American Cake

IMG_2562The disadvantage of growing up moving around a lot as a child is that I get stuck straight away on ‘home town’ whenever facebook nags me to update my details. Where am I actually from? I can never make up my mind. London is definitely where I think of as home now, but I am repeatedly reminded of the fact that not growing up in the UK sets me apart from my British friends, no matter how much tea I drink. I’m accepting of my identity crisis, however, and have come to appreciate the fact that I’m a mish-mash of Canadian, Swiss French, American and British culture.

American style baking formed a huge part of my childhood, living in the States for 10 years. Much as I enjoy a slice of Victoria sponge, I find that instinctively my mind turns towards the American classics of my childhood whenever I get the urge to bake. Blueberry muffins, pumpkin pie, peanut butter cookies: these are the comfort food recipes I return to again and again.


My Mum made this cake repeatedly when we lived on Long Island, and I learnt to make it myself as a young girl. The recipe is adapted from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, and is very American in its use of oil rather than butter. It’s incredibly tasty and also quick to whip up, but looks like you’ve made an effort:

Quick Chocolate Mocha Cake

2 ounces 70% dark chocolate

1 large egg

1 cup caster sugar

1/3 cup sunflower oil

1 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup strong coffee

1 1/3 cups plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Butter, line base and lightly flour an 8-inch springform round cake tin. Melt chocolate in microwave, taking care it doesn’t burn. Set aside. Beat the egg in a bowl and slowly add the sugar, continuing to beat until well blended. Add the oil, vanilla, melted chocolate and coffee and beat well. Mix the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda together and add, beating for 2 minutes with an electric beater. Spread in the pan and bake for 35-40 mins, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Spread with broiled frosting (see below) whilst still in the pan and put under the grill to brown. Once brown, place tin on rack for 10 mins, then remove cake from tin.

Broiled Frosting

Watch carefully to make sure the topping browns lightly and evenly.

3 tbsps melted butter

3 tbsps brown sugar

2 tbsps cream (or milk)

1/2 cup desiccated, shredded coconut or chopped nuts

Mix all the ingredients together and spread over a warm cake while it is still in the tin. Set the tin under the grill, until the frosting bubbles and turns golden.



How To Bake and Not Get Fat

IMG_2487I love cooking and baking. It really is the best therapy (at least when my dishwasher is working, which it isn’t at the moment, and I’m back to the washing up grind which I detest). The down side to loving to bake is that I live on my own. Which means that if an entire flourless almond chocolate cake disappears in the course of three days, there’s really only me to blame.

In not wanting to give up baking, but still be able to fit my clothes, I came up with a few strategies.

1. Cook for other people. When I’m craving a full carbs blow-out, like risotto followed by tiramisu, I invite friends round to enjoy it with me. That way, there are hardly any leftovers by which I could be tempted and what is left I put in doggy bags and push on people anyway (see point 2). Also, if you happen to like the people you work with (or just want to ingratiate yourself), you can have the pleasure of trying out recipe after recipe for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and if you’re lucky get to eat the crumbs left at the bottom of the tin.

2. Send people home with cake. Don’t think you’re getting away from my house without any leftover cake wrapped up in a parcel of tinfoil and thrust into your hands. Just take it,  I tend to hiss. Give it to your boyfriend / roommate / mother / cat / garbage, but TAKE IT. This way I do not find myself mindlessly munching my way through all the leftovers as I load the dishwasher.

3. Portion Control. Generally baking a cake that lasts for a while and doesn’t go dry and horrible in a day (and thus practically forces you to eat it up very quickly) is a good idea if only 1-2 of you are eating it. That way, you can just enjoy 1 slice of delicious cake a day (if you have any will power) for about a week. If you don’t have the willpower, then baking things that freeze well is a good idea. This is why I make muffins.

Muffins are fantastic because they’re delicious, but they also freeze exceptionally well. I don’t know why, but I invariably forget about things that are in the freezer. I’ll go for days, having completely forgotten that I made, say, blueberry muffins, and then suddenly it’ll hit me that there’s a great big stash of them in the freezer, and it’s like I’ve won the lottery. I’ll toddle along, take one out of the ziplock bag, zap it in the microwave for about a minute so it defrosts and eat it with a cup of tea. Then I’ll completely forget about the muffins again, and the whole cycle starts once more.

IMG_2500This recipe is adapted from The Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase and is my favourite for muffins. Her recipe in fact makes Tri Berry Muffins, but I’ve always had a weakness for good old fashioned blueberry. Her recipe also makes about a gazillion muffins, so I halved it. Here’s my version:

1 1/2 cups plain flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup milk

1 large egg

125g butter, melted

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

3/4 cup caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place paper liners in 10 muffin cups. Stir the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture. Add the milk, eggs, and butter to the well and stir quickly just to combine. Add the berries and sugar and stir quickly again just to combine. Spoon the batter into the cups, filling each cup almost to the top. Bake until brown and crusty, about 20 minutes.

Makes 10 muffins.