The first cookbook I remember seeing or using is all about baking, or rather about one of the fundamentals of baking, flour. The Homepride Book of Home Baking was published in 1970 and proudly claims to be ‘the first metric book of flour cookery in Britain’. It describes itself as ‘a book that understands life in the 1970’s when ‘the average housewife…regularly prepares packed meals for her husband or children’ and my mother, who was just such a housewife in the early seventies, used it, I think, for treats. I remember her fruit cake, pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and the much-loved melting moments I wrote about here. Despite being old-fashioned (it has recipes for lardy cake, brown sauce and spotted dick) it is incredibly useful because it focuses, unlike so many modern cookbooks, on teaching techniques not recipes.
So as well as telling you how to use flour, which raising agents do what and the effects of different sized tins, it also lists recipes according to how you make them. And now that I’ve started baking more, I’ve found myself turning to it often because it breaks the process down step by step, as I try to do here, and explains what happens when it goes wrong. What this means is that the more and more you learn the method (for example rubbed-in or all-in-one, creamed or melted) the better equipped you are to experiment.
As a bit of a recipe slave, who tends to repeat rather than reinvent, I find this very cheering. For example, this recipe for coffee and walnut cake falls into the all-in-one method, i.e. shove it all in a bowl and mix it together. But since the all-in-one route uses soft margarine (there’s no way I’m buying margarine) and it also says that any all-in-one cake can be made via the creamed method (beat together fat and sugar, add eggs then flour), I chose the latter. And it worked.
The other thing I’m starting to realise (okay, call me slow) is that many recipes are slight variations on ones that already exist. When I started thinking about making this cake, which was already a classic forty years ago, I found myself comparing the Homepride recipe with a Slater and a Smith and, to be honest, the difference between them was minimal. Which means that I should probably not buy any more cookbooks since, erm, I actually only need one or two instead of seventy-plus…
Coffee and walnut cake (adapted from The Homepride Book of Home Baking)
You will need:
Two sandwich tins (they use 7 inch ones…aha, not so metric now eh! I only have 8 inch, or 20cm ones so I increased the amounts to account for this), greased and lined with baking parchment
For the cake
25g walnuts, finely chopped plus ten or so whole ones for decorating the top
1 tsp instant coffee powder mixed with 2 tsp hot water (and yes, it has to be instant. I never drink the stuff and my rather neglected jar said ‘Best before June 2008’ so I thought it best not to use it. However, the espresso I used instead didn’t have the required effect.)
150g self-raising flour (add another 25g if using 8 inch/20cm tins)
150g butter (add another 25g if using 8 inch/20cm tins)
150g caster sugar (add another 25g if using 8 inch/20cm tins)
small pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
100g unsalted butter
200g icing sugar
1 tsp instant coffee powder mixed with 2 tsp hot water
40 g finely chopped walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (or 160C in a fan-assisted oven)/Gas 4.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a processor or large mixing bowl.