cakes

Berry Delightful

Baking cakes is therapeutic. There's even a theory that baking helps with depression. It certainly lifts your mood to be able to use very simple ingredients and create such glorious concoctions. A great sense of self satisfaction takes over. The whole nation is gripped with the cake revolution. Our very own Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have made baking very 'cool.' So not only do we feel worthy doing it, but we are being trendy in the process. The Women's Institute owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Great British Bake Off. In fact, it's such an addictive amateur baking talent show, that it doesn't matter if you bake or not, you can't help but get drawn in. We can't wait to tune in for the next episode to witness the journey from tears over treacle tarts to satisfaction in strudel mastery. Our cake obsession seems to have been exacerbated by this show and if you didn't before, you probably now suffer from a cupcake OCD! 

There's always been a calling for cake and whether it be times of joy, or times of adversity, cake is always there for us. There's a certain comfort that we derive from baking and despite this previously being reserved for the occasional afternoon tea, cricket tea or Granny's Sunday cake, we are a now an anytime baking nation with astounding skills. There's an abundance of baking clubs, local bake-offs and charity fundraisers hosting coffee and cake mornings. There is this tenacious feel good factor and it's all about the cake. So with all that in mind, delight in my quaint summer berry layer cake with lavender petals. There's no 'soggy bottom' here Mr Hollywood. On your marks, get set, bake!  

Summer Berry Layer Cake with Lavender Petals

Serves 8-10

  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 200g Caster Sugar
  • 125g Butter
  • 150ml Single Cream
  • 175g Plain Flour
  • 3 tsp Baking Powder
  • 200ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Caster Sugar
  • 800g Berries (Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries)
  • 2 Sprigs Lavender Petals

Method

  • Using 25g of the butter, grease two 22cm shallow cake tins and line with baking parchment.
  • Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar in a bowl, until the mixture is thick and creamy and the whisk leaves a trail.
  • Put the remaining butter with the cream into a pan and bring to the boil.
  • Allow to cool for a couple of minutes and stir into the egg and sugar mixture.
  • Sieve the flour and baking powder and fold it carefully into the egg and sugar mixture making sure that their are no lumps.
  • Divide the mixture between the two cake tins.
  • Bake in the oven (170º celsius fan assisted or equivalent) for 15 minutes or until they are cooked and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Remove the cake tins from the oven.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then remove the cakes from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • While the cakes are cooling, whip the double cream with the vanilla sugar until it is lightly whipped.
  • Prepare and clean the fruit and hull the strawberries.
  • Once cooled, place one cake onto a cake serving plate, or a cake stand.
  • Place half of the whipped cream onto the cake and arrange half of the fruit on top.
  • Put the second cake on top and then place the remaining cream on top. Arrange the fruit and finally sprinkle over the petals from the two sprigs of lavender.

Tips

  • I make the vanilla sugar by placing a vanilla pod into a container of caster sugar. 

  • Instead of whipping the cream with vanilla sugar, it can also be whipped up with a tablespoon of lavender sugar.

  • If you don't have any lavender petals you can omit them, or sprinkle over dried rose petals.

  • Don't overdo it with the lavender, as it will start to taste rather soapy.   



Afternoon Chai

Henry James famously wrote in The Portrait of a Lady, 'There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.' Afternoon tea it can be said, is a quintessentially British tradition, an institution in fact. It was originally meant as a stopgap for the Duchess of Bedford to deal with afternoon hunger pangs between her two meals. However, afternoon tea is more fashionable than ever and no visit to Britain is complete without experiencing this custom. Fortnum and Mason, The Ritz, Claridges and The Goring, all pride themselves at being aficionados in tea-drinking and in the artistry of tiered plate presentation. In fact these chefs are becoming more and more creative with themes being added for Mother's Day, The Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon. Afternoon tea is all about relaxing over a pot of tea, (despite having at least fifteen different varieties to choose from), alongside a variety of sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes. There is actually more than that to think about and there are several ongoing debates. Does the milk go into the cup before or after the tea; and which goes onto the scone first, the cream or the jam? All this etiquette should not get in the way of enjoying the indulgence of this time-honoured tradition.

An Indian 'High Tea' is not just cardamom chai with a couple of biscuits thrown in. It is usually a lavish spread of finger foods. The obligatory sandwiches, scones and cakes do get a look in, but bite size samosas, paneer pakoras, chaats, aloo tikkis and sweet barfis embellish the whole spread. I have wonderful childhood memories of savouring afternoon tea in Mumbai at that iconic, majestic landmark that is the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Overlooking the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea, the Sea Lounge in the hotel with all its colonial charm was and still is the most serene place to not only enjoy afternoon tea but to view the ferries bobbing up and down on the sea, travelling to and from Elephanta Island. The extensive food delicacies certainly enhanced my experience and to this day whenever I'm in Mumbai, I can't leave without revelling in tea drinking at the Sea Lounge.      

I recently hosted afternoon tea for friends and family and I did indulge my guests in a variety of sweet and savoury fare. The sumptuous cakes, macarons and bite sized pastries produced squeals of delight, and to cut through the richness of the savouries, I served platters of exotic fresh fruit, a little something to minimise the guilt of too much excess! Afternoon tea maybe trendy, but it's dignified and elegant too, so go forth and enjoy your high chai.