What sort of baker are you?

Not all bakers are created the same. Some like to impress, others to bake a figurative hug into a homely-looking cake. So, what sort of baker are you?

The Tried and Tested Baker

You like safety in baking and have a small number of beloved and reliable favourites that you turn to time and time again. You probably have a Domestic Goddess idol with whom you are on first-name terms (at least in your own kitchen), quite possibly backed up with a dog-eared notebook of recipes you copied out from your mother’s cookbooks when you left home. Your top five bakes almost certainly include a Victoria sandwich, a lemon drizzle, some scones and a trusty flapjack.

Your go-to cookbook? A tome by Good Housekeeping, the Women’s Institute – or your old Home Economics notebook

The Experimentalist

You regard recipes simply as a rough starting point and love to throw in a twist of your own with each of your bakes. You’re a lover of the portmanteau bake: brownie-meets-pie-meets-cupcake. You’re an avid watcher of TV baking shows for inspiration and will fearlessly throw beetroot, za’atar or goji berries into whatever batter is before you. The results are either sublime….or ridiculous.

Your go-to cookbook? The latest book by a noted pastry chef – but you’ll use it strictly for inspiration only

The Slapdash Baker

You would like to regard recipes as a blueprint but the fact is that the ingredient list rarely turns out to match the contents or quantities in your cupboard. And even if you do have everything you need you’ll invariably have forgotten to turn the oven on, left out a vital ingredient (if you’re lucky you’ll realise before it goes into the oven), or remember half way through that you started off with the intention of making a half batch.

Your go-to cookbook? Delia or Nigella – not that it helps you much

The Perfectionist Baker

Appearances are everything for this baker. You’re not afraid to try the most complex or beautiful creation, especially if the decoration if part of its raison d’etre. Fondant fancies, Prinsesstarta, Opera Cake: nothing is too challenging. You probably set yourself a challenge to make every technical bake from The Great British Bake-Off, and you are in hot demand when birthday parties come round.

Your go-to cookbook? Pinterest – you like to keep up to date with the latest in gravity-defying cakes and frosting colour schemes

The Food Blogger Baker

Everything that comes out of your kitchen tells a story: it’s a recreation of something you tasted at a foodie fair; a recipe from your grandmother’s handwritten baking journal; or a delicacy you tasted while on holiday. You own every baking gadget under the sun and your partner gave you a KitchenAid for your birthday. You own an impressive collection of single plates, antique knives and cake stands to show off your bakes, and everything must be photographed from six angles in close up before it passes anyone’s lips. Your friends and family rarely get served the same bake twice, but your baking days are an occasion for celebration.

Your go-to cookbook? It’s impossible to pick just one from your groaning bookshelves – and there are another six next to your bed.

Chiffon Cake: the only new cake in 100 years?

In the process of writing my book I have unsurprisingly accrued a big list of cakes I’d like to make; some because they sound tasty, some because they are simply intriguing, or even downright whacky. This one was bumped up the list by a marginal note from my publisher: ‘sounds foul – have you tried it?’

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The cake in question was Chiffon Cake, a speciality which is quite well known in the States, but not at all in the UK. The reason that my publisher was so unimpressed was because its key ingredient is salad oil; not too inviting a selling point, I’ll agree. But in fact it was wildly popular when it started to appear at uptown Hollywood parties because of its softness and moistness. It was invented – so legend goes at least – by a man named Harry Baker. His name was his best claim to cake-baking; he was actually an insurance salesman by profession, but it seems that by replacing butter with oil in a Pound Cake recipe he had hit on a winning formula. It was a formula he kept secret for many years, selling it to the flour company General Mills in 1947. General Mills released the recipe in 1948 in an article in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, and then in a recipe booklet called Betty Crocker Chiffon Cake Recipes and Secrets, all, naturally, featuring its own brand of Softasilk Cake Flour. The Betty Crocker Cookbook summed up the charms of the Chiffon Cake in the words, ‘Light as angel food, rich as butter cake’.

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And is the 1940s hype to be believed? Well I did give it a go and the answer in our household was absolutely, yes. It really does produce a best-of-all-worlds cake, soft and rich, and both light and substantial enough to feel like you’re eating a good slice. There are many many flavour variations on Chiffon Cake now; I kept mine simple, though I must admit that I now can’t remember exactly which recipe I used!

For more[i] For more on the history of Chiffon Cake see http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/ChiffonCake; http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#chiffoncake

Introducing a Short and Surprising history!

I’ve been disgracefully silent on here, I know, but I can now reveal why. The last few months turned into a total whirlwind, not only of the regular challenges of semester-time teaching, but also because I was finishing up this little beauty:

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It’s being published by Headline and is due out at the end of February in the UK and shortly afterwards in the States, where it’s being published by Pegasus Books! I’m so pleased with the job the publishers have done, both on the layout and the content. You’ll find lots of the themes I’ve talked about on here expanded in a lot more detail, and also a crowd of other topics I hope will keep you stocked for dinner party chats and facebook updates for years to come 🙂 There are cakes aplenty, of course,  but also lots about how baking relates to femininity and feminism, migration and community-building, celebration and childhood, economic expansion and technology.

It’s available for pre-order on amazon.uk, and could make a lovely present for Mother’s Day 😉

Broom splinters and burnt paper – testing a cake for done-ness

I’ve been struck, reading old cookbooks, at how much has changed in the instructions for testing whether a cake is done. Today we rely on the ubiquitous cake skewer – if it comes out clean, it’s done (not true of all cakes, of course: think gooey brownies, for one). Alternatively we’re instructed to look out for a change in colour, or a springy texture when pressed. We can be fairly precise since we know that our ovens are baking at approximately the correct temperature. Even today, however, time of baking alone is not enough to ensure a reliable outcome, as ovens differ in the way they distribute and maintain heat.

The ubiquitous skewer test (image from WikiHow)

This was a problem in spades in the past. A much more common description of oven temperature would be ‘quick’, ‘moderate’ or ‘hot’ since temperature dials weren’t common until the 1930s and 40s. The authors of the Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, which originated in Ohio in 1877 (the buckeye is its state tree) made the wistful but prophetic comment that ‘All systematic housekeepers will hail the day when some enterprising Yankee or Buckeye girl shall invent a stove or range with a thermometer attached to the oven so that the heat may be regulated accurately and intelligently.’ A common instruction in recipes was therefore simply to bake ‘until it is done’.

This assumes something quite fundamental: that bakers will be familiar with the appearance of a fully baked cake, or will already know about the tests they could do to check. Appearance and texture were still good signs, of course, but beyond that a lot relied on familiarity with the recipe, and also with one’s own individual oven.

Image from freefoodphotos

Here, for example, is one way of checking oven temperature: the piece of paper test. Insert a piece of paper into the heated oven. If it catches fire, the oven is too hot; if it chars, it is still too hot; if it scorches to dark brown but does not catch alight, it is the correct temperature for small pastries; light brown is suitable for vol au vents, choux buns and pie crusts; dark yellow for large pieces of pastry, and light yellow for cakes and meringues. Other bakers would throw a little bit of flour in to see how quickly it charred, or use their hand. These methods all required a fair amount of prior knowledge so that the cake would go into the gradually cooling oven at the optimal time.

Gradually this started to change. Not only did ovens become a bit more reliable in terms of heat, but recipe writers started to realise that actually many women did not have the sort of inherited knowledge which gave them this confidence. As family sizes shrank and people moved around much more to find work, they were less likely to live near to extended family – or even their own parents and siblings. It was also simply more possible to be specific about baking and cooking methods by this time, as the surge in production and technology brought about by the industrial revolution had produced a wealth of new goods for the home; including clocks for timing, more efficient and smaller ovens, and a greater range of kitchen equipment.

Eliza Leslie, for example, who wrote some of the most popular cookery and etiquette manuals in early nineteenth-century America, realised that her readers needed clear and simple instructions and did not necessarily have specialist equipment. In her hugely popular 1828 75 Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats she told them that a cake was ready when a twig or wooden skewer thrust into it comes out clean; also it will have shrunk away from the sides and ‘cease making a noise.’

The stages of ‘done-ness’. Image from bakepedia

Things were not so different twenty years later, when Catherine Beecher (sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) published a volume of recipes, under the title Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book. Catherine Beecher was a passionate campaigner for female education, and her books on household management were full of the new interest in domestic science, chemistry and nutrition. Nonetheless, her instruction on testing for done-ness is of the much more traditional variety: instead of Leslie’s twig, Beecher suggested testing with an easy-to-find household object: a broom splinter. She also offered a common-sense way to judge whether the oven had reached the required temperature, and one which women had probably been using for generations:

A quick oven is so hot that you can count moderately only twenty; and a slow one allows you to count thirty, while you hold your hand in it.

Today, we have ovens with regulated temperature dials, timers and precise instructions. Yet when you think about it, our shiny metal skewers are only broom splinters made from a more up to date material. For real success we still need to balance the recipe instructions with the demands of our pans, our ingredients, and the type of cake we are baking. No wonder the Bake-Off contestants spend so much time on the floor, staring through their oven doors…

Car Crash Cake Pops

I made Cake Pops!!

And I hated almost every minute of it 😦 If you’re thinking of trying them yourself though, keep reading…


I first became aware of Cake Pops at about the same time I became aware of Whoopie Pies; in the UK they seemed to rise on the same wave of small, cute novelties which were jumping on the Cupcake bandwagon. They did have a bit more sticking power though and you do still sometimes see them around. I think it’s their sheer arrogance, personally, dandering up there on their stick above all those ground-level bakes, with their glossy sheen and cutesy decoration. No one quite has the guts to ignore them.

The Cake Pop is the ultimate package for the American cake lover: cake meets lollipop meets snack on sticks. The person who turned them from novelty to craze (albeit unintentionally; she had no idea of the attention her invention would attract) was Angie Dudley, author of the now hugely popular blog, ‘Bakerella.com’. In the blog post which sent the Cake Pop viral in January 2008, she said that she had seen something similar at a party and decided to challenge herself to recreate it. That post had received 384 comments up to November 2014. But Bakerella did not create the Cake Pop; she popularised it. The researchers at Foodtimeline.org found similar lollipop cookies in cookbooks from the 1960s (two cookies sandwiched together with a lolly stick in between), although nothing called a ‘Pop’ until the early twentieth century, and nothing on any scale until the famous Bakerella blog post in 2007. They were made even more ubiquitous by Starbucks, who launched a range of Cake Pops in 2011 as part of their ‘Petites’ range (which also included mini Cupcakes). What Bakerella did do was cross two trends to create the Cupcake Pop just a few days after her original Cake Pop post in 2008. The Cupcake Pop was an instant hit because it epitomised three current crazes: for small, impossibly cute, and new.  Several thousand blog posts, a cookbook, and appearances on national TV shows including the Martha Stewart Show for Cupcake Week in 2008, she has successfully imparted her knowledge to the cake-loving masses.


Well, I say successfully. She has certainly written a beautifully-illustrated book full of imaginative cake pops, all accompanied by trouble-shooting guides and step by step instructions. However, she can’t help a klutz like me who has no talent for finicky decorating (which is odd because I frequently spend hours doing small and finicky sewing tasks). I did know what I was getting into. Dudley is quite clear that it’s not a quick job. She suggests that you set aside a couple of hours and that’s just for the decorating – in fact, she recommends using a cake mix for the cake, and a tub of ready-made frosting to bind the crumbs together into the requisite balls. Then the balls need to chill, take a dip in some melted candy coating, get neatened up via an elaborate system of ‘tapping’ and rotating, and finally, go for a beauty treatment for their final adornment. Let’s face it, Cake Pops are all about the decoration. When I caved to all the pretty pictures on Bakerella and bought a second-hand copy of Dudley’s book, Munchkin spent a happy half hour looking at the pictures and deciding what he wanted us to make. The Scientist, meanwhile, was unimpressed at the idea of a cake which sacrificed size and heft for appearance.

But back to the Cake Pop (mis)adventures in our kitchen. Munchkin picked out the Robot Cake Pops. It took some time to assemble all the necessary paraphernalia: lollipop sticks, candy melts, sweeties for the decoration. Then, last Wednesday evening we baked the cake (our family go-to chocolate cake). On Friday morning, Munchkin crumbled it all up with great gusto, and helped me to mix the crumbs with some buttercream (we were flying by the seats of our pants with quantities here since the instructions are for a a standard cake mix cake and a tub of frosting). I shaped them and chilled them overnight as Munchkin was all about staying for tea at his friend Lizzie’s house on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, we got our supplies ready – and everything went downhill from there, really. The melted candy melts were too thick; I tried adding some milk and golden syrup which I’ve done successfully with melted chocolate in the past – disaster. The next batch worked ok but rapidly thickened up so I consulted the trouble shooting pages and added a bit of oil. Minor improvement. Third batch, ditto. The result was one decently coated cake pop and a small battalion of gnarled and pocked ones. We gloomily waited for them to dry, gurning incongrously at us from the middle of a floral table piece I had been given by our lovely neighbour. Then, the next problem: you’re supposed to use more of the candy melts to stick the sweeties on. Well, ours were all in a melted and solidified lump by then and I was ready to throw a fit. Fortunately we had some buttercream leftover so we abandoned all attempts at finesse and just stuck the sweets on any part of the Cake Pop with a flat enough surface. More gloom while they dried, then we packed them up and took them to visit Munchkin’s grandparents.

It had not been a fun experience; nor was it really one which Munchkin could participate in, since the later stages were all so fiddly. However, he seemed unaffected by my gloom, and the family were excited to see the robots. I couldn’t face trying one, but I must admit that they seemed to go down well (even with the sceptical Scientist, ha!). I think we really have the family chocolate cake recipe and the presence of sweeties to thank for that though.

So, I am most definitely never making Cake Pops again. Ever. However, if you get on well with detailed decoration and can handle your candy melts, go wild. They are extremely cute after all, and nothing will mark you out as a more accomplished baker. I’ll just be down there with the ground level bakes 🙂

Whoopie pies – a whole cake to yourself!

That was the reaction of one of my book club friends when I produced Red Velvet Whoopie Pies at our last meeting. I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing and started nervously talking about making them smaller next time – but she soon clarified. One of the chief benefits of a Whoopie Pie, then, is that you feel as though you have a whole large cake all to yourself, which, for a cake-lover, sounds like a pretty good selling point.

  

 But what is a whoopie pie? I remember seeing them quite briefly in the large coffee shop chains a few years ago, clearly an upstart contender for the ‘New Cupcake’ crown. There was a brief accompanying spike in internet searches for Whoopie Pie recipes in 2011 (not fuelled by me, I hasten to add). Neither lasted long and the succession has not yet moved on from the Cupcake, despite many predictions to the contrary. But in fact, Whoopie Pies are not upstarts; they are just not native Brits.

They were always a bit of a surprise contender for New Cupcake status though, especially when you think about how much of the appeal of the Cupcake is its looks. A Whoopie Pie is, by contrast, and to put it bluntly, two flat splats of cake, sandwiched together with a buttercream or marshmallow filling. Afficionados would say it’s much more than this: a gooey treat which should be eaten with both hands, with the cream which escapes round the sides of the cakes licked off the face afterwards. Like the Cupcake it trades partly off its sense of nostalgia and childish fun, although little is actually known of its origins. It is said to be a traditional Amish treat, but others cite European origins transported to the States by the Pennsylvania Dutch. Maine also makes strong claims to be its birthplace, and both Maine and Pennsylvania hold annual Whoopie Pie Festivals. In a smart piece of one-up-manship, the Maine legislature voted the Whoopie Pie as Maine’s official State Treat in 2011 (it lost out as State Pie to the Blueberry, alas).

Either way, its most basic beginning was probably a quick cake-cum-cookie made with a simple or even leftover batter. One of the most comprehensive websites on food history, foodtimeline.org, reports a Victorian birth date, but finds no evidence of Whoopie Pies in early Pennsylvania cookbooks. Their emergence into the mainstream seems to have been gradual, perhaps livened up by a feature on Oprah in 2003 which covered a new business making and selling them under the name Wicked Whoopies. Soon, they were to be found in coffee shops all over the place, only to sink again within a year or two (a few signature flavours can still be found on the menu at Magnolia). It seems most likely, however, that their rise was based on the same new receptiveness to novelty baked goods which stoked and then sustained the Cupcake; and especially those with a sense of heritage and childishness. What better claim to the latter than the story of how the Whoopie Pie got its name: for the cry of delight children would shout out when they found one in their lunch bag.

  


I decided to make Red Velvet Whoopie Pies for my first try, partly because of the ingredients I had in the cupboard, and partly because the book club host (she of the ‘whole cake’ comment 🙂 ) only likes cream cheese frosting. There are almost literally a gazillion recipes on the web but I chose this one, by Bakerella, of Cake Pop fame. My filling wasn’t as firm as I had imagined, probably because I only had low fat cream cheese, and I had to improvise an elaborate staging post where every pie was propped up with a variety of tableware to keep the tops from sliding off the bottoms. A spell in the fridge helped to firm them up though. I also used a glass to cut neat circles from the still-warm pies, just to make them look nicer 🙂

So am I a convert? They certainly have many benefits compared with a cupcake: less onerous on the decoration front; a less insanely sugary cake-to-filling ratio; and definitely  neater to eat. On the other hand they lack the ‘wow’ appeal of a nicely frosted cupcake and  there is less room for creativity in the decoration. Which is to say, I think you should try them and see  🙂

Home-made Jaffa Cakes of awesomeness

Stop the clocks: I have found the world’s best baking recipe. That’s a big claim, I know, but it’s been endorsed by ten sweet-toothed gamer geeks, who snaffled down the cakes I sent them last weekend in seconds. And it was very easy. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that after ten years of baking for these people, the cakes that hit the big time were actually made almost solo by Munchkin. Yes, I have been outshone by a two year old. I think I’ll stick to baking history and leave the actual baking to him in future.


The title of this post leaves no mystery as to what these amazing cakes were: Jaffa Cakes. These, as all Brits know, really are cakes and not biscuits despite appearances, this having been established in the courts after a VAT-related battle (cakes are zero-rated for VAT; chocolate covered biscuits are not). Jaffa Cakes are actually not the only confections to have been subjected to this sort of debate. A tax lawyer friend sent me part of the ruling on another British teatime icon, the Snowball, which is so funny that you’ll have to permit me a brief digression:

“53. A snowball looks like a cake. It is not out of place on a plate full of cakes. A snowball has the mouth feel of a cake. Most people would want to enjoy a beverage of some sort whilst consuming it. It would often be eaten in a similar way and on similar occasions to cakes; for example to celebrate a birthday in an office. We are wholly agreed that a snowball is a confection to be savored but not whilst walking around or, for example, in the street. Most people would prefer to be sitting when eating a snowball and possibly, or preferably, depending on background, age, sex etc with a plate, a napkin or a piece of paper or even just a bare table so that the pieces of coconut which fly off do not create a great deal of mess. Although by no means everyone considers a snowball to be a cake we find that these facts, in particular, mean that a snowball has sufficient characteristics to be characterized as a cake.”

A Snowball (image from an article about the ruling at the guardian.com)

Don’t you just love the idea of a set of learned lawyers discussing these sorts of issues? Thanks for the note, Zoe 🙂


But back to Jaffa Cakes. These home-made once are certainly in the cake camp, and the recipe is actually from a vegan baking book, Ms Cupcake’s The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town which I had borrowed from the library after reading about the author’s cupcakery in Brixton. I’m not vegan myself but I have sympathies in that direction and was interested to find out more about the bakery. This recipe leaped out as one to try (one particularly good thing about vegan recipes is that they are ideally suited to days when you have no eggs in the fridge). Plus, home-made Jaffa Cakes – well, need I say more?


I’d made them once already when it came to The Scientist’s regular gaming session – none survived for long enough to be photographed that time after meeting the ladies from my book group, so we knew they were a winner. Since it’s such an easy recipe, and with no eggs to crack, I weighed everything out, put the ingredients in separate pots, and let Munchkin get on with it. He stirred beautifully and did a good job of putting the batter into greased cupcake tins (he did want a bit of help there). They bake quickly, and once they are cool enough, just need (and this is the inspired and time-saving part) a small dollop of marmalade on top of each one, and a good coating of melted chocolate and margarine. I did help with those bits too, but he did all the melting and stirring. Both times the cake came out with quite pointy tops; last time I trimmed them off to make a flatter base; this time I didn’t bother and it wasn’t a problem.

So as I say, the world’s best recipe. They are small, soft, orangey, chocolatey, and so easy a two year old can baked them almost unaided. We put them in the fridge overnight to make the chocolate topping a bit more robust (as suggested in the recipe) as The Scientist needed to transport them in a tin. We also tested a couple newly be-chocolated and they were amazing. I have a feeling they will be called for at every gaming session from now on, and in the meantime, I think a trip to Brixton might be in order….;)

Marguerite Patten: Domestic Goddess of the Austerity Era

I’ve been using the term ‘Domestic Goddess’ to mean a whole range of attributes from skill in the home; through a connection with ‘old fashioned’ tasks and activities; to the patina of accomplishment and polish which the likes of Nigella seem to have lent to it. I suspect that’s what many other people who use the term do too, pulling out a positive or a negative angle as suits them. But on any of those more positive measures, Marguerite Patten, who died this month, more than fits the bill.

Marguerite Patten presenting the BBC programme ‘Can You Cook?’ in 1950. Image source, BBC.

Patten was for a time an actress, before becoming a Senior Home Economist for Frigidaire. She is best known, however, for her work during the Second World War, when she was employed as a Senior Home Economist by the Ministry of Food, and after the war, for Harrods department store. Her job was to publicise information about rationing, and to provide demonstrations and talks about what could be done with the limited food on offer. She was undoubtedly accomplished in the arts of cookery, offering a huge repertoire of dishes to her followers, many of whom she realised were regulars and so needed a constant supply of new ideas. At one stage she was giving 11 demonstrations per week in Harrods. But for me, what makes her a positive role model as a Domestic Goddess was her attitude to food and celebration in a time of shortage.

The attitude comes across very clearly in a long interview she recorded in 1996 for the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive. Her approach, she says, was not to apologise for the shortage and monotony of ingredients (rations were two ounces of butter, four ounces of margarine or other fats two ounces of cheese, and a tuppenny worth of meat for a week. You could expect to get one single egg per week ‘if you were lucky’, and half a pound of sugar) but instead to cheerfully present her dishes as tasty and wholesome. She also realised that people still needed celebratory food and treats in their lives – possibly more than ever. Christmas was a difficult time, but she says ‘we were determined to celebrate’ – cue recipes for marzipan which substituted soya flour or semolina for the missing ground almonds. She popularised an eggless, tea-soaked fruit cake which used little sugar and no fat, and published countless other recipes for austerity cakes which required little in the way of the prized sugar and butter. She even did her best with dried eggs which were a bit of a Marmite of their time: ‘Some people loved dried eggs. “Oooh, I wish we could have them back”, they say. Other people say “oh, that ghastly dried eggs.” She realised that the trick to palatability was in making sure that they were made up with the correct proportion of water; too much powder and they tasted sulphurous (some said that scrambled powdered eggs also bounced when dropped!). After the war, things (eventually) became easier, and she remembered cooking ‘more frivolous things’ in her demonstrations, like puff pastry and continental buns.

Image source: amazon

But lest we think that Domestic Goddessery is all about promoting women’s subjugation in the kitchen (which certainly isn’t how I used the term),  we should note that Patten was also a prominent and well-loved broadcaster as well as a taste-leader. She appeared on the second day of Woman’s Hour in 1946, and was a regular voice on that program. She also took part in the famous short ‘Kitchen Front’ broadcasts on weekday mornings alongside Dr Charles Hill ‘the Radio Doctor’, whom she remembered with some fondness: ‘He was like Winston Churchill in that it wasn’t what he said sometimes, but how he said it.’ Her more than 170 cookbooks (of which Cookery in Colour published in 1961 stood out in an era of black and white photography) were hugely popular, and she was one of the first cooks to appear on television. She was both an OBE and later a CBE, and in 2007 was awarded the Woman of the Year Elior Lifetime Achievement Award.

Marguerite Patten retired in her seventies but returned to broadcasting in her nineties. Fittingly, Woman’s Hour broadcast an episode-length tribute to her on her death which showed her humour and expertise still as sharp as ever, although she was no longer able to stand to cook comfortably.

The Imperial War Museum interview can be heard here.

Cocoa and Treacle Brownies – Ruby Tandoh does it again!

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Cocoa and Treacle Brownie, very precisely sliced by The Scientist ready for transportation.

I have a long-standing love of the word treacle. The description ‘the richest and most chocolatey I’ve ever had’ won The Scientist over. There was thus little debate over what I was going to make for his latest gaming trip: Ruby Tandoh’s Black Treacle Chocolate Brownies. These were from the same Guardian column that the Cocoa Cake was from and they similarly did not disappoint. Munchkin, who was helping me bake, declared the melting mixture to be ‘disgusting’ but I think he was just trying out a new word as he looked pretty happy as he said it, and was only too delighted to try the mixture from the spoon (once the mixture had cooled down, I hasten to add). They were an easy bake – melt the butter and treacle, add the eggs, stir into the dry ingredients. I have to admit that I often stir the wet into the dry rather than the other way round, depending on the size of the bowls and pans I’m using. I’m sure there must be some reason that recipes specify the other way round but it doesn’t seem to have any ill effects. Certainly not on these brownies, which were, in one of Munchkin’s other favourite words, ‘lovely’ 🙂

The recipe can be found here

Ruby Tandoh’s Cocoa Chocolate Cake

My little brother just turned 21 and Munchkin was very keen to make him a cake. His favourite is chocolate and since I had just seen an article by Great British Bake-Off runner-up Ruby Tandoh in the previous week’s Guardian I thought I’d give it a try. Actually there was a lot more dithering than that, but The Scientist expressed a strong preference for a cocoa-y cake (though this may have been a tactic to make me stop talking about cakes and go and bake one…;) )

imageMunchkin and I made it together one Friday afternoon and I iced it the next day. I have inexplicably lost my pair of sandwich tins so we just used one deep one with no filling layer of buttercream. The cake has coffee in it but the taste wasn’t too noticeable (this is good as far as I’m concerned; I don’t like coffee) and I did leave it out of the icing in favour of milk, just to keep the taste a bit more child-friendly.

imageThe cake was really good – moist and chocolatey – and with a bit of an improvised candle situation, made a perfect 21st birthday cake. Munchkin was so excited to give it to his uncle that my brother had to sample it as soon as he got through the door. I think he even still had his coat on.

The original article and recipe are here, and Ruby has some interesting things to say in it about why she thinks cocoa is better than chocolate in baking.