A student's guide to baking

Archive for July, 2014

Lemon Drizzle Cake


The cake:

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • Zest of 2 lemons

The filling:

  • 200g butter
  • 400g icing sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

The drizzle:

  • 70g granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon


  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  • Start by creaming together the butter and caster sugar.
  • When that’s done, mix in the eggs one at a time.
  • Add in the flour and the milk whilst continuing to mix.
  • Once you’ve got your standard white cake mix, add in the zest of two lemons to give it the lemon flavouring.
  • Pour the mixture evenly into two greased 10” cake tins.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the cake passes the knife test.
  • Whilst that’s cooking, you can be making the filling. Work the butter until it’s soft and then sieve in the icing sugar.
  • Once you’ve got a stiff buttercream, add in the juice of 1 lemon and mix well.
  • For the drizzle, add the juice of 1 lemon to 70g of granulated sugar.
  • When the cake is done and has cooled, spread the buttercream over one layer and place the other layer on top.
  • Pour the drizzle icing over the top, allowing it to settle and hold.

(See my carnation cupcakes recipe for the inspiration)


Sadly there are no photos of this one. I was in a rush to get this one finished and get back into the office, and by rush I mean I had 25 minutes between the cake layers coming out of the oven and when I ought to have been back in the office for the daily meeting. I was 10 minutes late in the end, but I arrived with a finished, albeit slightly structural unsound, lemon drizzle cake.

When I say that it was structurally unsound, all I mean is that the top layer had started to crumble and break into pieces. The cake hadn’t fully cooled either and it was a hot day anyway, so the top layer had slipped a little in transit too. Luckily it still tasted the same.

I made this at the same time as I made the gin drizzle cake, so I was pushed for time to get both done in the space of about 2 and a half hours. This cake was made as the non-alcoholic alternative for those that weren’t too fond of gin.

Both cakes went down very well and were very much appreciated by the office team. They’d evidently had a quieter moment earlier in the day when I was in the kitchen baking, because just after I’d handed out various slices to people and they’d had a few bites, someone started playing Food Glorious Food over the speakers and suddenly all those around the desk held up their scorecards. It was a lovely gesture, and I was thrilled to see several 10s amongst the scores! I did get an 8.5 from someone who’d decided it would be better for her to be harsher now than for me and my baking to be publicly denounced further down the line. The reason given for the lower score was the presentation, which I couldn’t disagree with. Thankfully the taste was great!


4 Layer Victoria Sandwich



The cake:

  • 200g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

The filling:

  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g strawberry jam
  • 400g strawberries (halved)
  • Icing sugar (for dusting)


  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
  • Start by creaming together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
  • Crack in the eggs one at a time whilst continuing to mix.
  • Sieve in the flour and gently stir in the milk.
  • Add the vanilla essence.
  • Grease two 10” cake tins and pour the mix evenly into both.
  • Cook for 20 minutes or until they pass the knife test and spring back when gentle pressure is applied.


  • The real beauty of this cake lies in the filling. Whisk the cream until you have a strong whipped cream with stiff peaks.
  • Chop the strawberries in half, trying to make sure that they’re all roughly the same height when lying down on their sides. If needs be, chop large strawberries into three slices.
  • When the cake layers are baked and cool to the touch, it’s time to start the assembly process. Cut each layer in half to give you 4 semi-circle cake layers.
  • On the bottom layer, spread a hearty layer of jam. You want enough that there is a consistent red layer over the lighter colour of the sponge, but not so much that it starts dripping over the sides and makes the cake wet.
  • On top of the jam, create a layer of the chopped strawberries. I usually go for putting the flat edge of the strawberry against the edge of the cake and having the points facing inwards, and then gradually filling in the rest of the layer.
  • Take your next layer, and apply a generous layer of the whipped cream to the bottom before gently placing it over the strawberries.
  • Repeat this process for the next two layers, until you’ve placed the final fourth layer on the cake.
  • Using a sieve, add icing sugar over the top of the cake as dusting.

(See my Victoria sandwich recipe for the inspiration)

4 layer Victoria sandwich

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Certainly in this case, she was. When I started this cake, I had planned on making a standard Victoria sandwich. However, as this was my first foray into the world of gluten-free baking, the cake didn’t rise as much as I’d hoped in the oven, so that when it was ready and cooked, it was about half the height that I’d normally expect from a Victoria sandwich. (I since learnt that the best way to avoid this is just to make more cake mix.)

Not wanting to waste cake (and by that I mean not wanting to have to eat the entire thing myself to dispose of the evidence), I decided to double up the layering on the suggestion of my mother. Thankfully it worked out rather well!

By including the same filling as normal between every layer of cake, the overall height was sufficient that there was plenty of cake in the end. People ended up having smaller slices to accommodate for the height and so only having a half of a circular sponge wasn’t an issue!


Pimm’s Cupcakes

The perfect treat for a summer evening!

The perfect treat for a summer evening!

Ingredients (makes 12):

The cake:

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 20g cornflour
  • 115g butter
  • 160g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 120ml buttermilk (see recipe for alternative)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 100ml orange juice

Pimm’s strawberry jelly filling:

  • 200g strawberries
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 tbsp Pimm’s

Cucumber and mint syrup:

  • 1 handful of mint, chopped
  • 12 thin slices of cucumber
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp water


  • 120g butter
  • 240g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence


  • Preheat the oven to 160ºC and line a muffin tray with 12 cupcake cases.
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, followed by the orange zest and orange juice, and mix gently.
  • Sieve in the flour and cornflour, and then add the buttermilk. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own by adding 1
  • and a half teaspoons of lemon juice to 120ml of regular milk.
  • Beat your mix well to ensure an even consistency. It should be a fairly runny mix, so don’t worry if it seems a bit thinner than normal cupcakes.
  • Split the mix between the paper cases and bake for 30 minutes, or until they have turned a golden colour and pass the knife test.

Once the cakes are in the oven, you can make a start with the filling.

  • Blend the strawberries in a food processor and pour into a small pan through a fine sieve to remove the pips. It’ll still work if you don’t sieve it, but using one will make it much smoother.
  • Add the sugar, cornflour, and Pimm’s to the pan and heat gently.
  • Stir the mix regularly with a whisk until it becomes thick and jelly-like.
  • Leave to cool.

The syrup also requires heating in a pan, so you can make this at the same time as the Pimm’s strawberry filling.

  • Add the chopped mint and cucumber slices to a small pan. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water.
  • Heat until the water starts to bubble, then turn off the heat. Allow it to cool slightly before straining the syrup into a glass to cool fully.

For the buttercream:

  • Beat the butter first to soften it, before sieving in the icing sugar.
  • Once peaks are starting to form, add a teaspoon of vanilla essence and continue beating until the mixture is strong and stiff.
Coring the cupcakes to add the Pimm's strawberry filling.

Coring the cupcakes to add the Pimm’s strawberry filling.

Once you’ve finished making the various components, it’s time to assemble the final cakes.

  • Using a knife or corer if you have one, remove a hole from the middle of each of the cupcakes, saving the removed piece. (see below)
  • Add one teaspoon of the Pimm’s strawberry filling to the hole in each cupcake. Using the removed piece, cover the top of the hole.
  • Using a piping bag if you have one, ice the cupcakes with the buttercream.
  • Drizzle the cucumber and mint syrup over the cupcakes.
  • Decorate with sliced fresh strawberries, orange, cucumber and mint.
For decorating the finished cupcake.

For decoration to give that real Pimm’s feel to it!

The finished cupcake.

The finished cupcake!

(Recipe adapted from http://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes/535447/pimms-cupcakes)


After my recent endeavours with gin-flavoured cake, I thought it was time for another summery alcoholic cake!

This weekend, I went over to a friend’s house for a night of cocktails and catching up with the three of us. It’d been several months since I’d seen either of them, so it was lovely seeing them again and I decided to bake for the occasion! Off the back of recent inspiration and practice at making drinks, our wonderful hostess suggested a gin-based cocktail evening, and of course we didn’t have any objections.

Given that we were going to be drinking anyway, I thought it best to keep away from the gin drizzle cake recipe. Those who have tasted it will be able to certify that it’s rather boozy!

So instead I opted for another alcohol-inspired cake, but one that’s traditionally a little bit less alcoholic yet still associated with summer – Pimm’s. My love for Pimm’s rivals my feelings towards the mighty G&T. In my book, no summer is truly complete unless you’ve had at least a glass of Pimm’s.

Naturally then, my main worry with this cake was doing justice to the drink, particularly in balancing the various flavours, but I think this works. The different tastes sit well alongside each other and you’re left to sample serenely each of the flavours that goes into the wondrous concoction that is a glass of Pimm’s.

So relax, sit back in the summer sun and enjoy a light fruity cupcake! Cheers!



From another round of Pimm's cupcakes.

From another round of Pimm’s cupcakes.

Chocolate Sponge with Raspberry Buttercream filling

Chocolate sponge with raspberry buttercream filling


The cake:

  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 120g cocoa powder
  • 200g plain chocolate, broken into pieces – add to mix after pouring into cake tins

The icing:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 250g butter
  • 12 raspberries

This recipe is a variation on the recipe I used for the pink carnation cupcake, where the main difference is just the larger quantities.

  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
  • Cream together 250g butter and the caster sugar.
  • Once done, add in the eggs before sieving in the flour.
  • Pour in 4 tbsp of milk to help give the cake a lighter texture and taste, and thoroughly mix to create a smooth consistency before adding in the cocoa powder. With 120g of cocoa powder, this cake is chocolatey without being too much, but feel free to add extra for a darker, richer taste.
  • Split the mixture evenly between two greased 10” cake tins and make sure the mix has spread and is level on top.
  • Next press the chunks of chocolate gently into the top of the mixture. As you can see above, I just broke a bar of chocolate into individual pieces, but vary the size as you wish.
  • Put the cake tins into the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

While that’s baking you can make a start on the icing.

  • Soften the butter by mixing it briefly before sieving in the icing sugar whilst continuing to mix. As always when using icing sugar, mix slowly and gently to avoid covering yourself and your kitchen in a sweet white layer of powder.
  • Once you’ve got a nice stiff buttercream, pop in the raspberries and mix again until it’s smooth and not too runny. The raspberries will colour the buttercream a nice strong pink colour and you’ll find small bits of raspberries in with it to vary the texture.

Once the cake is baked, take it out of the oven and leave it out to cool. When it’s cool to the touch, take one layer and spread a thick layer of the buttercream over it, and then gently lay the other layer over the top. If you’ve only put the pieces of chocolate into one of the layers, I’d recommend having that layer on top for the sake of appearances, but it’s up to you.

(See my carnation cupcakes recipe for the inspiration)


As I said earlier, I got the idea for this from the pink carnation cupcakes I did with this flavour combination. However, transforming a recipe from one for cupcakes to one for sponge cakes isn’t just a case of increasing the quantities. I did spend some time wondering about what to do with the melt-in-the-middle idea, as that was one of my favourite parts of the pink carnation cupcake. I ended up deciding to leave it in as part of the cake, and so put the pieces of chocolate into the top of the cake mix. Although it did pose some slight difficulties when it came to cutting the cake, I made sure to space them out, so they acted as handy slice markers.

The joy of a sponge cake though is that it is easier to share with an indefinite number of people, whereas you can’t really do much if you make 12 cupcakes and find out that 13 people want one. Just as with the gin drizzle cake and a few other recipe I’ll be posting shortly, this was a recipe I did for the Lichfield Festival, and so it was gluten-free again. Given that my previous attempt at a gluten-free sponge cake didn’t rise well, I threw in an extra teaspoon of baking powder for good measure, as well as making plenty of cake mix, so thankfully it worked out rather well. Also, a word as to the slightly odd pre-cutting of the cake: my cake box, complete with convenient carry handle, was designed for 8” sponges rather than 10”, so my cakes tend not to fit rather easily. Hence why I cut it in two and offset the halves so that they’d fit. Well it’s only going to be cut up further when people start eating it.

By far my favourite part about this recipe though, is the buttercream filling. As many of my close friends who’ve seen me baking before will tell you, I am rather partial to buttercream icing. This is no exception. If anything, I love this even more because of the extra flavour and texture. If you’re wondering, I most definitely didn’t make a bit too much so that there’d be some left over for me to eat just by itself. No, of course not, that would be ridiculous…

Gin Drizzle Cake

Gin drizzle cake


The cake:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)
  • 4 shots of gin

The drizzle:

  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 6 shots of gin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Dash of tonic water (optional)


The recipe for this is essentially rather simple. As follows: make cake mix. Add gin. Bake. Mix sugar and gin to make drizzle. Pour over baked cake. Eat.

Ok, but in all seriousness:

  • Have your butter at room temperature as usual to make things easier.
  • Preheat your oven to 180ºC.
  • Start by creaming the butter and caster sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
  • Once done, crack in the eggs one at a time and beat until they’re combined in a smooth mixture.
  • Add in the flour whilst continuing to mix.
  • Grate in the zest of 1 lemon, saving the rest for the juice later. If you like a stronger citrus taste to your G&Ts, add in the zest of a second lemon.
  • Whilst stirring slowly but consistently, add in the juice of 1 lemon and 4 shots of gin, which should give you a more runny cake mix texture. The drizzle will really add the gin kick, so don’t worry about adding more gin to the cake mix itself.
  • Pour the mix into a lined 1kg loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes. Do check the cake with the knife test before you take it out of the oven, as the top may look done whilst the insides are still nowhere near. If the top does end up being rather overdone at the cost of the inside of the cake, you can carefully cut away some of the top, which is the preferable option to having half-baked cake.
  • Let the cake cool while you make the drizzle. Combine the granulated sugar, juice of 1 lemon, and the remaining 6 shots of gin in a bowl, adding a hint of tonic if you want to be truly honest in saying that it’s a gin and tonic cake. To be fair, once someone’s had a slice of this, they’re not going to mind whether there’s tonic in it or not!
  • Once you’ve got your drizzle, prick the surface of the cake with a fork to let the drizzle sink in and pour it all over the top. It’ll set fairly quickly, but don’t worry about appearances, as the drizzle also makes a good spread for the extra gin kick when you’re taking a slice!

A brief warning with this recipe: the main difficulty with this is the liquid content. When I first made this, I did a gluten-free version, so the mix was thicker than usual before I added the gin. If you’re worried about the consistency, add an extra sprinkle of flour or leave it in the over for a little longer to make sure that the cake is properly cooked. You could also reduce the amount of gin in the cake mix, but who wants to take out the gin?!

(Recipe adapted from: http://www.puddinglaneblog.co.uk/2014/06/gin-and-tonic-cake.html)

The inside of this one didn't cook as much due to the loaf tin, which made for a more moist (but thankfully still cooked) inside!

The inside of this one didn’t cook as much due to the loaf tin, which made for a more moist (but thankfully still cooked) inside!

Gin drizzle cake #2

Last year, I volunteered at my local arts festival, the Lichfield Festival, for the 10 days it was on, plus a couple of days beforehand to help get things ready. Thanks to my position as Assistant Concert Manager and the long regular hours that came with the role, I quickly became ingratiated to the office team and the other volunteers putting in longer hours. At the time, the office was just across from the cathedral, the venue I was based in, so popping between the two was rather easy, and once the festival started, I learnt of a wonderful little tradition they had: G&Ts on the lawn whilst evensong was taking place.

Fast forward a year, and this summer I was back again, volunteering in the same position as before. This year, the office has moved to the centre of town and there’s a slightly longer walk between there and the cathedral. The added distance combined with the reduced fridge and kitchen facilities, meant that the G&T tradition was at risking of falling by the wayside.

The ladies in the office, one of whom I knew from the year before, had put in a request for the office to be supplied with cake during the very stressful time of the festival, and I willingly obliged. One of the team was coeliac as well, which meant that everything I made had to be gluten-free. As luck would have it, I managed to find some gluten-free self-raising flour in my local supermarket, and my dad sent me the recipe for this gin cake just as the festival started.

Needless to say, the cake proved an excellent alternative to the regular G&Ts, providing both nourishment and gin. It went down rather well, and word certainly got around before I’d even made the thing! The cake made such an impact that it featured in the Festival Director’s leaving speech at the end of the Festival and knowledge of its existence was made public to several hundred audience members at the final concert.

Be warned: this cake packs a punch. While it certainly went down well with everyone who tried it, there were several shocked faces when they got the first kick of the gin!

Gin drizzle cake #2

They also work well as cupcakes!

They also work well as cupcakes!

Cake Advice #1

  1. Get the butter out of the fridge in advance. Obviously leaving it out for several hours beforehand may not be the best thing and will probably leave you with a half-melted yellow mess, but I usually find half an hour or so is enough to make a noticeable difference, provided you’ve got a warm kitchen. I know some people prefer to microwave the butter for up to 30 seconds on a lower setting to make it easier to work with, but with that you run the risk of melting the butter entirely, or at least causing it to separate slightly, which isn’t what you want. My routine is just to get the butter out of the fridge when I first enter the kitchen, and then go about getting together utensils and ingredients and turning on the oven to preheat.
  2. On the subject of butter, save the wrapper when you’re done with a block. I keep a stash of several in a drawer for greasing tins, as there’s normally enough small bits of butter to grease your cake tins. Granted, keeping a stack of them has raised eyebrows at times, but it saves on greaseproof paper and using up butter.
  3. You start off by creaming butter and sugar together with almost all cake mix.  Regardless of how you choose to go about it, you should find that the butter and sugar will start to clump together in small clusters before sticking together in one large ball. Once you get to that stage, you’re almost done, but make sure to keep going until it starts to separate out into smaller bits again to make it easier when working the other ingredients in consistently.
  4. The advantages of a wooden spoon. Being a student baker, I’m used to doing making cake mix by hand with a wooden spoon. Having an electric hand mixer speeds the process up considerably, but you lose the arm workout. Personally, I’m still on the side of the trusty wooden spoon. Having a hand mixer is great, and an utter godsend when it comes to whipping cream, but generally I find that I’m just as thorough with a wooden spoon as with an electronic mixer, and I even find that I’m better at working out the small lumps of butter when taking the more basic option.
  5. When it comes to adding eggs, different people have different ways of do so. I know people who prefer to whisk their eggs separately before adding them in, but I’ve always been one to crack them straight into the mix and work them in one at a time. I’ve nothing to suggest that one is better than the other, but by mixing the eggs straight in, you’re saving yourself a bit of washing up if nothing else.
  6. Wherever possible, use a sieve. The texture will be lighter and more consistent if you make a point of sieving in the sugar and flour, and anything else that one would reasonably sieve. Sugar that’s been kept for a while has a tendency to form chunks that are a bit harder to break apart, so putting them through a sieve will help to make sure there aren’t any sizeable lumps in your cake.
  7. You may wish to swap the tins between shelves halfway through baking if you’re making a sandwich cake or a cake of any kind that involves multiple layers, depending on your oven. Be careful not to leave them out of the oven, and if possible, put one on a different shelf for a quick and clean swap. By doing this, you help to make sure that both layers are baked equally, rather than having one layer more cooked than the other.
  8. When baking cakes, always remember the infamous knife test. When the cake looks about done, check that the inside is cooked by inserting a thin knife or skewer into the cake and then removing it again. The tip should be clean with no cake mix and there should be a minimal amount of moisture. Generally when doing this it’s best to pull the tray just out of the oven enough to test it, but be ready to put it straight back in if it’s not done.
  9. Speaking of taking cakes out of the oven, if in doubt leave it in. Unless the recipe says otherwise, a cake should never be put back into the oven once it’s been taken out and started to cool. The processes that go on during baking stop once you take the cake out of the oven, so trying to salvage a half-cooked cake once it’s been out of the oven for a while is very difficult.
  10. When baking gluten-free, things become a little more difficult and you have more options. There are the more complicated alternatives involving a mix of various gluten-free and wheat-free flours, like nut-based flours or others such as rye or potato flour. When I first had to bake gluten-free, I didn’t have the time or resources to experiment with various different flours, so I went for the simple option of gluten-free self-raising flour. I did have some slight issues with it, but thankfully they were only minor. If you want a fairly large or high cake, make sure to have a fair amount of mix to get the height you want, and if in doubt, add a teaspoon of baking powder to the mix when adding the flour just to be sure. The other thing to be wary of when baking gluten-free is that the texture of the mixture is going to be a bit different. I’ve found sources saying that it’s thicker and sources saying that it’s runnier, so be prepared to cater for both as required. My experience is that the mix tends to be a bit thicker, so adding a tablespoon or two of milk can help to make it easier to work with if you’re concerned. The texture does also tend to be a bit crumblier than normal, so be warned if you’re trying something with a more technical or elaborate structure!

Coming soon!

Hi! Given the amount of baking I’ve been doing recently, I’ve decided to start this blog. I’m currently in the process of getting the various recipes, photos and stories together, so I’ll have some more posts up here soon!

For now, here’s a list of some of the treats I’m working on:

For a full list of posts, check my Contents page, and check out my Picture Gallery to see some of the photos!