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Piece of Cake

2 April 2014

Become the star baker of your household

Written by: Carina Contini

Are you a baking goddess or a patisserie prince? Some of the most prized skills in any kitchen are those learnt in the pastry section. Baking takes patience and precision. If you can master these two elements the rest really is a piece of cake. Being able to bake is one of those wonderful family inheritances so often handed down from granny. My Glasgow granny was a master of cakes, pies and biscuits and I have sweet memories of her creations. Here are a few basics that will help you beat your baking fears and rise to the challenge in the kitchen.

Without question you need great ingredients. There are a few famous TV cooks that are good at promoting the virtues of margarine for baking. In the Seventies my mother made her shortbread with half butter and half margarine. It was very good, but I’m an all butter baker. Hardcore grannies often do everything by hand – even the creaming of the butter. However, if you can, invest in a really good tabletop mixer. The larger motor speed can add more air to the mixture, which makes your baking lighter. Hand held mixers are good but sometimes can’t handle larger batches. Get intimate with your cooker. Every oven is different and if the temperature isn’t consistent you’re fighting a losing battle. The more practice you have the better you’ll get as you can gauge how your oven performs for different styles of baking. Mine is extremely hot, so if it’s a tea bread or dense fruity cake that needs slow cooking I’ll cover the cake with a sheet of greaseproof paper three-quarters of the way through baking so the top of the cake doesn’t burn and the centre gets a chance to cook all the way through.

My final tip is to get organised, have all your ingredients weighed out before you start with your tins beautifully lined and your oven hot and ready to go. Your baking will turn out perfect and perfect baking makes happy eaters.

For the cake batter

150g mashed bananas
4 free range eggs
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds 1
tsp gluten-free baking powder

For the icing

225g icing sugar
3 tbsp coconut milk
freshly grated coconut
2 tsp vanilla extract


Our old pastry chef, Marie Clare, now runs Edinburgh Tearoom and Patisserie Casa Angelina. Thanks to MC for this fabulous wheat and dairy-free cake base.

1. Gently beat the banana and eggs together. Add the caster sugar and cream together. Fold in the almonds and baking powder.

2. Pour into a lined 500g bread tin. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes at 180c/Gas Mark 4.

3. To make the coconut icing, slowly beat the coconut milk and the vanilla extract into the icing sugar until fluffy.

4. Spread the icing over the cooled cake.

5. Sprinkle the grated coconut on top of the icing.

180g unsalted butter at room temperature
150g light brown sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
finely grated zest of an unwaxed lemon
3 large free-range eggs
225g plain flour, sieved pinch fine salt
60g roasted blanched almonds, very finely ground
2 tsp baking powder
60g glace cherries, washed and dried
200g currants
200g sultanas
2 tbsp milk
50g or so whole blanched almonds to decorate the cake before it goes into the oven
3 tbsp of your favourite whisky


I love old-fashioned baking. This tastes best if the mixture is left for 2 or 3 days to mature with a generous dose of alcohol. You can use brandy or whisky to soak this very traditional Scottish fruitcake.

1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.

2. Add the mixed spice and lemon zest.

3. Next slowly fold in the eggs, one at a time with a little of the flour to help it bind. Fold in the remaining flour, salt, ground almonds and baking powder.

4. Next, fold in the fruits and add the milk.

5. Pour the mixture into a 10 inch baking tin that’s double lined with greaseproof paper. Level the mixture in the cake tin and carefully decorate the top of the cake with the whole almonds.

6. Bake in the middle of the oven at 160c/Gas Mark 3 for 2 to 2 ½ hours.

7. When a knife or skewer comes clean from the cake, remove from the oven and pour the whisky over the cake. Leave in the tin for around 10 minutes then cool on a wire tray.

8. Wrap in greaseproof paper and store before you enjoy.

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
125ml full fat milk
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
100g soft light brown sugar
50g treacle
100g golden syrup
50g stem ginger in syrup cut into small chunks
200g plain flour
2 large free-range eggs
1 dsp ground ginger
½ grated nutmeg
150g sultanas


This is a shallow flat bake that you can slice into fingers and serve with a thick spread of unsalted butter. It keeps well but never lasts longer than a day in our house. The children love it and it’s not too sweet for grown-ups.

1. In a jug, add the bicarbonate of soda to the milk. Set aside.

2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add the treacle and syrup to the mixture, then add 25g of flour to bind and beat.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, then another 25g of flour to bind.

5. Add the remaining flour and spices.

6. Fold in the sultanas and stem ginger.

7. Add the blend of milk and bicarbonate of soda and mix well.

8. Pour into a 23cm square cake tin lined with greaseproof paper and bake at 160c/Gas Mark 3 for about 40 minutes to an hour until cooked.

9. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then transfer and cool on a wire tray.

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