When the going gets tough, the tough start cooking. At least I do. There’s nothing quite so calming as chopping and stirring. And if the world feels really out of control, I bake.
It’s alchemy of the best kind. Baking uses simple, relatively inexpensive ingredients: butter, eggs, sugar, flour; there’s no need for shaved truffles here. The cooking process is transformative, and the result always more than the sum of its parts.
It charms me, too, to be producing food my grandmothers would have cooked, from ingredients equally familiar to them – and to their grandmothers before them. Baking makes me feel connected to this long line of women.
Plus, giving cakes to other people brings them pleasure too. It’s a win-win situation.
Jaffa cake: This is Nigella’s store-cupboard chocolate-orange cake, from How to be a Domestic Goddess. It’s plain but dense and aromatic and, I think, really rather wonderful. It’s a cinch to make; there’s not even any creaming required, so no need for beaters or any other special equipment. Just stir it altogether and bung it in the oven.
100g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
300g fine-cut marmalade
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, turn off the flame and add the chocolate. Once that’s melted too, stir in the marmalade, sugar and eggs, then beat in the flour, bit by bit.
Spoon into a greased 20cm springform pan and bake for 50 mins at 180C. Leave to cool a little in the tin before turning it out onto a wire rack.
A few weeks ago I made a fruitcake for a couple of friends who were getting hitched. It had to travel to Amsterdam in my hand luggage so couldn’t be too weighty. That ruled out my usual simnel cake recipe, but I did quite fancy the idea of marzipan, so… Nigella to the rescue again.
The only trouble with giving cakes away as presents is you don’t always get to try them. This one smelled so divine while it was cooking though, curiosity got the better of me, and I made another upon my return. Now I can confirm it’s a sticky, rum-sozzled treat.
I wrapped it in baking parchment and stowed it away in a tin for a week before cutting into it. Once I did, it didn’t last long. It was the perfect accompaniment to my current read: Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. There’s something about the Tudors that makes you (well, me) want to tuck into almonds and dried fruit. I’m not sure whether it was the cake or the writing that I found so beguiling, but I have to confess to falling head over heels for Thomas Cromwell.
marzipan fruit cake
100g natural-coloured glace cherries, halved
150g dried pears, chopped
50g ground almonds
zest of 1 lemon
175g plain flour
100g castor sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon orange-flower water
The night before, mix the dried fruit in a bowl and cover with the rum. Dice the marzipan and put in the freezer. Leave both overnight.
When you come to make the cake the next day, preheat the oven to 140C and grease and line a 20cm deep tin.
Beat together the almonds, lemon zest, flour, sugar, butter and eggs. Add the drained fruit, orange-flower water and the frozen marzipan.
Put the cake mix into the tin, levelling the surface and making a slight indent in the middle to get an even surface when cooked. Bake for 2-2.5hrs or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool in the tin before rewrapping in parchment and foil to store for about a week. Feed with more rum before wrapping (puncture the top of the cake a few times and slowly dribble a few spoons of rum over).