I am truly thrilled to be writing this, my first column for HELLO! Our nation’s interest in baking cakes and cupcakes has exploded, and baking has really captured our imaginations. In fact it has become one of our favourite pastimes… as can be seen from the phenomenal success of the now must-watch Great British Bake Off!
I caught the baking and cake decorating bug (dare I say) almost 30 years ago. My husband Kishore saw potential at the kitchen table and we grew the company from there. If I’d had a crystal ball back then I would never have believed that my business would have started and grown over the years to have almost 100 employees. I still love baking as much as ever, which if I am honest surprises even me!
So, for all you bakers (and aspiring bakers) out there, I will be giving a recipe each month that I hope you will enjoy. I do try to follow the seasons in my kitchen, as many of us do, and this includes in my baking, as you will see.
I wouldn’t dream of buying asparagus at Christmas, flown many air miles to reach the shelves of our supermarkets. The thrill and expectation of savouring fresh-picked British asparagus throughout May never fades. Each season has its own moods and wonderful produce to offer, which I reflect in my cakes.
Light airy fruit-filled sponges and pavlovas in the summer months; comforting, richer cakes in the autumn; and, in winter, sticky gingerbreads, decadent chocolate cakes and spiced fruit cakes… it just makes sense.
No surprise at all then, that for my first HELLO! recipe in June I have chosen to include another all-time British classic, our home-grown strawberries. It is well worth searching out sweet, sun-kissed strawberries as there are so many varieties available right through our summer months and some are much better than others.
Try a few varieties out until you find one you prefer… you do not have to settle for the widely available Elsanta. It is fun to go and pick your own if you can, or even try growing them. Just please don’t buy them out of season again!
Strawberries and cream is a marriage made in heaven and I’ve combined the flavours into a cake (basically a simple all-in-one Victoria sponge).
Elderflowers appear in June too and there is something deeply satisfying about foraging for them in the hedgerow (though do find one away from traffic fumes). I’ve also given my recipe for elderflower cordial, which is in both the sponge cake and its cream filling.
Elderflower cordial is available commercially, but do try to make it; the home-made version is out of this world. Dilute with water for a refreshing drink, drizzle over summer berries, or pour into a glass of Prosecco or even a gin and tonic. It freezes well in plastic bottles (not glass, which will shatter in the freezer!) so it’s well worth making a large batch.
My Strawberry and Elderflower Cake is perfect for any summer party or gathering, a cake with a real WOW factor. If you follow my clear instructions you’ll find it isn’t as difficult as you might think. My friend Fi first made it a year or so ago, having never baked before in her life. She took it along to a birthday party and it was such a huge success that it has become her regular party piece! I’m rather proud of her.
Strawberry and elderflower cake
Serves 24 (halve the recipe to serve 12)
For the cake
450g unsalted butter, really soft,
diced, plus more for the tins
450g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
8 eggs, lightly beaten
finely grated zest of 2 large
450g golden caster sugar
4 tbsp elderflower cordial
For the Elderflower cream
1.2kg ripe, even-sized
strawberries, cleaned, dried
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
600ml double cream
8 tbsp elderflower cordial
As I write, the hedgerows are filled with creamy, lacy elderflower heads, crying out to be turned into a fragrant cordial. Elderflowers have an extraordinary affinity with strawberries, and make a perfect summer birthday cake. Assemble only a couple of hours before the event (and chill, if you can) as the cake won’t keep, especially in the heat. A summer celebration on a plate!
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. To make the three-tiered cake, take three 20cm round sandwich tins. Butter the tins and line the bases with baking parchment. If you have only two tins, then make the cake mixture and divide it evenly into three batches, baking the third as soon as a tin becomes free.
For this cake, I use an electric mixer and beater attachment, but you can use a food processor, or a bowl and electric whisk, if you prefer. Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, add the butter, eggs, lemon zest and sugar, and beat well, adding the cordial towards the end. Be careful not to over-mix, as you want a light cake.
Bake for 30–35 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. (To halve the recipe, bake in two 20cm tins for 20–25 minutes.) Remove from the oven, leave for a couple of minutes, run a knife around the rim to loosen the cakes from the tins and turn out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave to cool completely. Trim the cakes flat.
For the Filling and Decoration
Slice 400g of the strawberries and toss in a bowl with the sugar and vanilla. Leave all the flavours to mingle together for 30 minutes.
Whip the cream until soft peaks form, adding the cordial slowly just as it begins to thicken. Place one cake on a cake stand and spread with a layer of cream and half the sliced strawberries. Repeat with another cake, a layer of cream and the remaining sliced strawberries. Top with the last cake. Spread the remaining cream all over the top and sides.
Take the best-shaped 20 strawberries and cut 10–12 in half. Place the halved strawberries, cut side up, in a circle around the edge of the cake, and pile up the rest in the centre. Cut the remaining strawberries into slices – or in half – and press into the cream all around the sides.
Make a jar of vanilla sugar: fill a jar with caster sugar, add a couple of empty vanilla pods, seal and leave it for a couple of weeks to infuse. Sprinkle over bowls of strawberries and other delicious British berries all summer long and serve with a jug of thick yellow cream.
For more information visit: www.fionacairns.com
Next Month: Ice Cream Cakes