I  love making cakes, in fact, I probably like making cakes more than eating them. The first cake I can remember making completely on my own was a coffee and walnut cake I made when I was about nineteen and a student living in the worst, filthiest, most disgusting rented accommodation you can imagine. Instead of a proper food cupboard there was a sort of tall bureau with a lid which let down and on which I guess you were supposed to write your letters and see to your accounts. This however, was the work surface on which we (the three of us) had to prepare our food.

On the occasion that I made this cake – I think it was on this occasion, I opened the bureau and a mouse jumped out… Yes, it was that sort of accommodation… Oh the good old days of student life before fancy flats and halls or residence… Anyway, I had no kitchen tools to make anything, and I used a glass casserole dish to make and cook the cake, beating the mixture with a fork. I had finished making it and the last thing to add was the walnuts – and I realised they were in halves not pieces… I think I broke up each walnut half with my hands, saving some to put on the top as decoration. I can’t honestly say I remember that cake, but it must have been ok because I’ve been making cakes regularly ever since!

By the way, my featured image is of me at that age, with the friends I shared the ‘flat’ with – here I think we are serving spaghetti Bolognese – having had a disaster when someone tried to cook in a Pyrex dish on a gas cooker… glass on top of flame… it’s a miracle no-one was hurt…

I’ve made large cakes such as those for our children’s naming days,, my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday, Christmas cakes, simnel cakes, cakes big and small. Mostly they are fine, sometimes they are really good, occasionally something goes wrong but they are always edible, and nearly always enjoyed! Just recently I’ve had great success with gluten-free flour; everything I’ve made so far has come out wonderfully – and sometimes better than the non-gluten free flour…

However, one thing, in this whole cake-making thing that I consistently have disasters with – worse than going wrong, absolute catastrophes, is icing – mixing icing sugar with something to make a filling, topping or covering for the lovely cake or buns I’ve made.

So, on Friday, a small group from my creative writer’s group came for a get together to talk about publishing… and as one of our number, a very good and clever writer, is gluten intolerant, I made a lemon and poppy-seed cake. I thought it would be lovely with a sour frosting, so looked up a recipe using crème fraiche which I happened to have in the fridge… To use a cliché, which I always urge my writers to avoid, it was an unmitigated disaster… I won’t go into the sad details, it’s enough to say i was left with over a pint of runny gloop and no icing sugar, none at all out of the new packet I had opened, to dust the cake…

later, looking at the pint of gloop, which actually tasted very nice, I was reluctant to just throw it away, to waste it… My husband suggested I tried to reduce it by boiling it… but that wouldn’t work… but wait a minute…!!! I had mixed sugar, butter, crème fraiche and lemon zest, maybe I could make a sort of fudge by boiling it down… and that is what I did! it is actually more like an adhesive which welds your teeth together and your mouth shut, but… at least I’ve not wasted it!

here’s the recipe I used for the gluten-free lemon cake:

  • 4 oz butter
  • 5 oz gluten-free self-raising flour
  • 5 oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp lemon essence (best quality)
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds (or more if you love them)
  1. beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, and light and fluffy
  2. add  the eggs, lemon juice, zest and mix thoroughly
  3. add the flour and poppy seeds
  4. our into a buttered and  lined 1lb loaf tin.
  5. bake in a preheated oven for 40/45 minutes or until sponge springs back when touched – I had to cover mine with a piece of foil for the last ten minutes so it didn’t get too brown on the top
  6. leave to cool an a cake rack
  7. if you have a fabulous and fool-proof recipe for lemon frosting or icing, make it and apply to the cake when completely cool!


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