A Cake to Eat by the Fireside

a delicious slice of cakeOne of the many things I love about autumn is the return of cake. Long, hot summer days don’t really lend themselves to an afternoon in the kitchen, beating cake mix and icing buns. Sweet treats tend to be fruit, ice cream or perhaps and Eton Mess or Pavlova for lucky visitors. Autumn is the perfect excuse to rediscover cake. As the afternoons get darker, I find myself heading indoors, lighting candles, cosying up by the fire and leafing through recipe books. I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake, although you’ll find a couple in my list of favourites here. My current favourites are dark, sticky, heavily spiced and flavoured with ginger, cardamon and honey. Jamie Oliver has a delicious orange and polenta cake in his new book, and I’m waiting for the blood oranges to appear so I can test it out.

Last week, Mr T and I had a small party to celebrate our birthdays. The perfect excuse to try a new recipe on a group of hungry friends. It was a cool, clear night and Mr T lit a fire, I decorated the garden with candles and outdoor lights. This year I baked a  sticky gingerbread with a sharp lemon icing from Miranda Gore Browne’s book “Bake Me a Cake As Fast As You Can”. It struck just the right balance between sickly sweet and a hit of sharp citrus.  In previous years I’ve turned to Nigella for my winter bakes, “How to Be a Domestic Goddess” is well thumbed –  covered in splashes of cake mix and icing – always a sign of a much loved book. I like “last minute” cakes,  the ones that don’t need butter brought to room temperature, so Miranda’s gingerbread is perfect. It’s made using the melting method, so treacle, syrup, butter and sugar are warmed in a pan and added to the flour and spices. It keeps well, lasting several days in an airtight tin.

Of course, cake is an indulgence, a treat to be savoured in small slices with a steaming mug of tea or coffee. It may not be fashionable to celebrate the alchemy of butter, sugar and eggs, but I sit firmly in the “everything in moderation” camp.  (Full disclosure: that rule doesn’t always apply here, where cake is often eaten in huge doorsteps).  I swapped the self raising flour in the recipe for Spelt and a couple of tea spoons of baking powder, and used slightly less milk for the batter. Real, local butter and organic eggs from a friend are non negotiable baking essentials for me and  please don’t use butter replacements unless you have to, the flavour is never the same.We don’t have cake every day, so when we do I go ” all out”, choosing the best, local ingredients. I light a candle, switch on radio 4 and indulge myself in joy of baking. I even have a favourite apron, it hangs on the back of the kitchen door, and when I tie it tight around my waist I feel terribly professional and in control of my kitchen!

One of my greatest pleasures is being able to offer visitors a slice of something home made. Almost as indulgent, I will happily spend an afternoon perusing old favourite recipe books and websites in search of the perfect weekend bake. It’s an autumn activity I highly recommend, write a list, use post its, bookmark your favourites on Pinterest. Or, like me, you could stick your list on the fridge. A  promise to the family of good things to come and a reminder of items you need to add to the shopping list.

To get you started, here’s a few of my recent favourites, all available online. You can’t beat a real cook book though, so if your shelves are a bit bare, head off to your local library and explore the cookery section. Charity shops are also good places to seek out cook books (especially in January when unwanted gifts find their way onto the shelves). Or host a bake and swap night with friends, where everyone bakes their favourite and brings a copy of the recipe. The best friends bring hand written recipes you can stick into notebooks, which is how I discovered my marmalade cake recipe. For years this was the most viewed page on my blog, the most “pinned” and the one that ranked highest in my “referrers from google”. Who knew marmalade cake could be so popular? One of these days I’ll update the photo, it’s definitely one you should try for yourself. Meanwhile, here are a few of my current favourites:

Nigel Slater’s Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake from Observer Food

Miranda Gore Browne’s Caramel Apple Cake from Sainsburys Magazine

Nigella’s Olive Oil Chocolate Cake available on  her website

Diana Henry’s Lime, Cardamon and Coconut cake from the Telegraph

Photo credit: Norwood Themes on Unsplash

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#badbirdwatcher #girlgardener #gardenbirds #gardenorganic #twitcher #blackbird #nothingisordinary #naturelovers Classroom window view. I spent today at the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port.  learning to use my digital camera - thanks Eve & Carol from @going_digital for getting me off auto!
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