The snack table in the office is looking distinctly bare, post-Christmas. Throughout December, it was piled high with boxes of posh biscuits, mince pies, and even brandy butter, but you’d be lucky to find a stale crumb this week. I’m still enough in the Christmas state of mind for three meals a day to not be quite enough, so it’s normally good to know that there’s a sweet treat to snack on. Something must be done.

My answer to the crisis is Nigel Slater’s iced marmalade loaf cake. It’s a very quick mixture to whip up in the evening, but the marmalade in the mixture adds interest and the drizzled icing makes it all a bit more special. I follow Nigel’s advice and add a drop of orange flower water to the icing too, but as long as you’ve got a jar of marmalade in the fridge and can pick up an orange on the way home you can probably make this cake without a special shopping trip.

A frosted marmalade cake (adapted from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater)

175g soft unsalted butter
175 golden caster sugar (it’s not a disaster if you only have the white stuff in the cupboard)
A large orange
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour

For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp orange juice (from the orange whose zest you’ll use in the cake mixture)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11cm, 7cm deep (mine’s shorter than this, about 21 x 9cm, but seems to work fine if the cake has a little longer in the oven; see step 6) – butter the tin lightly, then line with baking parchment.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with a hand-held mixer until pale and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Pour in the beaten egg a little at a time, with the mixer running, beating well after each addition.
  4. Finely grate the orange zest, and beat it into the cake mixture along with the marmalade.
  5. Fold in the flour gently with a metal spoon, working carefully but making sure that it’s all well combined. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin, smooth the top lightly and bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. Check the cake after 35 minutes by inserting a metal skewer and checking that it comes out cleanly, not covered with raw mixture. I don’t know if it’s my oven or the size of my tin, but the cake was perfectly golden on top after 35 minutes but still a bit uncooked within. I covered the top lightly with a piece of foil at this stage and gave it another 20 minutes in the oven to cook through, checking it a couple of times.
  7. When it’s cooked, let the cake cool a little in the tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Remove the baking parchment once cooled.
  8. Make the icing by sifting the icing sugar and mixing it with the juice from the remaining orange half, adding a splash of orange flower water if you have it. Drizzle the icing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides, and leave to set before scoffing it down.


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I’m definitely more of a baker than a cake decorator (although fingers crossed that will all change after the cupcake decorating workshop I’m going to at The Make Lounge this Saturday), so I had to enlist some help when making moustache-themed cupcakes for this year’s Movember appeal. With the lovely Vicky to make stencils and provide inspiration (the name, which I’ve borrowed as the title of this post, was her particular stroke of genius), and Paul’s infinite patience and steady hand to cut out icing shapes, I was free to make some plain but hopefully tasty sponges and go a bit crazy with my new collection of food colouring pastes.

 

'Tachetastic

 

If you fancy making a donation to a very worthy and hirsute cause, all proceeds go to The Prostate Cancer Charity, and the cowboy in the picture below has a fundraising page at: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/26607/

If you’re wavering, just gaze in awe at my colleagues and their moustache-growing prowess:

 

 

Celebrating a friend’s last day in the office seems like the wrong thing to do, somehow; sometimes a good wallow is needed before the drinking can begin. Since we all needed to line our stomachs and indulge ourselves a bit, Nigella’s chocolate fudge cake seemed the perfect solution for Bryn’s leaving cake. A fitting farewell, because I know he has a bit of a soft spot for the lady herself, and suitably greedy for someone who’s been an enthusiastic consumer of pretty much anything I’ve baked for the office over the past couple of years.

As well as being packed full of Nigella’s usual indulgences (plenty of butter and decent chocolate), I can honestly say that this is the first sponge I’ve ever baked that contains sour cream and corn oil. Maybe those are the secret ingredients that kept the sponge moist and light, even after an hour in the oven and still by the end of the following day. I couldn’t smother the finished cake in the chocolate fudge icing as much as one would have hoped (Nigella recommends spreading the icing round the sides of the cake too – impossible when you have to put it back in the tin and cart it across London, I’m afraid), but I think I’m right in saying that it went down pretty well nonetheless…

 

PA080604

I’ve often thought that making celebratory cakes to order would be the most rewarding of all jobs, for me at least. I now realise that, although this may be true, it is also pretty damn stressful, particularly when baking for your boss’s boss’s 50th birthday.

Having come to terms with the idea of selling out and baking for ‘the man’, I went into panic mode when faced with the sheer quantity of cake recipes in the seemingly innumerable cookbooks lining my shelves. It had to be special, which means ‘iced’ in my book, but also had to be suitable for transporting to the office on a packed bus. It needed to be a celebratory treat: not too worthy, not too plain, but not too light and fluffy.

When I got to the Ottolenghi cookbook, I remembered their apple and olive oil cake with maple syrup cream cheese icing, which had had my parents in raptures the first time I’d made it. This, surely, was the cake. Interesting and unusual enough for my purposes, but greedily, delectably iced. With the dawning realisation that this cake would need to feed a hell of a lot of people, I sought some expert advice (huge thanks to Sarah, and to Yotam Ottolenghi himself), and was instructed to work to 1.7 times the original quantities for my bigger tin. (Greedy cake-fiend that I am, I decided to simply double the quantities and use the remaining mixture to make a smaller, loaf-shaped version of the cake, which we enjoyed last night with custard made from the surplus egg yolks. Waste not, want not…)

Apart from the fact that I forgot to peel the apples (which didn’t matter at all in the end) and struggled to deal with the batter in even my largest mixing bowl – and that the the giant cake took hours to cool down, holding in heat like an enormous duvet – it all went very well indeed. Transportation of a large iced cake presents an interesting challenge, in this case necessitating the construction, by a willing and very helpful boyfriend, of a tall cardboard collar to go around the springform tin, raising the covering of foil and protecting the top of the icing in transit.

And most importantly, the birthday boy (and, apparently, half the office) seemed to think it was delicious. “It’s like the whole world of desserts in one mouthful”, apparently – thanks, Phil! The bought cakes were relatively neglected, which is always gratifying. As nice as it is to have any cake on your birthday, surely a homemade one trumps the rest.

"It's like the whole world of desserts in one mouthful" – thanks, Phil!