Sunday 22 March 2009

Cake Wrecks

What wonderful suggestions for yesterday's question - thank you one and all. I'm especially encouraged to break my Elizabeth von Arnim novice status (own five; have read none) and read The Enchanted April. It's down in Somerset at the moment, but I'll be there in - appropriately enough - April, and hopefully the weather will still be lovely and Spring-like. Do keep suggestions coming.

The other tome I turned to today was Afternoon Teas: Homemade Bakes & Party Cakes which may or may not be by Valerie Ferguson (the cover claims this; Amazon claim Martha Day) - either way the recipes are actually submitted by a couple dozen different people, accord
ing to the page of publication info. Anyway, this book is absolutely beautiful to look at and flick through, even before you start baking - I can't remember if Our Vicar's Wife or Santa gave me this, but many thanks to whichever it was!

I don't read many Foody Blogs, but am always breathless with admiration at those - especially Karen at Cornflower - who seem able effortlessly to bake and cook elaborate and complex things every day of the week. Phrases like "left to soak in cider overnight" and "blanched in white wine vinegar" are thrown around nonchalantly, and accompanied by photographs which are indistinguishable from those in the cookbook. Now, it's no secret that I love baking, and my mother was once described as having 'baking Tourettes', but this visual thing never seems to work out for me when I steer away from your simple sponge cake. I can make things which taste very nice (and in baking it's difficult to make anything which doesn't taste nice - I mean it's basically fat and sugar and a few other bits and pieces) - but presentation... not so much.

Nothing daunted, I went to Sainsbury's (I drove there on my own! The first time I'd driven on my own anywhere!) and bought up most of their baking aisle. Afternoon Teas has some wonderful recipes in it, but I had settled on the Apricot Brandy-Snap Roulade. Mmmm. I was a little perturbed by the recipe not having any indication of difficulty, since some of the ones described as 'easy' looked terrifyingly difficult - I think the various contributors are the sort of people who sometimes accidentally make Victoria sponges just by walking through the kitchen, so where we mere mortals struggle to separate eggs successfully, they'll have whipped up a five tier cake using only matchsticks.

And Mel (my housemate) and I got to work. It was all going so well. We whisked and we folded and we baked and we pureed. All was well until we had to roll the roulade... oops. We forgot to keep a slightly damp cloth over the cooling almond sponge, and thus it got too dry... Apricot Cream Sandwich, anyone? (And whoever thought four crushed brandy-snaps would adequately cover the surface were horribly wrong)

Can you tell which is the picture and which is our product? (Mel's hands might help)
I was very much reminded of the hilarious website, but as we're very far from professional, we're not eligible for submission.
But, boy, this tasted AMAZING. For anyone who buys this book (and on Amazon there are pretty cheap marketplace copies) and gives the recipe a go, I recommend not pureeing all the apricots - keep some to chop up and include like that. Less cream and more brandy-snaps, and you're away. And follow all the instructions, unlike me...

Yes, still, despite this fiasco, I encourage any fans of the English afternoon tea to go and get a copy of this recipe book. As well as different cakes (Caramel Meringe Gateau with Sloe Gin, White Chocolate Cappuccino Gateau, the Summer Shortcake on the cover... so many...) there are sections on cookies, scones, breads, jams, and novelty cakes. I dread to think what would emerge if I tried to make the Terracotta Flowerpot cake). All of them look delicious. Even if you're not the best baker in the world, the pictures and lay-out are done so well that you can salivate over them before popping out to the local cake shop...


  1. Simon - may I recommend the doyenne of cooking as far as I am concerned - Delia of course. She has written a book on baking which has been sitting on my shelves for years and all the recipes are fool proof. I also have a very battered the Sainsbury book of Baking which I do not think is available any more but if you spot a copy in a charity shop, and I have seen them, do grab. Excellent book and the marmalade cake recipe specially good

  2. The proof of the pudding is in the eating!!!

  3. Jane Brocket's book 'Cherry cake and ginger beer' has some excellent baking recipes-and they are all based on food mentioned in her favourite children's books so should appeal to bookworms.

  4. I agree with Elaine about Delia too. I am great at taste and useless at presentation (and accuracy) too and Delia is a great help. My husband is amazed that anyone who basically reads for a living can read recipes so badly - but I do. Looks like you do too!

    Re Amazon's catalogue - it is all over the place. I correct several errors on there a week, which you can do if you're logged in, I think, even as a buyer not a just a seller. Just because Amazon anme someone as an author doesn't mean they are right!

  5. oh goodness, I might have to take a photo of my second Cake Wreck of the week, I don't think I can possibly serve it to the general public in aid of charity. Which means we'll have to eat it.


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at