Ruby Tandoh’s taste of home
My family is boring, although I suspect we’d prefer to think of our boringness as a kind of respect for routine. Just as my brothers have been happily watching the same Simpsons episodes on repeat for the past 20 years, my parents have a rotating cast of familiar meals that come back time and again. We know what we like, and we like what we know. One of the rituals that we used to perform when I was younger and still living at home was the Saturday afternoon cake ritual. Without fail, about 15 minutes after we’d finished lunch – always either baguette with ham and cheese, or pitta and dips – 10-year-old me would be handed some money and sent to the shop to buy our dessert. I used to go to the bakery a few roads down from us, and there I’d get the apple round – a heavy crown of conjoined sweet buns, swirled with apple compote and drizzled with a light water icing.
As seemed inevitable, though, in our
bustling but neglected neighbourhood, that bakery soon closed down. My Saturday walk then took me to the local Somerfield instead. The choice was dizzying. There in my “sk8r girl” T-shirt with my unbrushed hair and a five pound note crumpled tightly in my sweaty fist, I would stand in the bakery section, reeling with the responsibility that I’d been given. I would choose Mr Kipling cherry bakewells, angel cake, buttery madeira with a sweet, caramelised top, or hulking great family-size swiss rolls. One time I bought 48, or maybe even 64, Wagon Wheels because they were on offer. The whole family groaned and my cake responsibilities were revoked for some weeks after.
The thing we had most often, though, was a simple chocolate marble cake. It was sold as a halfmoon, deceptively heavy in its flimsy cellophane wrapping, but I would buy two for our hungry family of six. It was sweet and tender, the sponge – the type with that perfect, impossible kind of softness that you can only get in a factory-made cake – rippled through with vanilla and chocolate swirls. The top was covered in a thick layer of icing, covered with delicately feathered stripes of chocolate. It was our favourite. I would have happily gobbled it straight from the wrapper if I’d been allowed, but the family traditions were at their strictest at cake time.
There was no cake without tea on my dad’s watch. Week in, week out, then, we had a moment of calm in our busy, growing family: all sat quietly at the table, cake sliced in front of us and hands twitching in our laps, while we waited for the tea to brew.
Chocolate orange marble cake
The traditional chocolate marble cake that I’m used to is vanilla-scented, sweet and soft, but after a few experiments I found that a homemade version benefits from a zesty orange kick to offset the buttery richness of the sponge.
180g salted butter, well softened 100g soft light brown sugar 80g caster sugar Zest of 1½ oranges 1 tsp vanilla extract 3 large eggs 180g plus 2 tbsp plain flour 2½ tsp baking powder 2 tbsp cocoa powder 6 tbsp milk
For the icing
250g icing sugar Zest of ½ orange 40-45ml water or orange juice 2 tsp cocoa powder
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 20cm round springform cake tin with baking parchment.
2 Beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy and smooth, then add the light brown and caster sugars, creaming the mixture together for a few minutes, until fluffy. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla extract.
3 In another bowl, stir together 180g flour and the baking powder, reserving the extra 2 tbsp flour for later. Add one egg and a third of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, and fold together until more or less combined. Add the remaining eggs and flour mixture in two stages in the same way, and stir lightly until the batter is smooth and thick.
4 Divide the batter equally between two bowls. (I’m a stickler for these things, so I weigh it for optimal evenness, but doing it by eye is perfectly fine.) To one of the bowls, add the reserved 2 tbsp flour, and to the other add the cocoa powder. Stir each batter until barely mixed, then add 3 tbsp milk to each and stir until smooth.
5 Dollop alternating spoonfuls of the chocolate and the plain batters into the cake tin, spooning it haphazardly into big blobs. Try to mingle the different colours, so that each slice of cake will be rippled through with the two-tone stripes.
6 Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until a small knife inserted into the centre of the cake emerges clean. Leave to stand for 15 minutes, then unmould and let it cool completely on a wire rack.
7 Once the cake is cool, it’s time to decorate. Turn it upside-down so that the perfectly smooth, crumb-free bottom is facing up. If yours has a domed top, as mine often does, you’ll want to carefully slice this section off using a serrated knife, so that the cake sits square on the plate. (You can nibble these offcuts while you get decorating.)
8 Combine the icing sugar and orange zest in a mixing bowl, and add just enough water (or orange juice, if you want to make of the most of the oranges you’ve zested), a little at a time, to give a smooth icing. It ought to be just thick enough so that it won’t pour off the sides of the cake, but just loose enough that it can be spread evenly over the cake without leaving unsightly ripples.
9 Cover the cake using roughly ¾ of the icing, smoothing it in an even layer on top, stopping just shy of the edges. Into the remaining icing, stir the cocoa powder and, if it’s now too thick to pipe, a drop or two of water. Spoon into a piping bag (or a sturdy freezer bag will do – cut off a tip just wide enough to allow you to pipe a thin ribbon of icing through).
10 On to the still-wet plain icing, pipe this chocolate icing in 5 or 6 parallel lines across the cake. Before the icing dries and sets, drag a knife gently across the icing in 3 or 4 lines, perpendicular to the chocolate stripes – the tip of the knife will drag the lines into tiny feathered crests. Between these knife-drawn lines, drag the knife back in the opposite direction, so that the chocolate lines are feathered in alternating directions, first one way, then the other.
11 Let the icing set before enjoying a slice (or two) with a cup of tea.
I’d stand in the bakery section, a five pound note crumpled in my sweaty fist, reeling with the responsibility I’d been given