Let us eat cake - a joy in joyless times

A yummy cake
A yummy cake
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Whether it’s chocolate, lemon drizzle or a good old Victoria sponge, cake can put a help us forget our worries. Local celebs share their favourite slice with Helen McGurk

The scrumptious TV series The Great British Bake-Off is well underway, offering a slice of sweet, momentary comfort in these gloomy, uncertain times.

Singer Brian Kennedy

Singer Brian Kennedy

Who cares about Boris, Brexit and back-stops when there’s Paul Hollywood with his Artic-blue eyes, Prue Leith and her showstopper necklaces, comedy double act Sandi and Noel, and, of course, an array of delicious-looking buns, bread and cakes?

As the novelist Anthony Trollope said: “I am inclined to think that cakes and ale prevail most freely in times that are perilous and when sources of sorrow abound.”

Cake is a joy; whether is be sponge, macaroons, cheesecake or a complicated confection of choux, chocolate and cream, it can lift our spirits and quell the small trifling dramas of everyday life - the parking ticket, a horrible day at work, a broken phone screen, an eye-watering phone bill.

Baking a cake must be one of life’s great pleasures; gathering together all the paraphernalia - a sieve, a spatula, a silicon sheet, spoons, a pastry brush, a skewer, a cake tin, palette knives, piping bags, a measuring jug, scissors, a rolling pin, spoons and a cooling rack.

Alex Best

Alex Best

Then the wondrous alchemy when flour, butter, eggs and sugar become a glorious golden-topped sponge.

Many of us will have treasured memories of baking with our mothers; scooping fairy cake mixture into little paper cases, licking the bowl and eating our creations for tea.

Or the joy at the arrival of the bread man delivering lemon meringues, Jamaica Ginger Cake, Paris buns and Mr Kipling’s repertoire of exceedingly good cakes.

But what is our favourite type of cake? Perhaps that 1970s classic, the Battenberg? The jauntily patterned pink and yellow sponge, with the marzipan covering, tooth-achingly sweet, but, oh, so good?

Paula McIntyre

Paula McIntyre

Or maybe the quiet charms of a classic Victoria sponge, an indulgent chocolate cake, a jammy Swiss roll , or, perhaps, a carrot cake, packed with nuts, cinnamon and an extremely high calorie content (despite the wholesome-sounding) carrots.

A recent study found that the most popular cake flavour in the UK is in fact lemon drizzle.

In a close second place came chocolate fudge cake, followed by carrot cake in third.

Chocolate brownies took fourth position, with the teatime staple Victoria sponge cake coming in fifth.

The earliest ‘cakes’ were flat compact discs of grain, squished together and dried (think rice cakes).

The sort of cakes most people would recognise as cakes rather than sweetened bread only appear in the early 18th century: before that all cakes were raised with yeast.

Christmas cake is a fairly modern invention: it replaced the much older Twelfth Cake in the latter part of the 19th century.

Twelfth Cake was eaten at the feast of Epiphany at the end of the Christmas season.

All over Europe in the middle ages people celebrated by hiding a bean in a cake.

The person who got the slice with the bean was king for the feast, and led the company in drinking games.

The first tiered wedding cake was made for the wedding of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter (also named Victoria) in 1858. Queen Victoria’s own wedding cake, 18 years earlier, was three yards wide and weighted 300 pounds but had only a single tier.

Girls used to put pieces of wedding cake under their pillows to dream of their future husband.

At weddings in the 18th century small pieces of the cake were passed through the wedding ring before being handed out to the bride’s unmarried friends so they could then put them under their pillow.

The global fashion for cupcakes started in the year 2000 after an episode of the TV show Sex and the City showed its characters queuing for them at New York’s Magnolia Bakery.

So, with so many flavours, shapes and sizes, what type of cake do we opt for? We asked some local celebs to share their favourites.

Chef Paula McIntyre says: ‘‘I don’t like very sweet cakes and prefer simplicity.

‘‘My favourite cake is a pistachio ( preferably Bronte pistachios from Sicily) sponge studded with local plums.

‘‘ It’s a celebration of my love of seasonal Irish produce with Italian ingredients.

‘‘It’s moist and the slightly tart plums cut through any cloying sweetness.

‘‘Traditionally my favourite cake is a ginger cake - spicy, moist and redolent of treacle.’’

Author Claire Allen jokes that cake could be her ‘‘specialised subject’’.

‘‘My favourite is, very specifically, my Auntie Lorraine’s carrot cake. She bakes one for every family celebration so not only is it out of this world delicious, it’s always associated with happy memories.’’

Singer Brian Kennedy adds: “I don’t really have a sweet tooth but occasionally I love a chunk of coffee cake from Avoca or something with almonds and a strong coffee to wash it down.’’

And for actor and producer Dan Gordon, only one type of cake hits the sweet spot.

‘‘Victoria Sponge. My mum used to bake on a Saturday afternoon – fresh cream and jam – perfect sponge – especially after it had been in the fridge and the cream was cold. That with a big mug cup of tea watching Bruce Forsythe and the Generation Game – bliss.’’

Alex Best, who won Celebrity Ready Steady Cook says her favourite is coffee and walnut cake.

‘‘My mum always baked it when I was growing up and the aromas in the kitchen were so homely and relaxing - great memories.

‘‘I also love lemon drizzle cake, washed down with a nice cup of tea and good company.”

For showband legend George Jones it’s a good old Battenberg. ‘‘I love marzipan. I also love Victoria sponge. But unlike most other people I hate chocolate cake.’’

Comedian Gene Fitzpatrick adds: ‘‘My wife’s boiled cake is the ultimate choice for me. Now if they are doing dessert look no further than Baked Alaska.’’

And for singer Andrea Begley it’s got to be a Victoria sponge.

‘‘It’s my fave because it’s simple and sweet and the strawberry jam contains one of your five a day!.’’

Meanwhile, singer Peter Corry is firmly in the lemon drizzle camp, ‘‘as long as it’s moist’’, as is Downtown Radio presenter Caroline Fleck.

‘‘Sweet and tarty , not like me at all,’’ she jokes.

‘‘Molly (her daughter) and I have a bake off every weekend and it’s CupCake Wars in our house. She fancies herself as a YouTube chef .’’

Singer Nathan Carter is clear on his choice.

“My favourite buns are fifteens, you know the ones with marshmallows, digestive biscuits and cherries, smothered in coconut?

‘‘I often eat them on the road as they’re now sold in loads of shops and filling stations.

‘‘I have to admit though that I’m sick of Wagon Wheels - think I overdosed on them, but fans can still buy them for us as a lot of my band members still love them!”

Who knows what the future holds, but for as long as there is The Great British Bake Off, Paul and Prue, a chintzy tent somewhere in Berkshire, people staring into ovens and chronic overuse of the words ‘soggy bottom’, everything will be just sweet and as we enjoy our own slice of cake we can be thankful for those small crumbs of comfort.