My Top Five Cakes

4 July 2011

Last week I was very busy with cakes. Yes, I know I was going to move on from the cake business thing, but every now and again I'm asked so nicely to bake a cake that I just can't say no. I do love to bake cakes particularly those that are central to happy times, celebrations and milestones. They might only be a bit of home-baked sugar-sweet sponge but they make people so happy and on occasion quite delirious.

It was my good friend Celia who commissioned me to make five cakes for her mother's 80th birthday party. The big bash took place over the weekend in London. The venue was the local church hall and the menu was tea and cake. Yes, literally. No faffing around with sandwiches and alike, but straight into the cake course. Now that's my kind of party! What I liked best about this commission was that I was left to my own devises creatively. The selection that I finally settled on consisted of the following; Courgette Cake (with a Lime Cream Cheese Frosting and Pistachio Nuts); Chocolate & Guinness Cake (with White Chocolate Frosting); Orange & Almond Cake topped with Almonds; Chocolate Brownies; Lemon & Thyme Shortbread Biscuits served with Seasonal Berries and Creme Fraiche.

I chose these five cakes for their variety and interest, but also because I have now made each of them so many times I believe that I have them down to a tee. A few people have been asking lately if I ever share my recipes. 'Of course' is my answer. They're not really mine at all. Some are old recipes that exist on dog-eared magazine tear outs, some are from much-loved recipe books and some are borrowed with a couple of my own tweaks thrown in. But they have become part of my baking repertoire and thus I have great affection to them all. So over this week I am going to post these very five cake recipes, starting with the Courgette Cake, which was taken from the cake bible itself How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. Keep these recipes to hand then should a bout of baking come over you in the very near future you'll be well prepared to fully embrace it.

Courgette Cake (with a Lime Cream Cheese Frosting and Pistachio Nuts)

2-3 courgettes
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
lemon curd for the filling
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar, sieved
I lime
2 – 3 tbsp chopped pistachio nuts

1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ gas mark 4 and grease and line 2 x 21cm sandwich tins.

2. Wipe your courgettes with a piece of kitchen towel and then peel on the coarse side of a grater. Once you have your pile of grated courgette, take a handful at a time and squeeze over the sink to remove excess water, placing the drained courgette in a bowl ready for adding to the mixture in step 4.

3. Put the eggs, oil, and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Next sieve in the flour, bicarb and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined.

4. Now add your grated courgette and stir briefly until the mixture is flecked emerald green.

5. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake in the oven for approx 30mins. The sponges are ready when slightly browned and firm to the touch. Once cooked place the tins onto a rack to cool for 10mins before turning out to cool completely.

6. Once the sponges are completely cool, you are ready to fill and ice. For the filling simply spread generously with some lemon curd. To make the frosting beat the cream cheese together with the sieved icing sugar. When your cream cheese and icing sugar are combined add a squeeze of lime for a delicious zing.

7. Smear the top of your cake thickly with the frosting. If you want to firm the icing up at all, place the cake in the fridge. Alternatively you can pop the icing in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to firm up slightly before spreading on top of your cake.

8. Just before serving sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and place a coordinating flower in the centre as a finishing touch. The inclusion of the flower is very much my little piece of creative freedom, but is by no means a necessity.

* Please note that this recipe is for a 2 layer cake. However this weekend I made a 3 layer version by adding half the ingredients again to fill a third cake tin.

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