The sum of all our friends

The cake took some cutting…..

All the arrangements were made, the venue, catering and entertainment booked, invitations issued, responses received and a feeling of mild panic rising as I realised that there were more people coming than available chairs. Mild panic became moderate to extreme panic when I suddenly remembered. Cake. There was no birthday cake.

A party without cake is no party at all, even if the meal is breakfast. Just to clarify, breakfast is my favourite meal, I can eat it any time of day and like a Hobbit, can have multiple breakfasts. Unless you’re in Greece, Italy, or some other European countries, cake isn’t on the breakfast menu. But still, this was a birthday party and cake is compulsory.

Of course, I could have made it easy for myself and bought one, but that just didn’t seem right, Mr Kipling may bake exceedingly good cakes, but not good enough in my book, plus it would have cost a fortune, I am from Yorkshire after all with short arms and deep pockets, and I couldn’t justify all that packaging. Seriously, a plastic tray, a plastic wrapper and a box? No, just no.

A quick Google for lemon cake recipes, my favourite, a trip to Morrison’s and the ingredients were weighed out, scaled up for a giant cake. You Tube is a treasure chest of sparkling ideas, along with hints and tips. I soon had six cakes sandwiched together with the contents two jars of lemon curd and a kilo of buttercream. It was a heavy cake, supported by bamboo skewers to avoid toppling. I decorated it with another kilo of buttercream, white chocolate shards, various other sweets, though fewer than I started out with as Noel ate some, pretending he was in charge of quality control. It was all topped off with a stack of lemon puffs, skewered together like a giant biscuit kebab. Several dentists were on standby as it made its way to the party.

It was a very relaxed and informal celebration, spending it with some of the friends who have in some way, great or small, made my life better, happier, fun, that’s what friends are for. When I look at what I’ve done, what I love, what I enjoy, nearly all of it is thanks to friends, who have encouraged or involved me in some crazy scheme or other whether it was singing, running, climbing, skiing, starting an allotment, gardening, baking, singing, mosaic-making, drawing….the list is endless. I know I am the sum of all my friends, and I am so thankful.

Cake and cheese, it’s a Yorkshire thing

Christmas cake, cheese, a mug of coffee, perfect.
Christmas cake, cheese, a mug of coffee, perfect.

Right, then, you southern jessies, I said, but quietly and in my head. This is how we eat Christmas cake in Yorkshire, none of your fancy frilly ribbons, thick marzipan and sickly icing. It’s cake and cheese, sweet cake, savoury cheese, fuel for the body and mind, a match made in Wensleydale, God’s own country.

There was scepticism at first, colleagues at the Northampton office looked at the slab of cake, and wedge of Wensleydale I’d brought down from Yorkshire first with curiosity, then with horror as I took a bite from each.

Next it was the turn of anyone who wanted the Yorkshire Enlightenment, cake-eating as it should be done. Each approached with caution, nibbling, biting then chewing. Their faces were a picture as they gave the verdict. Yes, they said, it was rather odd, but it somehow worked. Of course it did, it’s from Yorkshire.

This week has seen a massive celebration of Yorkshireness with the announcement that the first two stages of the 2014 Tour de France will start from Leeds. By gum, we were chuffed, I can tell you, in fact Noel and I have already volunteered to make the mucky fat sandwiches for Bradley and co. And if they’re lucky they might get a slice of cake and cheese, that’ll fuel them for the climb up the one-in-four Sutton Bank!

Cake, the universal language of friendship

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I’m fast coming to the conclusion that cake and all things cake-related speak the universal language of friendship. It’s all very well having a pie and a pint, but nothing beats that tooth-sucking sweetness and crumby cakeiness of sharing a large cake with your mates.

It was an absolute pleasure to make the wedding cake for our friends Liz and John who were married yesterday. I’m an enthusiastic amateur rather than a professional perfectionist, so prefer to concentrate on flavour and content over smooth, level icing and curlicues.That’s my excuse for wonky cakes and wiggly edges.

The raisins, sultanas, cherries and currants have a damned good soaking in brandy for a couple of weeks before the baking begins. Once it hits the oven, the house smells heavenly for hours. I’ve convinced Noel that this type of cake needs to mature and so can’t be eaten as soon as it’s baked. I’ve got away with that so far, he does like his cake!

The top tier was vanilla sponge, I found the recipe on the interweb, faffed around with quantities and volume, quite a risk for my mathematically-challenged brain, though I did have help, stuck it in the oven and crossed my fingers. Success!

Liz had asked for the cake to be complemented with chocolate-dipped strawberries, so reinforcements had to be called in the night before. We had a fair assembly line going, with the only hiccup being the shortage of fridge space to cool them down, so we had to eat some. The sacrifices we make…..

Finally, because I hadn’t challenged myself enough, I decided to try my hand at making cake pops, it was Liz’s 40th as well as her wedding, so that certainly couldn’t go un-celebrated and of course cake was the way to do it. Cake pops are the new rage, they’re cake on a stick, though it means baking, crumbling, then re-constituting with, in this case, chocolate and butter, shaping into balls, then coating in chocolate. As it was very new to me, I broke the habit of a lifetime and did a test run – staff and colleagues at work were MOST appreciative, they were voted a success.. Again, help was at hand with the chocolate-dipping,a great way to spend an evening.

The proof of the cake was in the eating, especially those of us from Yorkshire who like a lump of Wensleydale cheese with our fruit cake. Friends, friendship and cake, is there anything better?

The lesser of two weevils

400g raisins

400g currants

400g sultanas

400g butter

400g dark brown sugar

8 eggs

Spices, treacle, vanilla

500g plain flour

One small weevil

Thank goodness I had all the ingredients for this year’s Christmas cakes. Up until now I’ve had to improvise, but now, thanks to the inferior quality of the flour from Jamie’s favourite supermarket, I had not just one weevil, but two.

To be honest, it freaked me out. Sifting flour is usually just a little shake, a couple of lumps and that’s it. I don’t usually expect Something Else, least of all something living, wriggling and ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww – I just had to scream and summon Noel, drag him away from some pretty serious programming to deal with it. Or rather them.

Noel bravely took over the sieve, looked at the recipe and asked if I wanted the smaller creature for the cakes. It was, he pointed out, the lesser of two weevils.

He got his coat.

The silver wedding cake I made for Ruth and Andy. No weevils involved.


A cake for all seasons

Licking out the bowl
Originally uploaded by StripeyAnne

It's a cold, dull day, Christmas is long gone and Easter is just around the corner. There's nothing for it but to brighten up the day and bake a cake.

Christmas cake is THE best all-purpose sock-it-to-you cake you can bake. It is packed with fruit which, in my version, has been soaked in brandy for at least a week. The luxury cke is covered with marzipan and then iced and eaten with a slab of Wensleydale cheese. A glass of port doesn't go amiss, but that's optional.

Now I could just make do with that all year round – re-banded as birthday or 'celebration' cake, but sometimes you need a change.

In a world of Jamie, Delia, Nigel, Bill (Granger) and Nigella, I fancied trying something different. The old Harrods cookbook I got for half a crown from the WH Smith Book Club (Cookery) about the same time Adam was a lad, fell open at the Simnel Cake page. It was a sign. Bake me, it said. OK, I replied.

Simnel cake is Christmas cake light. Heavy on the currants, lighter on the mixture and, oh bliss, marzipan to excess. Make the mixture, put half of it in the tin, cover with a layer of marzipan, then add the rest of the mix. Bake until the whole house and half the street smells of cake, then remove and salivate…

To finish it has another layer and eleven balls of marzipan. The top is toasted and – well, there you have it.

According to Wikipedia, the tradition dates back to medieval times. The eleven balls represent the apostles who stayed faithful. No marzipan for Judas, then. Another tradition has it as a mothering Sunday cake. Yet another has it named after pretender Lambert Simnel who devised it when forced to work in Henry VII's kitchens. Another has it names after the latin simila, which means fine, wheaten flour. Take your pick!

Said cake will be offered to assembled friends who partake in the traditional Easter Monday walk when we all freeze and get soaked in the spring-like weather.

Today's lovely thing
Licking out the cake mixture bowl. Somethng I've done since I was a kid. Mmmmmmm

The photo is a bit of a cheat – taken at Christmas. But you get the picture.

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