Everyone I know is baking again, it’s become quite a phenomenon, and suddenly it’s the coolest, hippest thing to be able to whip up a Victoria Sponge or a sticky gingerbread. Grans suddenly find themselves in demand to teach us how to make a few fluffy crumpets or transform fairy cakes into butterfly buns.

Old fashioned cakes are making a big comeback, people are tiring of slick fondant covered confections and elaborate gateaux that look impressive and luscious but rarely deliver on flavour. Too many disappointments have made people increasingly distrustful of dramatic presentations and more hopeful when they encounter old fashioned chocolate or coffee cakes such as one might find at the County Agricultural show with a proudly displayed bright red rosette.

Funny how the pendulum swings, I even notice in cookbooks that the food stylists often make a point of creating a homesy look rather than an intimidatingly perfect professional look. Perhaps it’s something to do with these changing times that we find the distinctly homemade look comforting and less intimidating to achieve if one is starting to bake. To celebrate Mothers’ Day this year let’s bake a few old favourites and have a special tea party for Mum. Lay a pretty table use that flowery china that’s been languishing in the sideboard in the parlour for years. If not, see what you can find in a charity shop, rummage until you find some pretty napkins and pile things high on the tiered cake stand, don’t forget the doylies and sugar lumps!

Here are some suggestions that bakers of all ages can enjoy making and sharing.

Happy Mothers’ Day for Sunday 18th March.




Gingerbread can be baked in a loaf tin, like bread, and cut it into thick slices that we butter. This one is particularly good when it’s fresh, so eat it quickly!  Alternatively bake in a 22cm x 7.5cm (9 x 3 inch) square brownie tin for 40-45 minutes, serve cut into 12 x 7.5cm x 10cm (3 x 4 inch) squares with a blob of cold apple puree and cream or with crystallised ginger cream.


Makes 1 loaf


225g (1/2 lb) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g (4oz) soft brown sugar

75g (3oz) butter, cut into cubes

175g (6oz) treacle

150ml (5fl oz) milk

1 very small or 1/2 organic egg

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) chopped crystallised ginger (optional)


1 x 23cm (9inches) x 12.5cm (5inches) x 6.5cm (2 1/2 inches) loaf tin lined with silicone paper


Preheat the oven to 180°C\350°F\gas mark 4.


First line the loaf tin with silicone paper.


Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Gently warm the brown sugar with the cubed butter and treacle. Then add the milk. Allow to cool a little and stir into the dry ingredients and make sure that there are no little lumps of flour left (I use a whisk for this). Add the beaten egg and the sultanas and ginger if desired. Mix very thoroughly and. Bake in a lined loaf tin for approximately 1 hour in a moderate oven.  Cool in the tin.  Serve with butter.


Coffee Cake


This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made – and we still make it regularly. 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 coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.


Serves 10–12


225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic eggs

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

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Irel or Camp coffee essence


Coffee Butter Cream

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) icing sugar, sieved

1–2 teaspoons Irel or Camp coffee essence


Coffee Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Irel or Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water


To Decorate

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 of the tins with circles of greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.



Florence Bowe’s ‘Crumpets’


Another great standby, ‘Crumpets’ can be made in minutes with ingredients you’d probably have in. My children make them and cook them directly on the cool plate of the Aga. They are also the ideal solution if you’ve got nothing in the tin when a friend drops in for tea, because they only take a few minutes to make. The problem is one always eats too many!


Makes 15 approx.


1/2 lb (225g) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon. bread soda

teaspoon Bextartar (cream of tartar)

2 eggs, preferably free range

8 fl ozs (250ml) milk

2 ozs (55g) castor sugar

1 oz (30g) butter


To Serve

Homemade jam or apple jelly


lemon juice and castor sugar


Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and rub in the butter. Drop the eggs into the centre, add a little of the milk and stir rapidly with a whisk allowing the flour to drop gradually in from the sides. When half the milk is added, beat until air bubbles rise. Add the remainder of the milk and allow to stand for one hour if possible. *  Drop a good dessertspoonful into a hottish pan and cook until bubbles appear on the top. It usually takes a bit of trial and error to get the temperature right. Flip over and cook until golden on the other side. Serve immediately with butter and homemade jam or better still apple jelly.  Alternatively crumpets can also be served with warm lemon juice and sprinkled with castor sugar.


* They are usually lighter if the batter is allowed to stand but I’ve often cooked them immediately with very acceptable results!




Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and whisk until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, whisking 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.


Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared sandwich tins and bake for 30 minutes. When the cakes are cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins. Leave to rest in the tins 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 cakes don’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cakes 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.


To make the coffee 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.


When cold, sandwich together the bases of the cakes with the coffee butter cream and ice the top with the coffee icing. Decorate with the toasted hazelnuts or chocolate-covered coffee beans.



Coffee Butter Cream Icing

If you would prefer to ice the cake with Coffee Butter Cream, use 225g (8oz) butter, 450g (1lb) icing sugar and 1–2 tablespoons of Irel or Camp coffee essence and make as above.


Beautiful Butterfly Buns


Makes 12


4 ozs (110g) butter, chopped

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

5 ozs (145g) white flour

2 eggs, preferably free range

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 x 12 bun tray

Raspberry jam

Freshly whipped cream

Icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7.

Chop up the butter into small dice, it should be reasonably soft. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and whizz for about 30 seconds. Clear the sides down with a spatula and whizz again until the consistency is nice and creamy, 15 seconds approx. Put into greased and floured bun trays or paper cases and bake in the hot oven. Reduce the temperature to 190C/375F/gas mark 5 as soon as they begin to rise.  Bake for 20 minutes approx. in total. Cool on a wire rack and decorate as desired.

Cut the top off the buns, cut this piece in half and keep aside. Meanwhile put a little homemade raspberry jam and a blob or cream on to the bottom part of the bun. Replace the two little pieces, arranging them like wings. Dredge with icing sugar and serve immediately.

These buns may be iced with dark chocolate icing or coffee icing. They are also delicious, painted with raspberry jam or redcurrant jelly and dipped in coconut.



Coffee Icing

8 ozs (225g) icing sugar

scant 1 tablespoon Irel coffee essence

2 tablespoon approx. boiling water


Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of thick cream.





All Island Cookery Competition – St Angela’s College and Safefood are hosting the Take Away my Way All Island Cookery Competition Finals on Monday 12th March and Tuesday 13th March in St Angela’s College.  Phone 071-9135662.


Cooking for Baby at Ballymaloe Cookery School – as a mother of four and grandmother of eight, I am happy to pass on the tips and advice gleaned over years of feeding children and grand-children totally without packets, cans or jars! Everyone wants to feed their babies nourishing and wholesome food, learn how on this Half Day Course on Friday 23rd March 20122:00pm to 5:00pm €85.00 – tel: 021 464675 or


A Date for the Diary… International Slow Food Grandmother’s Day celebration at Sandbrook House, Ballon, Co Carlow – a special two-day event on 21st & 22nd April – see more details at


About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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