This edition we are looking at British cakes. Hmmmm, what cakes are traditionally British? Fruit cake, sponge, it seems that the cakes that spring to mind are the traditional basics.
Nothing too fancy, we’re not talking gateaux or entremets. These basics are the sweet treats that got parents and grandparents through Wars, financial crises, coronations and birthdays.
Their simplicity is a reflection of Britain’s socio-economic conditions and spirit; whilst France’s over the top gateaux’s are a reflection of the excesses that characterise their history.
As an Australian my baking is heavily influenced by anything and everything, but it’s the British basics that I started off with and, it’s variations of traditional British Cakes that can be found at most of the bakery chains across Australia. Date and walnut loaves, Chelsea buns, carrot cake, and Welsh cakes are all common.
It’s how we change and modernise these to suit are modern palates and lifestyles that interests me the most. A few years ago my grandmother gave me her prized recipe book. In it are the recipes that my great grandmother cooked and passed onto her, as well as my grandmother’s own favourites. I was beyond excited. We all hear about secret recipes passed down the chain that are jaw-droppingly good, I couldn’t wait to see what gems she’d saved. As I’m mad for Christmas I started there, fruit cake, mince pies and Christmas pudding. All made according to her recipes. All were terrible. Actually, not terrible, but not amazing. What had happened? My grandmother tried them, they were as she remembered them, but we’ve changed. We use now use fancy sugars, (hello, glucose syrup), fruits, herbs and spices that our grandparents or great-grandparents had never heard of let alone tasted.
We’re all into gilding the lilly, what can be done to make something even better? The resurgence of the Battenberg cake is something I’m incredibly excited about. Although technically German, I think of it as a British cake (as does wikipedia!) It really couldn’t be simpler, two cakes cut into long even lengths and stacked onto (and beside) each other. There are some great tutorials online, but I’m a bit partial to Mandy Mortimer’s tutorial as she used Mary Berry’s recipe and the accompanying step-by-step photos are very pretty.
But what happens once you’ve mastered the Battenberg? Modern Art Desserts, Surprise inside cakes, and Bake it Like You Mean It are all on my must buy and try list. Or stick with the original design but switch up the flavour combinations, orange and chocolate, lime and white chocolate, or pineapple and coconut are all combinations I’d love to try.
So next time you’re thinking what to bake, why not look to the past and give it a tweak.
About Justine Spalding
Justine runs Australian website and newsletter The Sweet Source. >> Visit Justine’s website