Let us eat cake
It doesn't have to be a birthday to treat yourself to one of life's simple pleasures - a homemade cake, writes Katy McGuinness
Sometimes it just has to be cake. There is something very comforting about taking the time to bake a homemade cake; it's a relaxing weekend activity that fills the house with good smells and provides us with an excuse to sit down and chill out with a cup of tea or coffee and a chat.
We are all trying to eat healthily these days, but a homemade cake using fresh and natural ingredients is so much better than a shop-bought confection that may have been made months ago in a factory and only stays 'fresh' because of all the additives and preservatives that are included. (Just take a look at the label on many of the cakes on the supermarket shelves if you're not convinced.) Make sure that there are people to share it with, though, so that you don't over-indulge.
There's no need for Bake Off-style showstoppers or technical challenges. Who needs that level of stress? Here are three simple cake recipes that can be made without any special skills or equipment.
The lemon and almond cake is perfect for those who are avoiding wheat, while the banana bread is a classic recipe that's universally popular. The apple and salted caramel tray-bake recipe is from Aoife Ryan's Babaduck blog and is a winner as a dessert as well as a cake.
Before you go shopping, check your cupboard to make sure that you don't already have some of the ingredients.
Flour free Lemon and Almond Drizzle Cake
225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g caster sugar
50g plain flour, sifted
225g ground almonds
1 tsp almond essence
2 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice
For the drizzle syrup:
100g caster sugar
2 lemons, juice only
Preheat the oven to 180oC/Fan 160oC/Gas 4. Grease a 23cm Springform cake tin and line it on the bottom with baking paper. Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixer or with a wooden spoon.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating each one in and following it with a quarter of the flour. Then stir in the almonds, vanilla essence, lemon zest and juice. Bake in the oven, checking after 50 minutes to see if it is ready by inserting a skewer that comes out almost clean.
You do not want the skewer to be completely clean, as this is meant to be a moist cake. Depending on your oven, it might take up to an hour and ten minutes. Cover the top with foil towards the end if it is getting too dark.
While the cake is cooling on a wire rack, make the drizzle icing by heating the caster sugar and lemon juice together over a gentle heat until the caster sugar is dissolved. After about ten minutes, turn the cake out onto a plate, make holes in it with a skewer, and pour over the icing. Leave to cool completely before serving.
125g butter, at room temperature
125g muscovado sugar
2-3 large over-ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g self-raising flour, sieved
Pre-heat the oven to 170oC/Fan 150oC/Gas 3. Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line it on the bottom. Combine the butter, sugar, eggs, bananas and vanilla essence and mix well. Add the flour and stir in until well-mixed.
Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.
Salted Caramel And Apple Traybake
250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
225g caster sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g butter, melted
2 tbsp salted caramel
4 cooking apples, peeled, cored & roughly chopped
Preheat your oven to 170oC/Fan 150oC/Gas 3 and line a nine-inch square tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, butter and caramel together for about a minute until very well combined.
Add the chopped apples and gently mix through. Pour the mixture into the tin and level out with a spatula.
Bake for 60-75 minutes (check after an hour - it's ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean).
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Serve warm with cream or ice-cream for dessert.
Taste Test: Ground Coffee
Coffee is the first thing that many of us think of when we wake up in the morning, or when we need a lift in the middle of the day. But a serious coffee habit can prove expensive if you're buying by the cup from your local specialist coffee shop.
It's much more economical to find a packaged ground coffee that you like, pick up a cafetiere that you can bring to work, and gloat all the way until payday. We checked out a few of the supermarket own brands to see which of them was the best, and we threw in one more expensive option to see a) if we could tell the difference; and b) was it worth the extra couple of euro. All the coffees we tasted were Grade 3, which is medium-strength.
Red Rooster Farmer's Friend, 227g, €5.99 9/10
The smoothest and best flavoured of the coffees that we tried, with no bitterness or acidity and a really good aroma. This one is a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, and for the extra few cents per cup that this will work out at, we reckon it's worth it.
Supervalu Signature Tastes Columbian Excelso, 227g, €2.89 7/10
The best of the supermarket own brands that we tried, this has a full flavour profile and none of the bitter aftertaste that some of the others displayed. Recommended.
Marks & Spencer Classic Ground Coffee, 227g, €3.89 6/10
Less rounded in flavour than either the Red Rooster or Supervalu blends, this is an acceptable generic coffee that won't get anyone very excited, but will do the job just fine. There's a slight acidity at the back.
Lidl Bellarom Columbian Roast & Ground Coffee, 454g, €4.49 5/10
This basic coffee from Lidl is the one to buy when you're after a reasonable cup of coffee for a seriously low price (the packet is twice the size of all the others), or when you're catering for large numbers. It's perfectly pleasant, if on the thin side, without being memorable.
Dunnes Stores Simply Better Columbian Ground Coffee, 227g, €2.99 5/10
Indistinguishable from the Lidl coffee in taste terms - our testers thought they were the same one! In a blindfold taste test, this one doesn't smell as enticing, so it gets one less mark.