When you have a little time on your hands, there is nothing nicer than to be in a kitchen surrounded by eggs, flour, sugar and butter: four ingredients that with a little mixing produce a glorious, sweet-smelling piece of joy.
I decided to write about cakes this week as it is my youngest daughter's birthday – I promised to make her one she could take to school. Both these chocolate and blood-orange cakes have three layers – sponges look nice when piled high; for the coconut cake, the third sponge decorates the top.
On another note, we are into Fairtrade Fortnight and I've donated a cake to the cause of the Big Swap, trying to encourage residents to swap to Fairtrade ingredients. Please give it a try where you are too.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
550g/19oz self-raising flour
550g/19oz caster sugar
550g/19oz very soft butter
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp milk
4 tbsp dark cocoa powder and a little boiling water
For the icing
500g/1lb cream cheese at room temperature
200g/7oz icing sugar
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Mix the first seven ingredients together in a food processor; you may have to do this in two batches. Put the cocoa powder into a bowl and add enough boiling water to make a loose paste. Stir this into the cake mix.
Butter and flour three 20cm spring-form cake tins and divide the cake batter evenly between all three. Put the tins on the middle shelf, or bake one after the other if your oven is too small to hold all three. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove and allow to cool to room temperature.
To make the icing, put the cream cheese in a bowl and sift the icing sugar over the top, then beat well to combine. Divide the icing into three, leaving just a little to ice the sides of the cake, and spread generously over one side of each cake. Pile on top of each other and ice the sides.
Grate a little good-quality dark chocolate over the top and place in the fridge to let the icing set.
This is my version of a coconut cake from the American South. I love the sweet and nutty flavour of coconut. I cook with coconut milk a lot – at work we get in fresh ones, puréeing the flesh with water and straining to make a thick cream. This takes patience, though, as it does take quite a lot of work. Coconut milk from a tin will do nicely in this recipe.
Follow the directions for the chocolate cake in order to make the sponge, but this time keep it completely plain without the addition of chocolate.
For the icing
450g/141/2oz icing sugar
200ml/7fl oz coconut milk
A little lemon juice
2 tbsp dessicated coconut, lightly toasted in the oven
First make the sponges, as instructed left, and allow to cool. Now sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and pour over the coconut milk, stirring constantly as you do so until it is thick but can still just drop from a spoon. If the icing appears a little watery, add a little more icing sugar, and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Spread over the base of two cakes and sandwich together.
Taking the third cooked cake, cut out a circle the size of a wine glass in the centre and place on the top cake, slice the remaining outer rim into triangles and arrange over the top. Sprinkle over the dessicated coconut and serve.
200g/7oz softened unsalted butter
350g/111/2oz icing sugar
Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed blood oranges
3 unwaxed blood oranges, to decorate the top of the cake
Use the recipe for the chocolate cake to the left to make the sponges, but substitute the cocoa powder with the zest of two blood oranges. Bake in exactly the same way as for the chocolate cake.
Place the softened butter into a bowl and sift over the icing sugar, pour in the orange juice and beat together really well.
When the sponges are cool, spread each layer with the icing and sandwich together. Finally, ice the sides. Refrigerate in order to set the icing.
Wash and pat dry the three remaining oranges and slice as finely as you can – you will need a sharp small knife to do this. Arrange in layers over the top just before serving.