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Let them eat cake

The best way to lift the low spirits on a cold January day is, simply, to batten down the hatches and retreat into the kitchen. Turn on the oven, have a big baking session, and cook your favourite cakes or buns, or use my suggestions below.

The aroma of home baking wafting through the house is one of life's great comforts. While the oven is on, you might as well use the heat to make a few different goodies. Everyone in the family can help -- have some cheery music in the background, and all will be well with the world. To be ready for such eventualities, be sure to have the necessary ingredients on standby in the press or fridge -- items such as eggs, butter, sugar and flour are the staples when it comes to baking.



Really scrumptious. My take on the classic American recipe of pineapple upside-down cake uses chunks of pineapple and chopped almonds on top. Of course, the topping of this cake is put into the base of the tin with the sponge mixture on top. When the cake is turned out, the bottom then becomes the top.

For the topping, you will need:

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) chopped almonds

50g (20oz) light brown sugar

400g (14oz) tin pineapple chunks

For the sponge, you will need:

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

175g (6oz) butter, softened to room temperature

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

1/2 teaspoon almond essence

Whipped cream, to serve

Use a round tin 23cm (9in) in diameter and 4cm (1 1/2in) deep.

Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5. First, make the topping. Put the butter into the tin and then into the oven for a few minutes to melt, but ensure it doesn't brown. Sprinkle the chopped almonds into the melted butter, spread them out in a thin layer, and return the tin to the oven for about 3-5 minutes, or until the almonds turn a very light golden brown. If the chopped almonds around the edge seem to be browning more quickly, then stir them once or twice. Watch carefully so that the almonds don't get too brown.

Take the tin out of the oven and sprinkle the light brown sugar in an even layer over the chopped almonds. Reduce the oven heat to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. Drain the juice from the tin of pineapple chunks. Put aside one generous tablespoon of the chunks and spoon all the rest in an even layer over the light brown sugar in the tin.

Weigh out the self-raising flour and put to one side. Beat together the softened butter and the caster sugar until they become soft. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little spoon of the weighed flour with each egg. Beat in the vanilla essence and the almond essence. Then stir all the remaining flour through the mixture, but do not beat it at this stage, as doing so would toughen the sponge. Finally, stir in the remaining tablespoon of pineapple chunks.

Spoon out the sponge mixture in small spoonfuls all over the pineapple chunks, almonds and sugar in the prepared tin. If these spoonfuls do not quite meet each other, don't worry, they will rise and join up in the oven. However, I do like to ensure that the blobs of cake-mix all around the edge of the tin actually meet the sides of the tin to prevent the sugar underneath from bubbling up the sides during baking, so I spread the mixture gently in this area in order to make contact all around the sides of the tin.

Bake the cake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Reduce the heat a little halfway through if the top is getting too brown. Don't be fooled -- even though the sponge may look baked, the centre takes some time to cook right through, so it is important to check it by piercing it with a knife, which should come out with no doughy particles adhering to it. While the cake is still piping hot, loosen the edges of the sponge all around the tin with a knife. Place a large plate over the cake and invert both. Wait for a minute or so, then gently lift off the tin. The topping, which was at the base of the tin, will now be the top of the cake. Inevitably, some of the nuts and sugar will stick to the base of the tin, so immediately, while they are still hot, scrape them off and spread them gently here and there over the top of the cake.

This cake is delicious to eat on the day of baking, but it keeps well, too. Serve with whipped cream.


Include the children in this bake-in. These traditional butterfly buns are easy to make using a simple butter sponge mixture. The tops are sliced off the cooked buns, then cut in two and placed like wings in a topping of tasty jam and whipped cream.

You will need:

175g (6oz) butter, softened to room temperature

175g (6oz) caster sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

200g (7oz) self-raising flour

For the topping, you will need:

12-18 small teaspoons strawberry jam

170ml cream, whipped

You will also need 12-18 paper bun-cases and one or two bun or muffin trays (with nine or 12 cup-holes in each). Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5.

Beat the butter until it becomes soft, then beat in the caster sugar until the mixture also becomes soft. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and also add in the vanilla essence. If the mixture is getting very soft, add a little of the weighed flour with the second or the final egg. Then stir in the remaining flour. Spoon the mixture into the paper bun-cases, which should be sitting in the the bun or muffin trays. You will get 12-18 buns, depending on how much mixture you put in each paper bun-case.

Bake the buns in the oven for about 20 minutes until they are well risen and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire tray. Slice the pointy top off each bun and slit it in two. Shortly before serving, put a teaspoon of the strawberry jam and the whipped cream on top of each bun and place the sliced tops -- the wings -- in position.


Raisins and nuts give nice texture to this carrot-cake mixture. Bake it in a loaf tin or, if you prefer, you can make it into muffins. The butter is melted for ease of mixing, but work quickly to ensure it won't set too stiffly before you put the mixture into the tin.

You will need:

110g (4oz) wholemeal flour

175g (6oz) self-raising flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

2 level teaspoons nutmeg

2 level teaspoons cinnamon

100g (3?oz) mixed peel

110g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) walnuts

2 large eggs

110g (4oz) caster or brown sugar

225g (8oz) grated carrot

110g (4oz) butter, melted

A little milk, if necessary

Use a greased 12-cup muffin tin, or use a non-stick loaf tin, 23cm by 12.5cm and 7.5cm deep (9in by 5in and 3in deep). Line the base with a piece of baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.

Put the wholemeal flour, the self-raising flour, the baking powder, the nutmeg and the cinnamon into a bowl and mix well. Stir in the mixed peel, the raisins and the walnuts. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl, then stir in the caster or brown sugar, whichever you are using, and the grated carrot, then stir in the melted butter. Add these wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin or the loaf tin, whichever you are using, and bake until cooked through.

The muffins will take about 25-30 minutes; the loaf will take about an hour and a quarter.

Partly cool the loaf in the tin, standing it on a wire tray, then turn it out to cool completely.


Apples and blackcurrant jam make a delicious filling for this rustic tart. The pastry is rolled out into a circle. The fruit is piled on top and the edges are folded up over the fruit, leaving the centre open.

For the pastry, you will need:

225g (8oz) flour (not self-raising)

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon

150g (5oz) butter, diced

1 small egg, beaten

For the filling, you will need:

700g (1?lb) cooking apples (preferably Bramley)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

50-75g (2-3oz) sugar

3 rounded teaspoons cornflour

3 tablespoons blackcurrant jam

1 tablespoon melted butter

Cream, ice cream or yoghurt, to serve

To make the pastry, mix together the flour, the caster sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl. Rub in the diced butter with your fingertips until the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs -- this can be done in a food processor in seconds.

Put aside one tablespoon of the beaten egg for brushing on to the pastry later. Add enough cold water to the remaining egg so that it measures about 100ml (almost 4fl oz).

Add just enough of this liquid to the dry ingredients to make a moderately soft dough. Lightly knead the dough on a floured board and leave it covered while the filling is prepared.

To prepare the filling, peel, core and chop the cooking apples. Put the chopped apples in a bowl with two tablespoons of water and cook them in a microwave on high for 2-5 minutes to partly soften the apples.

If no microwave is available, cook the apples gently for a few minutes in a saucepan with the lid on, but don't let them get mushy -- they need to stay chunky.

Remove the apples from the microwave, or the cooker, and stir in the cinnamon, if you are using it, and the sugar.

Mix one teaspoon of the cornflour with a drop of water and then mix this into the apples. In a little bowl, mix the remaining cornflour into two tablespoons of the blackcurrant jam.

The purpose of the cornflour is to bind the juices so that they won't flow out of the tart.

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6.

Roll out the scone-like pastry into a circle about 33cm (13in) in diameter. I find it handiest to place a large piece of baking parchment under the pastry as I roll it out. This will allow me to slide the assembled tart on to the tin when I'm ready. Ensure there are no holes in the pastry through which the lovely juices could escape.

Spread the blackcurrant jam and cornflour mixture in a circle on the centre of the pastry, leaving a 7.5cm (3in) border all around the edge. Pile the partly cooked apples in a mound on top of the blackcurrant jam and cornflour mixture. Fold the border of pastry up over the filling, pleating it here and there to make it fit snugly, moistening the pastry pleats and pinching them to seal them. This will leave the apple visible in the centre, so brush the apples with the melted butter. Brush all of the visible pastry with the tablespoon of beaten egg you previously put to one side.

Slide the assembled tart gently on to a flat baking tin, leaving the baking parchment underneath during the baking. Trim the parchment if necessary.

Bake the tart in the oven for about 30-40 minutes until the apples are tender and the pastry is a golden brown.

Brush the exposed apples with the remaining tablespoon of blackcurrant jam. Carefully slide the tart off the parchment and tin on to a flat serving plate. Serve warm or cold with cream, ice cream or yogurt.