Category Archives: Cakes and Things

‘I did that!’ list 2016

Greetings on the last day of 2016 everyone! I hope you are planning many festivities to rid ourselves of this awful year and ring in a new one. We are having dinner with family and friends at our house. There is talk of going out afterwards but I’ve been in bed all week with flu and so I may not risk it. I would like to be rid of the coughing fits before going back to work on Tuesday.


You may (or may not) remember that last year I posted an ‘I did that!’ list, inspired by Karen Milford’s article. I liked the way it made me reflect on the year in a positive way. It was different to think about the coming year by looking back on the one just past, and rather than beating myself up about all that was left unaccomplished and continuing, I celebrated the sometimes-small, sometimes-big things that had made up the year, and had made me proud. So I decided to do it again this year. (I also have a list of resolutions, but I’m saving those until at least tomorrow, possibly Monday).

Here is my ‘I did that’! list for 2016.

1. I started a Cookbook Club, tentatively titled The Sunday Cookbook Club. I have many cookbooks. Some might say too many (my mother, for example, who, when she unpacked all the books we’d put into storage whilst she was moving house exclaimed, ‘you have 16 cookbooks on chocolate! How? Why?’) but I love them all. I don’t think I use them enough though and so I wanted to start a club that would encourage their more frequent use and would also provide an opportunity for entertaining without too much hassle. We have 5 members and have had several successful meetings. It has also meant I’ve increased my dinner-party hosting this year, which is something I wanted to do, and I’ve made frequent use of my local library. I intend to keep it going into 2017.

2. I submitted an article to a journal. Big academic step. Deep breaths. I also signed a book contract. More deep breaths. So in 2017 I will be writing a book.

3. I read more for pleasure. I cannot explain fully how happy this makes me. I have always loved reading, falling into magical worlds, being taken on journeys. Over my years as an academic, I read less and less for pleasure, concentrating instead on reading for work. This year, working outside of academia (and no longer being under PhD-related reading pressure) I rediscovered my love of reading. Related to this, I started a regular Tuesday Reading List on the blog, and posted every single Tuesday for the whole year. I’m very proud of the discipline that took to accomplish. (Reading Lists will continue in 2017!)

4. I re-learnt to knit. When I was small, my grandmother Ngonu taught me how to knit using two small red knitting needles. All through high school I knitted squares for blankets and then somewhere in the last 16-odd years, I stopped. When I got home from South Africa in September, I decided I needed some more creative pastimes and so I signed up for a knitting class at KnitNottingham. The muscle memory came back easily and I learnt how to purl and knit on the round. I’ve made several hats and am busy with a scarf. I even bought my first pattern. Now I just need to find a stitch and bitch so I can knit socially.

5. Andrés and I celebrated two years together and one year of living together. I took him to South Africa to meet all my family and friends. He survived and he is still around (so we obviously didn’t scare him too much). He also decided he loves it there and would be willing to move to Cape Town, if the opportunity ever occured. It has been a really rough year for us, but we made it through in one piece.

6. My sister and I went holidaying together in Barcelona. I was nervous of going to Spain without Andrés (my personal translator and guide) but we managed and had the best time. It was the first time in a long while we had traveled together, and I am pleased to say that it was just the same, only more grown-up and with slightly more spending money. My sister made the lists and I made the food decisions (including a totally extravagant and awesome food tour). She also provided all the commentary on the art that we saw. It was brilliant and I hope we do it again in 2017.

So that is my list for the year. What is yours?


Chocolate Cake


This is Trude’s chocolate cake. I have written about this cake before but thought it needed an update, as the original post was quite rushed. This is the chocolate cake of my childhood – if there was a flavour profile for childhood celebrations, this would be it. It is also my Dad’s favourite and he visited for a whole 24 hours this week. So I made it to celebrate his unexpected trip. We ate it with Yotam Ottolenghi’s raspberry ice cream that was in this past Saturday’s Guardian. I am wholly in favour of the chocolate raspberry combination. I gave him slices in a tupperware to eat whilst in transit. The rest I took to the office.

This is a lighter chocolate cake than the one I made for A’s birthday. This is an oil/cocoa powder cake, easily made with store cupboard ingredients. It is simple to put together, although I seemed to use more bowls than I would like (washing up elves!), but I suspect this was just because I was being thorough. Or some such.

Trude’s Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3/4 cup boiling water

1/2 cup cold water

4 eggs, separated

pinch of salt

1 3/4 cups plain flour

1 1/2 cups ordinary (granulated, white) sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup oil

1 tsp vanilla

Line two 22cm tins with butter and baking paper. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Whisk the cocoa powder with the boiling water and set aside. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until stiff. (Hold-it-over-your-head-and-the-mixture-doesn’t-move-kind-of-stiff.) Mix the flour, sugar and baking powder together. Whisk the egg yolks, oil and vanilla together lightly, just to emulsify. Add the cold water to the cocoa powder.

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Pour the cocoa powder mixture into the yolk/oil mixture. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add this liquid mixture in. Mix well. (Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl so you don’t end up with any dregs of flour making an unexpected appearance as you pour the batter into the tins.) I like to whisk this part and then switch to a spatula to fold in the whites.

Fold the egg whites into the mixture in two batches. Be gentle with the second batch – you don’t want to knock too much air out. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before icing.

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For the icing, combine 170g softened, unsalted butter with 390g icing sugar and 2 tbsp cocoa powder. Mix on a low speed until it all comes together. Add in a few splashes of milk and once combined, beat on a high speed until smooth and gloopy.  This will make enough to fill and ice the cake.


Eating with the Princess: Ottolenghi

I was in London for research on a Saturday a few weeks back. Afterwards, I met up with the Princess at the Estorik Collection in Islington. From there we wandered to Ottolenghi, for cake. We found seats at the bar and ordered a chocolate tart with praline (her), and a lemon tart (me). The lemon tart was a truly fabulous dessert: sour lemon curd – the kind that makes your mouth pucker – with just enough sugar to take the edge off, encased in a crisp pastry shell. It was a precisely perfect 4pm-cake-uplift.


Ottolenghi Islington

287 Upper Street, London

N1 2TZ



Damn the man (save the empire) brownies (with rye flour for virtuousness)


For those days when the world feels against you.

Make these, eat a few, and the world will be somewhat restored. If nothing else, your friends and family will love you forever.

Damn the man (save the empire) brownies

Adapted from Poires au Chocolat, who adapted it from Paul A. Young

For the caramel:

150g light brown sugar

80g double cream

20g butter, unsalted

a generous pinch of salt, about 1/4 tsp (optional)

For the brownie:

100g unsalted butter

200g light brown sugar

75g golden syrup

4 eggs

210g dark chocolate (70%), roughly chopped

70g rye flour

30g cocoa powder

First, make the caramel. Place the sugar in a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil on a medium heat, then increase the heat and boil until the sugar turns a dark golden colour and is quite thick. Because this recipe uses light brown sugar, do not use a sugar thermometer as by the time you reach caramel stage your sugar will be black. (It reaches somewhere between soft crack and hard crack stage when you need to remove it. I do this by smell and colour, catching it just before it turns.) Take the caramel off the heat and add the double cream. It will bubble violently. Stir, checking that you don’t have any pieces of sugar. (If you do, return to the heat and heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Alternatively, strain the end product.) Then add in the butter (and salt if using). Set aside to cool.

For the brownies, line a long, rectangular tin with parchment (mine is 28cm long) and preheat the oven to 170C. Place the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan and melt over a low heat, stirring to ensure no sugar burns on the edges. Once everything is emulsified and the butter is melted, add in the dark chocolate and switch off the heat. Let this sit for a minute and then stir in the chocolate. If there are any pieces not melted, switch the heat back on very low and stir until everything has melted. Set this aside to cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Add these into your chocolate mixture, stirring until incorporated. Then fold in the rye flour and cocoa powder. Pour the mixture into the lined brownie tin and use a spatula to ease it into the corners. Pour the caramel all over the top, and then swirl this in.

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Bake until the mixture is glossy on top and set. This takes about 20 minutes. A knife inserted into the mixture will come out clean (any caramel on the knife is okay). If you shake the tin, it should wobble only ever so slightly. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. Transfer to the freezer and cool for a half hour. Turn the brownies out of the tin (I do this by pulling the parchment loose on either side and then sliding them out, face upwards) and slice into small squares. This makes approximately 36.

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Eat. (These keep well in the freezer, never really freezing solid and developing a fantastic texture that is silky smooth).


And just in case you need to be reminded about Empire Records:  and



Vanilla, Blueberry and White Chocolate Cake


This is my go-to birthday cake recipe. Or just when-one-is-in-need-of-cake recipe. I made it last weekend and gave the princess most of it to take back to London. The rest I took to the office, where my colleagues made happy cake eating sounds. This recipe makes a glorious sponge cake that you can make into a bundt (as above) or into a triple or even quadruple layer cake with a frosting of your choice. Don’t like blueberries? Leave them out, or replace them with raspberries or orange zest or lemon zest. Ditto for the vanilla and the white chocolate chips…

So this makes a lot of cake. I made a large bundt cake and a loaf tin out of this. I suspect if you halved the recipe (totally do-able), it would make a regular size bundt cake or a three-layer round cake. You are forewarned.

Vanilla, Blueberry and White Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Joy the Baker via Smitten Kitchen

4 cups plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

227g unsalted butter, softened

2 cups golden caster sugar

4 eggs

1 tbsp vanilla extract

300ml buttermilk

100ml double cream

100ml plain yoghurt

1/2 cup white chocolate, chopped

200g blueberries

Preheat the oven to 170C. Liberally grease a bundt tin with butter, and grease and line a loaf tin; or grease and line 3 layer cake tins.


Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt together in a bowl. Set aside.

In a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time.

Combine the buttermilk, cream and yoghurt in a small bowl.

Fold in the flour mixture in three goes, alternating with the buttermilk mixture – flour then buttermilk, flour then buttermilk, flour.

Finally fold in the blueberries and white chocolate.


Spoon the batter into the bundt tin and the loaf tin.


Bake for approximately 40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling.


Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing. I used a combination of cookie butter frosting and cream cheese frosting that I’d had in the freezer to ice both cakes.



Marmalade Poppyseed Loaf

It is that time of year for marmalade making! Which means it is essential to use up whatever is left of last years marmalade stores to make way for the new. I guess you can tell I’m slightly obsessed with citrus this year. Andrés found blood oranges in the market the other day and seemed surprised when, upon finding them in the kitchen I immediately peeled one and ate it, the juices running down my hand. Blood oranges are my absolute favourite – the colour wheel of reds, oranges and purples delights me – and it turns out they’re superbly good for you too, which is always an added bonus for favourite foods.

2016-01-24 10.58.47-1Anyway, on Sunday I made the new batch of marmalade (having recovered sufficiently from the earlier in the week mess) and, because it was overcast and dark in a way only a January afternoon can be dark, I decided to use up the almost-last jar of 2015 marmalade in a cake. A brief scour of the web combined with Annie Bell’s Baking Bible lead to this: a rather glorious, bitter, damp, orange loaf cake that I intend to eat around 4pm most of this week.


In truth, it is an exceedingly simple riff on a pound cake and could probably be adapted to use up whatever jam you have skulking in the back of the fridge. I used ingredients I had to hand, hence the use of honey – feel free to substitute for more soft brown sugar. Personally, I love this because it is not very sweet and the marmalade glaze gives it a bitter edge. Serve it with vanilla ice-cream for a winter dessert.

Marmalade Poppyseed Loaf

Makes one loaf tin

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

90g soft brown sugar

3 eggs

60g runny honey

75g marmalade

175g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

zest and juice of one orange

2 tbsp poppyseeds

marmalade to glaze

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a loaf tin with butter and parchment.


Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, beating after each one. Mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl and add in two tablespoons to the egg mixture. Beat lightly.


Fold in the honey, marmalade, orange zest and poppyseeds. Lastly fold in the rest of the flour mixture followed by the orange juice.


Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for half an hour, until a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Let the cake rest in the tin for ten minutes before turning out and cooling. I spread the marmalade directly from the jar onto the still warm cake so it has a chance to absorb some of the syrup. Slice when cool. (Slicing when warm will lead to the cake falling apart.) Eat.


Citrus Cupcakes

I have been thinking a lot this week about purpose. I had lunch with a fellow recently-finished-PhD last Sunday and we were talking about life post-thesis. It turns out I am not alone in wondering about purpose. We established that part of the problem is we spent the last four years very specifically working with purpose on a task – to contribute to knowledge, to produce something for the academy that helps us better understand ourselves and the world we live in. In short, we had very purposeful jobs, with very clear remits. And now, quite a lot of the time, I worry that I am no longer doing anything purposeful.


Of course, this is all very philosophical – it is related to other questions I have been asking myself of late: how do I define success? How do I want to live my life? What is important? In our current society almost all definitions of success are defined through work-related accomplishment. But there is obviously much more to life than just work and I suppose part of my post-PhD-purpose-wondering has been thinking about what else I define as successful in my life. And relatedly, what gives my life purpose? What makes me feel good about life? Relationships? Friendships? Family? And other things, like baking, running, doing yoga. How does one do these things well?

I don’t profess to have any of the answers yet although they are forming a thinking project for the year. In this I am reminded of Annie Dillard: ‘how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives‘. She goes on ‘there is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by’. And that is, of course, what we are all pursuing. The good life.

There is no easy transition, I suppose, from talking about the good life to talking about citrus cupcakes, except that this kind of cake adds to a good life, I think. If, like me, you feel January is mostly grey and dark, these are a burst of sun and zest. A fragrant reminder of yellow days. I am currently reading (isn’t everyone?) The Land Where Lemons Grow which I suppose has contributed to the need to eat citrus at the moment. And today is a SNOW DAY, so when better to bake than today? I’m prepping marmalade (citrus fever!), am going to make oxtail for dinner and I intend to make this apple cake for dessert (more on that next time).

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These cupcakes are based on a family Madeira cake recipe, one that has been used and reused for years and years. You can flavour them with any citrus fruit you fancy. I had tangerines to hand and so I used those but an orange (perhaps a blood orange now that they have appeared), a lemon or even a few limes would work. Perhaps some poppyseeds too. If you’d prefer them plain, substitute the zest for vanilla extract perhaps – a teaspoon is sufficient here.

Citrus Cupcakes

Makes 9

140g unsalted butter, softened

120g golden caster sugar

zest of 2 tangerines

3 eggs

140g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a cupcake tray with cupcake holders. (I only have a 6-hole cupcake tin so I bake in batches but if you have a larger one, use that.)

In a bowl, beat the butter, caster sugar and zest until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and then add the eggs one at a time. Mix the flour and the baking powder in a small bowl. Add the flour into the butter/egg mixture in three batches, beating well in-between and scraping down the sides so that it is evenly incorporated. Lastly, add in the milk.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake moulds – I normally do a generous dessert spoon scoop so that it is approximately 3/4 full. Bake for 12 minutes – check the cupcakes. A skewer inserted should come out clean. If not, return to the oven for a few minutes. Once cooked through, remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before placing the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.

Tangering Frosting

125g unsalted butter, softened

300g icing sugar

juice of one tangerine

Beat the butter and icing sugar on a slow speed, until they begin to come together. Add in the tangerine juice and beat slowly until everything is incorporated. Turn the mixer up and beat on medium until the icing is white and very fluffy. Ice the cupcakes liberally. Garnish with zest if you so desire.



Dillard, A. (2013) The Writing Life (Harper Perennial: New York)