How about some cake….


How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? I’ve just realised that it’s been several years since I actually wrote a column on cakes, so it’s high time to share some of my favourite sweet treats and new finds.

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…..she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.

A few little tips to get started:

  1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.
  2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.
  3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.
  4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously
  5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernicity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!

  • Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.
  • Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

  • A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.
  • Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.
  • A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here are a few tried and tested recipes for some of my favourite cakes and one new addition to our repertoire.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Carmalised Walnuts

This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence

Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water

To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.

2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining  buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour.  Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly.  Allow to get cold.  This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Chocolate and Almond Cake with Chocolate Curls

Claudia Roden, one of my favourite cooks and food writers, showed us how to make this delicious flourless cake when she came to the school for the inaugural Ballymaloe Litfest in 2013.   It’s her family’s favourite chocolate cake, not surprising.

Serves 10

150g (5oz) dark chocolate, we use 54%

3 tablespoons water

150g (5oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 large eggs, separated

100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) ground almonds

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons rum


100g (4oz) dark bitter chocolate, broken into pieces

100g (4oz) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 160°C/310°F/Gas Mark 3.

Line an 8 inch (20.5cm) in diameter spring-form cake tin, with parchment paper.

Heat the chocolate with the water in a Pyrex bowl or small pan that is sitting on top of a pan containing water over a low heat so that the top pan or bowl does not touch the boiling water (this is a double boiler), until almost melted.  Add the butter and let them both melt. 

In a bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar, ground almonds, baking powder and rum very well.  Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix vigorously.  Beat the egg whites until stiff with an electric mixer and fold them into the mixture.

Pour in the cake mixture and bake in an oven preheated to for about 35 – 40 minutes until firm.  Turn out when it is cool.

For the topping, melt the chocolate with the butter in a small bowl over boiling water, let them melt and mix well. Allow to cool until thick and spreadable. Pour over the cake, smoothing around the sides and top.

Chocolate Curls

Melt 5oz (150g) of chocolate in a pan over hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a flat baking sheet, and tap the tin gently to spread.  Allow to cool. Once cool, using a cheese slice, or the blade of a chopping knife, pull the blade across the chocolate creating “curls” as you go. Use to garnish cakes, mousses or ice-cream

Decorate with chocolate curls and dredge with cocoa powder.

Whisked Sponge Cake with Autumn Berries and Rosewater Cream

Serves 8

4 organic eggs, or free range

110g (4oz) castor sugar

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

110g (4oz) plain white flour


1-2 tablespoons of homemade raspberry jam

350g (12oz) fresh Autumn berries – raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries

225ml (8fl oz) double cream

1 tablespoons castor sugar approx. (optional)

1 tablespoon rose blossom water

mint, lemon balm or sweet cicely to decorate

castor sugar for sprinkling on top

2 x 20.5cm (8 inch) tins

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Grease the tins carefully with melted butter, dust with flour, cut out a circle of greaseproof paper and fit it neatly onto the base of each tin.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until it is a pale and fluffy mousse.  When you lift the whisk, make a figure of 8 on top: it should hold its shape for several seconds.  Put the flour into a sieve and sift about one-third gently over the mousse; fold in the flour with a spatula or a long-handled metal spoon (not a wooden spoon) and then sieve in some more; repeat until all the flour is lightly folded in. Turn gently in the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked.  Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

Once cool, whip the cream to soft peaks, add the castor sugar and rose blossom water. 

Spread the raspberry jam onto the base of each sponge cake. Pile the summer berries on top, and finally spread the cream over the fruit. Place the remaining sponge onto the cream and press gently. Sprinkle castor sugar over the top of cake.

Decorate with fresh mint or sweet cicely and additional summer fruit and a few rose petals if desired. Serve immediately.

Coconut Macaroon Cake

This cake has an irresistible crispy topping – the crumb is moist and rich with coconut and almonds, so needless to say, it will keep well, stored in an airtight tin.


8 ozs (225g) butter

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

4 free-range and organic eggs and 1 egg yolk

8 ozs (225g) plain white flour

½ teasp. baking powder

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

1 oz (25g) desiccated coconut

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

Macaroon topping

1 egg white

3 ozs (85g) castor sugar

½ oz (15g) desiccated coconut

1 oz (25g) ground almonds

¼ teasp. pure vanilla essence

2-3 ozs (50-85g) flaked almonds

8 inch (20.5cm) tin with sides 2¾ inch (7cm) approx. high

Line the sides and base of the tin.  Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.gas mark 4.

Cream the butter, add the castor sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Whisk the eggs and egg yolk and add gradually, beating well between each addition.  Add the vanilla essence.  Mix the dry ingredients well and stir in gently.  Turn into the prepared tin.

Next prepare the topping:

Whisk the egg white lightly and fold in the other ingredients.  Spread carefully over the cake mixture in the tin.   Sprinkle with flaked almonds and bake in a moderate oven for 40 mins approx.  Cool in the tin before putting on a wire rack.

Julija’s Lemon Cakes

Makes 6 small mini loaves or 2 pound loaves.

450 g self-raising flour

350 g caster sugar

zest of 4 lemons

6 eggs

200g (3 1/2oz) natural yoghurt

350 g butter, melted and cooled a little to room temperature

Icing 400g (7oz) icing sugar

juice of a lemon approximately

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Line the tins with baking parchment.

Mix the flour, sugar, lemon zest together in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs into the yoghurt gently, then tip this into the dry ingredients with the melted butter.  Mix together with a wooden spoon or whisk until lump-free, but gently. Divide into cake tins.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes minutes until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean – the cakes will be quite pale on top still.  Cool for 5 minutes in the tin, then carefully lift onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the icing.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a stiffish icing. 

Using a palette knife to spread, ice the lemon cake. Decorate with lemon candied peel or crystallised lemon julienne.

Alternative Icing

Lemon Butter Cream Icing

8oz (225g) soft butter

14oz (400g) icing sugar

1 tablespoon golden syrup

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Cream the butter and gradually add the sieved icing sugar. Mix thoroughly and stir in the golden syrup and lemon zest using a palette knife to spread onto the cakes.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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