaving the house – the endless search for lychees had sapped all my strength and enthusiasm.  I decided on the coffee cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. A bit more robust than raspberry and rose, and certainly not as romantic.

The Hummingbird coffee cake is baked in a ring cake tin.  I greased mine liberally with butter and dusted it with flour before I did anything else.  I’ve had trouble getting things out of the tin before and I was taking no chances with this one.  Next, I made the coffee flavouring by boiling instant coffee granules with water until the liquid had reduced by half.  It tasted pretty bitter, but it was going to be mixed with a cake which had over a pound of sugar in it, and added to a buttercream that was, mostly, sugar so I wasn’t overly worried.

After the coffee flavouring, I made the buttercream.  I beat sifted icing sugar with butter and then slowly added milk, vanilla extract and the coffee.  My KitchenAid is now very dangerous on anything but the slowest speed.  It managed to dislodge the bowl several times on level two and, when I tried going faster, it bumped its way from the back to the front of the worktop in record time.  I think that 2016 may be the year of the new food mixer – and I doubt whether it’ll be another KitchenAid.

Onto the cake.  This is a big cake. As I said, there’s over a pound of sugar in it.  There’s also over a pound of butter and  eight, yes, eight eggs.  I mixed the butter, sugar and coffee flavouring in the mixer and held onto the bowl as the machine shakily mixed them together.  I added the eggs one at a time and then flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.  I put the mixture into my greased and dusted tin, flattened the top with a knife and put it into the oven.  The recipe says that the oven temperature should be 170°.  I use a fan oven, so I’d usually set the temperature 20° lower, but I have baked a big cake using a Hummingbird recipe before and 150° has been too low – I decided to go with 160.  Here’s what happened to my cake in the oven.

P1010636 (640x480)I watched, helpless, as it erupted out of the tin (the recipe contains a severe warning about the consequences of opening the oven door before the minimum baking time has elapsed).  When I could bear it no longer, I turned my back on it and waited for the timer to go.

The cooking time in the recipe is 40 minutes, or until the sponge feels firm to the touch.  At 40 minutes my cake was still molten.  It took an hour before my skewer came out clean.  Once I’d taken it out of the oven, I let it cool in the tin for a couple of minutes before taking a very deep breath and turning it out.  It came out in one piece and didn’t look too bad at all.  Once it had cooled, I covered it in butter cream and gave it a dusting of cocoa powder.

P1010643 (640x480)

It didn’t have quite the same “Be Mine” quality as pink macarons, but it wasn’t bad.  It could though, do with a bit more coffee flavour.  Most of the coffee comes from the buttercream rather than the cake, which is strange, because when my taste testers and I scraped the mixing bowl, there was definitely a strong coffeeness about the batter.  I don’t know where it’s gone.

So, it was another “OK but…” bake.  I seem to have made a lot of these over the past few weeks.  Fingers crossed for something delicious next time to rescue my fading baking mojo.


“Are you having a birthday cake Matthew?”

“Yes, I’m having a purple and yellow stegosaurus cake.  Mommy is going to make it.”



Funnily enough, neither Delia, Mary nor the Hummingbird Bakery had a recipe for a stegosaurus cake in their books.  I do have a cake decorating book which I’ve used once for Let’s Bake the Books (I made sugar paste for the Tennis Court Cake) but it’s full of flowers and funny-shaped cakes and, to be honest, it’s a bit too advanced for me.  I ended up buying a new book, 50 Easy Party Cakes by Debbie Brown.  It had me at Easy.  It didn’t have a stegosaurus, but it did have Dippy Dinosaur which I thought would do as a starting point.

There’s a lot of equipment involved in making a dinosaur cake; cake board, cake smoother, dowelling, sugar glue, paint brushes, hemisphere cake pan, the list goes on.  Thank goodness for Lakeland (and The Cook Shop for the things I forgot).

I started with the cake.  I’d bought something called “Cake Release” to grease my tin.  It’s an oil that you squirt onto the tin and it promises to release cakes perfectly.  I thought I’d give it a try, since last time I used a funky shaped cake tin, half of the cake stuck to the tin when I turned it out.  That was a birthday cake as well.  I didn’t want it to happen again.  Four is a lot less forgiving than forty-one when it comes to explaining why you haven’t got a birthday cake.

The cake itself was easy.  It was a Madeira cake mix flavoured with vanilla.  I creamed butter and caster sugar together, added eggs and vanilla extract and then a mix of self-raising and plain flour.  The mixture went into my greased hemisphere cake tin and into the oven at 150° fan for an hour and three-quarters.  The tin did topple over a bit in the oven, but I noticed in time and put it onto a pizza tray which kept it upright.   Once out of the oven, I left it to cool in the tin for a few minutes before trying to turn it out.  I held my breath as I turned the tin upside down.  Out came the hemisphere cake in one smooth drop.  Thank you Cake Release.

The main part of this bake, making the cake into a passable stegosaurus, was more like an art project than a cookery lesson – and I hated art at school, I was dismal at it.  First, I covered the cake board with yellow sugarpaste (I decided to use shop bought because I was worried enough about making a dinosaur without having the extra hassle of making and colouring sugarpaste that may or may not work).  I smoothed the paste over the board with my new cake smoother. Phase One – the easy part – successfully completed.

Now for the actual dinosaur.  I levelled the cake off, the offcuts tasted pretty good.  I gave myself another mental pat on the back.  I cut it in half crossways and sandwiched it back together with vanilla buttercream, then I covered the whole thing in buttercream so that the sugarpaste would stick.   I rolled out my purple sugarpaste and covered the cake with it, using the cake smoother to iron out the various lumpy bits that appeared.  The finish wasn’t exactly professional, but it was OK.

The Dippy Dinosaur in the book is more of a brachiosaurus than a stegosaurus so, since a brachiosaurus would not do at all, I needed to go a bit off-piste with the head and tail pieces.  I had a bit of a doodle and decided to try for something like this.


After a lot of time fiddling around with sugarpaste (mainly making sausage shapes) and sugar glue, this is what I ended up with.


It’s does look a bit like a stegosaurus I think, but it could do with some work around the eyes.  They did give me a lot of trouble, mainly because I’d decided to colour white sugarpaste black and, instead of black sugarpaste, I ended up with a plate of grey slop that I had to dab on with a cocktail stick.

Although I didn’t particularly enjoy making the stegosaurus cake, I think it was worth it.  Matthew loved it (and, as a bonus, he could tell what it was straight away).  Although I don’t think I’ll be using Debbie Brown’s book regularly for Let’s Bake the Books it will definitely be off the shelf at least twice a year for the foreseeable future.  Fingers crossed that my sugarpaste sculpting skills will improve with practice.







Madeira Cake: Delia v Mary

The Bake Off started on Wednesday night with black forest gateaux wrapped in glossy tempered chocolate, decorated with chocolate elephants and two foot high caramel trees – and this was only Week One.  I thought I ought to try something Bake Off inspired this week, but I couldn’t face another three-day-three-spooner, and I didn’t fancy chocolate.  I decided to go with the signature bake, a nice and simple Madeira cake.  Madeira cake has been on my list for a while, not as an adventurous bake, but one to compare with the Marks and Spencer version.  Definitely M&S, rather than Mr Kipling.  That’s where my aunt always bought hers on our shopping trips to Dudley in pre-out-of-town-shopping-centre days when Dudley had an M&S of it’s very own.

I flicked through my books to find a recipe.  Delia has one in Delia’s Cakes as does Mary Berry in the Baking Bible.  The two were so different that I decided to ditch Marks & Spencer and bake both.  I started with Delia Smith.

Delia describes a Madeira cake as a bit of a “plain Jane”, lovely when a piece of really good plain cake is all you want.  I have to agree.  My last two cakes, the opera cake and hazelnut roulade, have been a bit on the fancy side and, to be honest, I’ve been looking forward to something a bit simpler and more comforting.  Something that goes with a big mug of tea, rather than earl grey in a china cup.

To make Delia’s cake, I lined a loaf tin with baking parchment – well, I almost lined it – I hadn’t noticed that I’d been running out.  I lined the bottom, greased the sides really well and crossed my fingers that I’d be able to get the cake out of the tin in one piece.  For the cake itself, I sifted plain flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl, added softened butter (the recipe stipulates spreadable butter, but I didn’t have any), eggs, golden caster sugar and lemon zest.  Then it struck me that I might have weighed the flour including the weight of my sieve,  I wasn’t sure whether I had or not, and, having seen the finished version, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think there’s a good chance that this is what happened.

I used the KitchenAid to mix for about a minute until the mixture was smooth.  The next step was to add enough milk so that the mixture was a creamy consistency and dropped easily off a spoon when tapped against the mixing bowl.  The recipe says 2-3 tablespoons.  I only needed the one.  I put the mixture into my loaf tin (it didn’t really fill it that well – perhaps indicative of the fact that there wasn’t enough flour in it…).  It went into the oven at 150° fan for an hour.  Oh – wait I put some thin strips of lemon peel onto the top.  The recipe says that, for a traditional cake, you put a thin slice of candied citrus peel on the top before baking.  I didn’t have any candied peel, so used ordinary lemon peel and, I have to admit, it did come out looking a little burned.

Delia Smith's recipe

Delia Smith’s recipe

There was a good crack on the top though (Mary thought this most important on the Bake Off), and it did smell lovely.

Onto Mary Berry’s cake.  Mary uses a round tin, rather than a loaf tin, self-raising flour rather than plain, white caster sugar rather than golden, and she adds ground almonds to the mix.  The oven temperature is also higher.  The only things that are the same are the use of eggs and grated lemon rind, the cooking times, and the fact that you should leave the cake in the tin for ten minutes before turning it out.

The method for Mary Berry’s cake is very simple.  Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and beat for a minute until everything is combined.  Mary’s cake went into the oven at 160° fan for an hour.  After half an hour, I put my strips of lemon peel onto the top of the cake (exactly as the recipe says).  Both cakes came out of the oven garnished with burned lemon peel.

Mary Berry's recipe

Mary Berry’s recipe

A bit more detail on how to make candied peel would be useful in both recipes – especially since, in the Bake Off, the judges thought it was an important part of the cake.  There was even a test to see if it was done properly.  If the peel falls onto the plate with a clatter, then it’s OK.

Jon and I tested the cakes last night with a glass or two (as always) of Madeira – you have to do these things right.  His was a blind test as he didn’t know which cake was which.  We both declared Mary the winner.  Her cake was moister, cakeier and just more satisfying.  I’d definitely make this one again – probably without the candied peel. After all, we still have three-quarters of a bottle of Madeira to go.