Mar­bled marvel

Ruby Tan­doh’s taste of home

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Ruby Tan­doh is a food writer and colum­nist. Her new book, Flavour (Chatto & Win­dus), is out now

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.

Serves 6-8

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

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