Janet (j4) wrote,

Star baker

I've been baking cake for tomorrow's team meeting. It's sort of a tradition in the making... well, what happened was that S, my boss, brought apple tart in for the team meeting two months ago, as a sort of substitute for tarte tatin, which he was keen to learn to make because of the association with the Sologne, where Le Grand Meaulnes, which is one of his favourite books, is set. (Still following?) Anyway, for the last meeting I decided it was my turn to bake, and produced some slightly underwhelming honey and yoghurt and walnut muffins which to the best of my knowledge had no geographical or literary associations (though I suppose they were 'American muffins', which the Americans call English muffins -- divided by a common snackage!). My colleagues were nice about the muffins, but really they weren't very exciting. Muffins are hard to get right, and these were quite doughy (which I don't mind, but it's not how they should be) and practically savoury (which I don't mind but is a bit disappointing when you've put lots of sweet things in).

Really, I just like saying the word "muffins".

So anyway, this month I asked S if it was his turn to bake this time, and he was apologetic but said he just didn't have time because he was going to be out all evening; so I said I'd do it again. (No, I don't leave an apple on his desk every morning or anything. Stop it. I just like baking. And team meetings go so much more smoothly with cake and coffee.) But this time I wanted to go for something more 'safe', something guaranteed to work better than those damn muffins. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this is one of my favourite recipes and it works perfectly every time:

Marmalade Gingerbread


8oz (225g) self-raising flour [1]
1 beaten egg
3oz (75g) butter/margarine
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
5oz (150g) golden syrup
8oz (225g) chunky marmalade
1 tbsp hot water
a pinch of salt

Other stuff
7" (18cm) square cake tin, greased & lined
Oven setting: 325°F / 170°C / Gas Mark 3
Cooking time: ONE HOUR[2]


1. Cut up the butter. Put it in a saucepan with the syrup. Melt them over a low heat.
2. Sift the flour, ginger, salt and cinnamon into a bowl. Make a hollow in the centre.
3. Slowly pour the syrup mixture into the hollow, stirring in the flour from the sides as you do so.
4. Add the marmalade, egg and water and mix everything together. The mixture should be soft and drop off a spoon easily. If it is stiff, add more water.
5. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and spread it out evenly with a knife.
6. Bake the cake on the centre shelf of the oven for an hour.
7. The cake is done when it is golden brown and the centre feels springy to the touch. If you push a skewer into the centre of the cake it should come out clean.
8. Let the cake cool in the tin for 15 minutes then turn it out on to a wire cooling rack.

This recipe is taken from the Usborne First Cookbook. Please buy a copy so I don't feel as guilty about copyright violation! It is a lovely lovely book, not just for kids, not even just for new cooks. It has lots of clear and tasty and simple recipes in few words with big pictures.

[1] Honesty compels me to note that they actually give the measurements the other way round i.e. with imperial in brackets; but I always bake in imperial, because I am awkward I have more of a feel for the quantities that way. A heaped tablespoon of flour being about an ounce, that sort of thing; and how many ounces of this that and the other tend to go into a cake. 8oz marmalade is basically half a normal (454g) jar. 454, for heaven's sake, what kind of a number is that?
Two and a quarter pounds of jam
makes about a kilogram.
Hope this helps.

[2] This always used to catch me out, so I have put it in big letters so that hopefully it doesn't catch you out. I mean, it's a simple recipe, I'd think "I will bake this because it's so easy and quick" and then get to the time (see also: "place in preheated oven DAMN DAMN DAMN this oven takes three years to warm up") and think "an HOUR??" and end up still waiting for cake to be finished at 1 o'clock in the morning. (I now have a big post-it note on the page in the book saying "COOKING TIME = 1 HOUR".) The other recipe that used to catch me out like this was my All-bran cake, which only takes about 15 minutes of actual effort but has an hour of soaking and about 2 hours of cooking, depending on just how rubbish your oven is and how much you mind squishy sticky bits at the bottom of your fruitcake. But anyway.

I love baking — no, don't worry, I'm not going to go all creative-writing about childhood memories of stirring the Christmas cake for luck — but I'm a bit wary of new recipes (and I don't really make up my own, not from scratch, I just get a bit fuzzy around the edges with existing recipes). There are a handful of recipes that I know and love and trust: these three here; my mum's gingerbread recipe; the quickest coconut macaroon recipe in the world; crushed-biscuit cake, which isn't a cake; a huge indulgent coconut cake recipe out of the Radio Times from the early 90s which includes stuff like rose water and tastes like heaven; various flapjack recipes which I keep re-trying and re-combining and generally faffing with in an attempt to make the perfect flapjack; rock buns, which avoid the problem of how to pronounce 'scone'; apple tart, which is not so much a recipe as a way of slicing up apples and arranging them and feeling grains of sugar all gritty against sharp green apple slices; a recipe for parkin which was on a bag of flour and which I have lost; cakes belonging to the Emperor... no, hang on. Basically, though, these are proper cake recipes, and everything else is some kind of weird fancy modern stuff. No, I know. But cake is a comforting thing. I have tried more complicated cakes, and while they sometimes work (like the pineapple upside-down cake which actually looked like the thing in the book, and the thing that was basically apple crumble but with meringue instead of crumble, and the lemon polenta cake with rosemary syrup which made my mum's pan smell of rosemary for months) they never seem to make it into the canon.

The whole house smells of cake now, and a house that smells of cake is a happy house.

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