I don’t often bake these days. Whilst being an enthusiastic supporter and consumer of baked goods, there just isn’t the call for it in our house. N will sometimes make sounds of appreciation over a sticky toffee pudding or a crumble, then put his portion in the fridge and forget about it for 2 months, which is no way to live quite frankly, and should, in all right-minded households, result in some sort of jail sentence.
The Kid decided some time ago that he’s reached an age where my attempts at birthday cakes are superfluous to his enjoyment of the day. These days he likes his birthdays with a side of beer rather than a cake that resembles the leaning tower of Pisa, if the tower at Pisa had been constructed of sponge, cream and strawberries, or that has a strange blobby space monster blobbing it’s green tentacles all over a wonky moon. And the least said about the doughnut cake the better.
My Nan used to make wedding cakes of 3, 4 tiers. Fruit cake heavy enough to knock out a burglar, stacked on silver paper covered stands, covered with thick marzipan and icing rigid enough to break a tooth. They would be decorated with flowers she had painstakingly made herself from the same icing, rolling it to a fragile thinness, cutting the circles and strips that would then be rolled, crimped, frilled and pressed into flower shapes to adorn the tops. Further icing swags, curls and dots would decorate the sides and the lack of a steady hand could be hidden with a quick design change or swipe of a damp sponge.
I still have the blurred photographs she took to remember each creation; the flash is too harsh, the background too dark. I can recall the smell of the cake, the sweet grittiness of the icing. I was mmmph years old before I realised marzipan needn’t taste synthetic.
She was a bakers daughter, my Nan, and I still have the recipe book she wrote when she joined the bakery at 13. I say “joined”. It was more in the way of the family National Service - the only person who escaped conscription was her brother, the great hope of the family, eventually brought down by gambling and ego.
In this hard backed, faded red exercise book, she wrote down the recipes for Eccles cakes, the coconut macaroons that would eventually become my dad’s favourite. Malt loaf made by painstakingly soaking the fruit in cold tea. Bread off every kind, cottage loaves a speciality. Her unsure, looping hand records how the ingredients are scaled up and up for batch baking, the demand in this Lancashire town never quite satiated.
So when I bake, I’m small again. My own kitchen recedes and I’m stood on a stool to reach the counter, a riot of 70’s daisies spread over the apron that’s been tied around and around my waist. There is the smell of cold tea, coconut and sugar. I can feel the warmth of her oven and heat her telling me to “sift the flour, really lift it.”
This recipe isn’t hers but it has her fingerprints all over it.
Ingredients - 1 pot of yogurt about to go off, 1 banana that’s too squishy for eating, zest of one lemon, 1 egg, self-raising flour, vanilla, any berries that need using up, caster sugar.
1. Blend 1 cup of yogurt with the banana, half a cup of the sugar and the vanilla. Chop and add the berries.
2. Stir in enough flour (to sift or not to sift, you decide according to time) to make it look like a proper cake batter - I think it took about 2 cups but I was ad libbing, talking to the cats and listening to the radio at the same time, so I can’t quite remember.
3. Remember the lemon zest, grate it over the bowl, Drop the lemon into the batter, curse, wipe it off, continue grating till done. Stir in.
4. Line the cake tin of your choice - I used a flapjack tin, about 15 cms wide because I appear to have lost all my roundy tins - with baking paper and tip the mix in. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
5. Bakes for 20 mins in a 180 heat oven that you’ve remembered to preheat. If you haven’t remembered to preheat, do it now and make a cup of tea while you wait. Possibly talk to your partner/child/handy pet at the same time.
5. Test readiness of cake with a skewer or, in my case, a wooden chop stick. If it comes out clean, cake is done. Allow to cool a little before lifting it out of the tin. Allow to cool completely before removing the paper.
6. Slice according to portion preference. Eat.