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The Great Cake Debate

Piping done by teenage hands is so much prettier.

So this week, out of the manifold options for Dad’s 80th birthday present (sisters have got tankards engraved and special bottles of whisky purchased) I decided to bake a cake.  Not just your run of the mill Nigella special birthday cake (my failsafe for the past ten years) but an iced one (our American cousins use the word frosted, but I take this with caution, because it sounds just too perfect for a slapdash cook like me).

I’m proud to say in typically WI style that I’ve never bought a cake mix, but daunted by the prospect of landsliding and otherwise collapsing edifices of chocolate and ganache, I did the thing on the advice of a professional cake maker I happened to come across whilst shopping for decorations in Hobbycraft. “Madeira works the best”, she said blithely, as I racked my brains mentally scanning my cookery books for such a recipe.  So, half an hour later in the supermarket my hand reached for the cardboard box.  That was my first mistake.

A couple of years ago when we were ensconsed in a tiny workers cottage in the now (in)famous village of Little Faringdon, with a very famous next door neighbour.  The kitchen was pure 1940’s but nonetheless I managed to produce some great parties from within.  Memorably, my first meeting with sister and brother in law, and I had made my Nigella birthday cake.  But it was summer, and I had no “cool” space to let things sit and settle, so when pudding time came, I retrieved said cake from the top of the chest freezer in the yawningly large pantry.  I heard my sister in law asking which cake mix I had used, and as I smilingly (smugly) answered that this was from scratch, the top of the cake started its inexorable warm slide towards me in slo-mo.  My cheekbone caught it beautifully and shunted it back into place long enough for a dash to the table and a slather of fresh cream as I cut it rapidly with a gardening trowel and put it inelegantly on our booths Old Willow dessert dishes.

almost ready

My cake mix came out flat as a pancake, even though “all you have to add are three eggs, milk and sugar” I might well have made it myself.  So much for laziness.  Plan B, executed in a now cluttered kitchen, is to make a chocolate cake, split it in two, and place the Madeira sponge in the middle.  That’s all it’s good for, a definite also-ran.

Second mistake comes hot on the heels of the first and it is imbibing in a gin and tonic well before the sun has hit the yard arm.  New cake decorating book in hand thanks to a swift trip to the Burford Garden Centre, I decide to make my own sugar paste roses.  Before you ask, no, I have never done this before, and no, and yes, I was appallingly maladroit with pottery at school.  But “Bake and Decorate” by the sumptuously talented Fiona Cairns gave me a frisson of self-esteem, her cakes although gorgeous, on some pages look shabby-chique chucked together and that is entirely my way of being, so, I attempted my first sugar paste roses fortified by my G&T which doubtlessly would calm my hands.  Mistake number three.

Mistake number four must surely be timing.  As I set out my kit, it was approaching 3.30 and my teen daughter was due to arrive from school.  First flower done, my hands are still cool, and I like the results.  Who knew?

My wonderful girl bursts through the door and looks aghast at the icing.  I must explain that she is anorexic, recovering, just, but still in the thrall of this thing which hovers over any anxiety and hijacks it.  Butter is a big no-no for her.  I carry on, unnerved at how this thing can take over my beautiful child, but her worry tonight, is having left her PE kit in the English room at school.  There we see us, my hands covered in icing sugar, wondering how on earth to salvage these flowers if I drive her back

to school to retrieve the PE kit.  Idea.  Husband.  Not busy.  Phone him.  So we do and I carry on in haphazard fashion, shaken by the worry it causes my child to have to eat this cake because everyone else will be eating it.

So as it stands, my two dumplings, one cream, one dark, sit atop the range, waiting for adornment.  That must be tomorrow, surely, for my attempts today are secreted away in a cardboard box from Amazon.  I must say that my delivery from them this week was much anticipated by me and my daughter.  Her three books amidst my eight, provided much delight, in love as she is with Jace from the Lauren Kate serial about fallen angels.

A reluctant reader, I researched all the threads I could find for books she might read, bought them, read them, and passed them on, hoping that she would bite.  She did.  And how I have enjoyed reading the YA genre.  I note with interest that certain bookshops have given the genre superb names such as “teen noir”, simply superlative.  She was never one to read the popular tomes, and for her, it’s all about discovery, and latterly, falling in love.

The Lauren Kate series has the ability to extract every ounce of emotion from a teen, and her lead character is stunning.  I remember falling for Jondalar of ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ Jean Auel.

My first attempt one year ago
Leave a comment


  1. I remember the gateau with the slippery dark chocolate and foundation cream served to us in your smoke-and-book-filled cottage at LF!
    Often wondered why we’ve not been back? X

  2. Heh heh! Consider yourselves re-invited….menagerie, too!

  3. I think it looks good and must have meant a lot to him. You’re better than me, I have yet to make my own cake from scratch!

  4. Thank you for dropping by Leanova Designs! It did mean alot to him, and the many small children loved the tiny oreo biscuits I’d hastily thrown on the base to cover up the mamy fissures and cracks in the icing! I’m sure whatever you do will be wonderful – it’s the magic ingredient, isn’t it? Love, I mean! x


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