Aunty Shirley’s Orange Madeira Cake

Aunty Shirley makes the best madeira cake I’ve ever had. I prised the recipe off her several years ago and thought I must have written it down wrong, for it never turned out as light and orangey and altogether wonderful as hers. So last year I invited myself to her house for a masterclass and discovered I’d been doing it all wrong. Shirley, who is actually the Boy Wonder’s great aunt, beats the living daylights out of her cake. If it was a dog she’d be arrested. As it is, her cake is so good it should probably be illegal. It’s taken me until recently to get up the courage to try again. I channelled Shirley’s ‘take no prisoners’ attitude and let the beaters do their work.

Aunty Shirley’s Orange Madeira Cake
Actually, it turns out this isn’t Shirley’s cake at all, but the recipe of one Mrs E G A Mason. I love these old cookbooks with tried and trusted recipes from home kitchens – I suppose blogs have replaced them. This particular book also had recipes for ‘Darkies’, which probably ARE illegal now (and rightly so). Shirley bakes this in an extendable square tin but I make mine in a 24cm round one. She also ices it with an orange butter icing, but it’s almost as good left plain. Just remember to beat it soundly – Shirley uses electric handbeaters, I used my freestanding mixer – and all will be well.

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
125g butter, melted
3Tbsp milk
juice and grated rind of one small orange
2tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm tin.
Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and thick (about five minutes), then add orange juice and zest, flour, milk and melted butter. Beat again for a couple of minutes (“you need to get air into the mixture,” says Shirley). Add the baking powder and beat again for about a minute. Pour into the tin and bake for 45-60 minutes. Cool, turn out of the tin and ice with orange butter icing.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday everyone. I’m going to spend the weekend planning The Kitchenmaid’s first birthday party…

Sweet sweet Friday: Lemon Cake

Part of the joy of cooking is found in the planning and anticipation, but sometimes life gets in the way. Like on Tuesday night, when I had to whip up an emergency birthday cake between getting home from work, getting the Small Girl’s dinner, putting her to bed, putting on two loads of washing and getting out the door again less than 90 minutes later.
Did I panic? No (well, ok, I panicked a tiny bit). But then I remembered Julie’s Aunty Ade’s Lemon Cake. It was done in a flash, even with the Small Girl “helping”. Actually, she’s getting quite good at it, and she doesn’t even want to lick the spoon. Perhaps I could start her on doing the dishes next…

Quick Lemon Cake

This needs a food processor, because “Not Quite So Quick Cake” doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’ve never met Julie’s Aunty Ade,but she’s obviously a clever woman.

2 lemons

1 1/2 cups caster sugar

2 eggs

3/4 cup canola oil

pinch of salt

1 cup yoghurt

3Tbsp lemon juice

2 cups self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 24cm cake tin (it will cook even faster in a ring tin, but a springform tin will lessen the anxiety when it comes to turning it out).

Peel the zest from the lemons with a potato peeler and put in the processor with the sugar. Whizz for about a minute, until the lemon peel is pulverised. Stop the machine and add the eggs, oil and salt. Whizz again until smooth. Add the yoghurt, lemon juice and flour and pulse until smooth.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes then turn out of the tin. Then, either ice when cold, or serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. Or, wrap the tin in a teatowel, throw in the car and drive across town. Stop at supermarket for candles. Arrive, pretending to be unhurried, super-organised working mother. Then realise your friends know you better than that!

Have a sweet, sweet Friday everyone. I’m going to spend it recovering from my first experience of cooking on live TV, which you can see here. (Note to self: horizontal stripes = bad idea!)

We Should Cocoa: Apricot, Chocolate & Ginger Cake

I had all sorts of ideas for this month’s We Should Cocoa, in which apricots are the special guest ingredient. We can buy incredible Otago dried apricots here, which are bright orange, intensely tangy and about a million times tastier than the pallid Turkish imports. They’re also about a million times more expensive – go figure how they manage that. Anyway, I planned to dip these local nuggets into locally made dark chocolate, but the Small Girl and I accidentally ate most of them for morning tea. Then I remembered the tins of apricots lurking in the pantry and had the sort of recipe epiphany that only food nerds understand. This dark, moist cake was the result.

Apricot, Chocolate & Ginger Cake
This is a reimagining of Nigella’s Clementine Cake, which I’ve made so often I could probably make it in my sleep. I’ve replaced the cooked, pureed clementines with apricots and added a touch of ginger.

400g drained tinned apricots (annoyingly, about 1 1/2 400g tins)
6 eggs
50g cocoa
200g ground almonds
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin. Put the drained apricots in a food processor and blitz to a fine puree. Add all the other ingredients and whiz again until well mixed. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes – it will be damp and sticky but a toothpick plunged in should come out cleanly. Let cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then turn out to cool on a rack.

Sugar rots your brain

Whoops!  I’m not sure if it was old age or the sugar rush of licking the icing bowl for breakfast, but I inadvertently left the sugar out of Wednesday’s birthday cake recipe. Many thanks to my mother-in-law who discovered the error as she was part-way through making the cake yesterday. I’ve now updated the recipe with the correct amount – it’s a teeth-aching 1 1/2 cups of caster sugar. Making this kind of error when you publish a recipe in the newspaper brings lots of angry people out of the woodwork so I can only hope the kinder, gentler folks of blogland will forgive me for the mistake.

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday here and I’m experimenting with recipes for an upcoming issue of Frankie. Hope all is well in your corner of the world x

It’s my birthday and I’ll bake rum-soaked chocolate cake if I want to

I’ve just finished icing a double-layer rum-soaked chocolate cake with a double batch of chocolate cream cheese icing. It looks a treat (and I recommend icing as a pre-breakfast pick-me-up) but reality has suddenly hit. It’s not the fact that I’m another year older, or that there is a smudge of icing on my pyjamas, but that I have to transport this precious cargo out of the house, down 50 stairs made slippery with overnight rain, into the garage (opening the door with one hand, shielding the cake from the howling wind with the other) and into the car. Then there’s the short but perilous route to the Small Girl’s nursery (two sets of traffic lights, one set of roadworks, one long street of speed humps) and the slightly longer but no less fraught trip to work (back down the street of speed humps, through the roadworks, up the hill, through the lights, through another set of roadworks, through the tricky intersection, up the hill, down the hill, merging into the motorway traffic, more lights, the steep hill, negotiating the carpark). I used to think it was hard carting cake on the Tube, but this is a whole new ballgame. Oh well. If push comes to shove en route then my workmates will have to make do. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

Chocolate Birthday Cake
I’m a bit fussy about chocolate cake, preferring it to be dark, flourless and sticky. But sometimes you need a crowd-pleaser, something that your hungry colleagues can tuck into and leave sticky smears of icing all over their keyboards. (Sometimes you also need a cake you can make late at night, when you realise you don’t have enough ground almonds or chocolate to make the sort of cake you had in mind.)
This recipe is written in shorthand on the back of an envelope in my recipe book – I can’t remember where it came from, so if it’s yours, many thanks. This icing – adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook – is what I used to use in my brief foray into cupcake selling. It’s just right for this dark, moist cake.

1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 1/2 baking soda
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp salt
100g butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter, milk and eggs and beat furiously with a wooden spoon until well mixed (you can also do this in the processor or in a mixer). Divide between the two tins (I actually do this with a measuring cup to be precise) and gently place in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cakes are springy and a skewer plunged into them comes out clean.
Let them cool for 10 minutes, then gently turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
When the cakes have cooled, stab holes in them with a toothpick and drizzle with brandy or rum. (This isn’t essential, but it feels festive.) Wrap carefully in clingfilm and store in a cool place (not the fridge) until you’re ready to ice them. The flavour of this cake improves the day after you make it.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
150g very soft butter
80g sifted cocoa
400g sifted icing sugar
300g cold cream cheese

Beat the butter, cocoa and icing sugar together until well mixed (use an electric beater or a freestanding mixer. Add the cream cheese and beat for about five minutes, until light and fluffy. This makes a lot – but better too much than too little, don’t you think?
Slather over the cake – use it to sandwich the two halves together – and have fun swirling it around.

**UPDATE**
I found a box in the shed and managed to insert plated cake into it before we got in the car. Cake and I have arrived at our destination safely, although I did nearly plough into a bus while watching that it didn’t slide off the front seat. Phew!