Wednesday, 1 June 2011

CelebriTEA - In praise of proper cake

This months CelebriTEA is Lydia Bates, the creative force behind new online vintage magazine and directory Ivy Dee. She can also be found making pudding on The Pudding Blog, talking communications on That’s What She Said, and getting opinionated at Ninehundred Months, or you can follow her on Twitter @lydiajo



Mention cake these days, and, for many people, the image of a bright, fondant-covered cupcake will spring to mind. But that wasn’t always the case, there was a time when cake was something more substantial, something that you could really get your teeth into. Cupcakes were for children, and grown-ups had proper cake. I have a particular fondness for the sort of cake that doesn’t require any icing or frosting, and isn’t filled with whipped cream and fresh fruit. The sort of cake that you can cut a generous slice from, and wrap the remainder in greaseproof paper for later - Cake as food, not as luxury. 

So, let me share with you my top five proper cakes to have with your daily cuppa.

Fruit Cake
You can’t get much more traditional than good old fashioned fruit cake - many families have recipes that have been passed down through generations, each with their own special ingredients. My version is a little newer than that, and has been cobbled together by looking at 3 or 4 other recipes, and I’m still playing with it. The trick with this cake is to soak the dried fruit overnight in tea – I just throw in a handful of ordinary teabags. It leaves you with lovely plump fruit, and a cake with a little more depth of flavour.

Recommended Tea – Yorkshire Tea, a good strong blend of black teas. No messing around here.  

Banana, Pecan and Chocolate
The best way to describe this cake is to say that it is ‘almost sweet’. The banana, pecan and dark chocolate undoubtedly have their sweet sides, but they also have a warming comforting taste to them. It’s an uncomplicated reassuring kind of cake that works just as well as a breakfast on the go as for a snack in the afternoon.

Recommended Tea
Assam, full bodied and rich in flavour.

Date and Walnut
In many ways, this is very similar to the banana cake above, indeed it still contains a couple of bananas, but the addition of the dates gives it a completely different character. If I tell you that it’s dates that provide the sticky in sticky toffee pudding, then it won’t surprise you to discover that throwing a load of them into a cake turns it into something really quite gooey and gorgeous. This cake really is an indulgence, but its sweetness is balanced by the slightly bitter taste from the walnut, making it altogether more grown-up than sticky toffee pudding.

Recommended Tea – Russian Caravan, smoky and a little sophisticated.


Honey and Caraway

Seed cake is another traditional English cake, and features in Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook. Some varieties include some citrus peel, or the juice of a fresh orange, but the version I quite like contains a couple of teaspoons of honey. This is a light and delicate cake, with a distinctive flavour, which would be right at home on a tray with some cucumber sandwiches and scones, taken in the garden on a summer’s day (under a willow tree or large parasol in order to protect the complexion, of course).

Recommended Tea – Earl Grey, with lemon, not milk (obviously)


Ginger and Spice
This is a heck of a cake, dark and full of intense flavours. Ground ginger, stem ginger (with a bit of syrup), all spice, dark sugar and half a tin of black treacle - this isn’t a cake for the faint hearted. It also takes a bit of courage to bake, because it’s the sort of cake that is liable to sink on you if you bring it out of the oven too soon. That being said, if you do suffer from total cake collapse, you can always dig it out of the tin and make wickedly grown up trifles in individual glasses, or just eat it and forget about what it looks like, and get out the ingredients to try again if you really need one that looks as good as it tastes.

Recommended Tea – You need something powerful to compete with the flavours here, and what could be better than some Gunpowder to complement the oriental vibe of the ginger.


So, over to you – what sort of cake do you find yourself reaching for over and over again? Do you have memories of parents or grandparents making a certain cake that fill you with nostalgia? Or are you more of a biscuit person?