The book begins with recipes such as meringue kisses (gorgeous tiny pastel-coloured meringues), signature macaroons (some are heart-shaped!), morello cherry bakewell tarts and ice cream cake pops.
I am definitely going to be making these mini cinnamon doughnuts - my stepson will absolutely love them and they look so nice! You can be sure I will pile them all up prettily in my cake dome too, just because I can.
The book also has recipes for layer cakes, cupcakes, drinks and biscuits. There are mini eggnog kugelhopfs that I plan to try, a lemon, almond and poppy seed cake and this gorgeous white chocolate passion cake looks so good:
There is a very well-illustrated 'techniques' section at the back of the book which gives step-by-step photography on tricks such as how to assemble (and ice) layer cakes and how to create simple flowers with cutters and veiners. It also has the standard instructions you'd expect on how to frost cupcakes both with icing bags and palette knives. If you have a special occasion coming up and want to create a beautifully simple but delicious cake you could do worse than trying one from this book.
I buy this type of book all of the time - they have drool-worthy photography and beautiful styling but the recipes also tend to be fairly complicated with a huge list of ingredients. I enjoy regular baking but if I was to constantly use recipes like this it would feel like too much of a faff and I am sure that I would be less inclined to get my cake pans out. There is one super-easy sponge cake recipe that I have committed to memory and can whip up without a second's thought. It's the recipe I started baking with and the one that I use almost weekly to create simple teatime treats for my favourite boys. If you're new to baking, this is a great recipe to cut your teeth on.
I call it the:
Six, Six, Six Mix
I told you I have committed this to memory and this is how - by keeping the recipe in imperial measures as taught by my Great-Grandmother to my Mum and my Mum to me. (Big apologies to the young 'uns but 1oz is about 25g I think.)
The ingredients are just:
6oz softened butter or baking spread (Stork)
6oz caster sugar
6oz self-raising flour
3 medium eggs
This amount of batter will give you at least 12 large cupcakes, a good-sized tray bake or a small cutting cake (say, a 5" tin). But if you want to make bigger cakes, or more cupcakes just increase the ingredients: for every 2oz you use 1 egg. Simples. (So: 8oz butter, 8oz sugar, 8oz SR flour means you use 4 eggs. And so on.)
Switch your oven on: gas mark 5 or about 180C. Grease or line a tin (or line a muffin tin with paper cases).
Cream together the sugar and the butter/spread for ages until pale and fluffy. If you have a free-standing mixer this bit is great - I just switch it on and potter around the kitchen for a while, stopping every now and then to scrape the mix from around the sides of the bowl. An electric hand mix is also useful but my great-grandma used a good old wooden spoon and her buns were delish.
Sieve your flour than add a large spoonful together with one egg to the sugary, buttery mix. Mix up a tiny bit. It will look as though it's about to curdle - don't worry. Add the remaining eggs in the same way (with a spoonful of flour) mixing a bit in between. When all the eggs have been added, throw in the rest of the flour and mix until you get a smooth batter. At this point, I always add a tablespoon of cold water. (I use a tablespoon of cold water however many ounces of ingredients I use. It just makes the batter a little looser.)
Stick a finger in the mix and test it. (Optional but yum.)
Pop your mix in your tin/cases and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. If baking a large cake with more ingredients you could need to bake for up to 45 minutes. You know it's ready when the top of the cake is pale gold, it doesn't wobble when you move the tin and/or when you insert a skewer into the middle of the cake it comes out clean.
(You can also tell whether a cake is cooked or not by the noise it makes. An uncooked sponge cake will fizzle a bit and sound 'wet'. Just chuck it back into the oven for a few more minutes.) With some cakes you have to be careful of opening the oven door when they are baking in case they sink. As long as you let these bake for a minimum of 15 mins with the door firmly closed you'll be fine to keep popping them in and out of the oven until they are cooked to perfection.
Allow to cool and decorate with your choice of topping. A really simple option is to just make some royal icing (lots of icing sugar and a drop of water or lemon juice) and sprinkle sugar strands on the top. That's what I did with my tray bake last week - my family calls it 'bits and bobs' cake. It's a winner every single time.
So there you have it. A simple recipe that you can memorise and pull out wherever you may be. I love the feeling that I always know exactly how to make a lovely cake, wherever we are, and could bake it in an empty baked bean tin if absolutely necessary. It's like an important life skill for me! Just remember: 666.
It produces a lovely sponge cake but it's quite rich so won't last more than a few days (not a problem in our house). When you get confident with this simple sponge you can start to vary the flavours: add a tablespoon of coffee essence and frost with coffee buttercream or add a tablespoon or lemon juice and drizzle with a mix of equal parts lemon juice and sugar. Swap out a little flour for an equal measure of sieved cocoa powder to make chocolate cake. You could also throw in a few chopped glace cherries, raisins or chocolate chips for a bit of variety.
I am sure there are lots of you who are more experienced bakers and will have rolled your eyes at me publishing such a basic recipe but then I am hoping there will be a few of you who, like I used to, really want to learn to bake but think it sounds a bit scary. After using this recipe a few times, you'll be well on your way to trying one of Peggy's gorgeous creations.