It feels right to get blogging again with a classic and as far as I’m concerned, the carrot cake completes the holy trinity of cake baking grande dames – flanked either side by the Victoria sponge and the chocolate cake. I know that a classic shouldn’t really need messing about with but I have to insist on pecans over walnuts here. You get all the texture without any of the bitterness and, when candied and dipped in bronze, you also get an ostentatious flourish that no diva worth her salt would turn down.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of collapsing with a coffee and a slice of cake at Lily Vanilli’s bakery, chances are you’ll already know the wonders of this cake. If not, let me share the love, and the recipe, from her brilliant book Sweet Tooth. This isn’t a cake to call on when you need a slab of something sweet and familiar, it’s something altogether more thoughtful; for those days when chic trumps comfort.
For those of you that have followed this blog for a while, you’ll know me and pistachios, we’re involved. There’s something delicate yet striking about them, all jade green and flecked with pink, so it was to my favourite nut I turned, when creating a birthday cake for my mum last week. The result was a light, moist, pistachio sponge laced with rose water, filled and covered with a pistachio French buttercream. I’ve never attempted a tiered cake before either but I was chuffed with how it turned out; chic, a little extravagant and completely delicious.
Grey January days, the kind when the rain’s making a racket on the windows and the sky has been bleached of its blue, are the days that demand cake. Something simple yet vibrant, something reminiscent of the colours and tastes of the last couple of weeks – and here she is. This sweet, syrupy loaf cake is a riot of orange and pink, with a satisfying pop of sharpness thanks to the generous smattering of pomegranate seeds. Sliced thick and served with a pot of tea, it’s the perfect start to the year.
If Nigella is the Queen B of baking, then Nigel Slater is most definitely my king. Not only are his recipes a dream to follow and delicious to eat, it’s the way he writes them, gently coaxing you to the kitchen full of excitement at what you are about to create. His books are beautiful and tend to live on my bedside table, never quite making it to the book shelf, that’s how often I dip into them for inspiration. This week I was determined to face a fruity foe and turned to Nigel for back up. Bananas have been the bane of my baking life for as long as I can remember, fundamentally it’s a texture thing I think, mushy and stringy don’t really do it for me, and I’ve failed to find one recipe to change my mind – until now. Banana-phobes prepare to be converted, this cake has superpowers of persuasion.
Don’t you just love pistachios? They’re so damn chic as well as delicious, all jade green with a hint of pink, definitely the prettiest of nuts and my favourite to bake with. This gorgeous cake partners the pistachios with the delicate tang of orange blossom water, a winning combo that contrasts well with the creamy mascarpone topping. Swayed by the sophisticated flavours, I decided to make some crystallised lavender flowers to sit on top, these are super simple but are best done the day before so that they can be left to dry overnight.
I was quite happy to call this cake The Tequila Smash but, my entry-level piping skills aside, the cake turned out to be a little too sophisticated for a comedy moniker in the end. Like any truly great cocktail, a cocktail cake is all about your ratios, so keep the hit of alcohol to either the sponge or the icing, never both. On this occasion, I went for a zesty lime sponge topped with margarita-infused, two-toned iced roses. I say roses, although swirls might be a more accurate description, but the thought was there and more importantly, so was the taste.