When Your Friends’ Mothers Start Asking For The Recipe, You Know You’re Really Onto Something
Lemon Drizzle Cake is the first recipe I’ve ever felt possessive about. Normally when people ask me for a recipe, I display the kind of over-the-top enthusiasm you get when you offer to take a labrador for a walk, like, “Oh, sure! Of course! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, you’re going to love this! Let me write it down! And can I email it too? How about my blog – shall I post it on my blog? And then you can share it with all your friends…?”
But with this recipe – my own, perfect, world-beating lemon-drizzle-cake recipe – I feel a compelling urge to keep it All To Myself. I secretly sort of love the notion that there is some secret and unimaginable skill required to make this cake, which can only be attained by years of patient effort and dedication.
I actually have a recipe that I don’t want to give away! It’s a very strange feeling. For the first time in my life I am in touch with those mad and endearing characters in books like Mapp and Lucia, where the denouement for the entire novel is triggered by the theft of a recipe for Lobster Salad.
But keeping it to myself would be mean and pointless, and if I accidentally got run over tomorrow, the secret of the Perfect Lemon Drizzle Cake would die with me. So, here it is. Just…be careful who you share it with.
And it goes without saying that EVERY SINGLE STEP in this recipe must be followed exactly. To the letter. No arguments.
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
2 eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp milk in a mug. Preferably a pretty one
2 lemons, zested and juiced
An unknown quantity of icing sugar
A 3lb loaf-tin
A pretty apron
A beautiful heirloom cake-stand
A pretty china teaset (preferably either received as a wedding-gift, or inherited from an elderly female relative)
Some matching pretty cake-plates
A group of discerning friends
1. Tie on your pretty apron. For best results, put it on over a pretty frock. You may also want to freshen your make-up.
2. Cream the margarine and sugar together. For years I resisted using an electric whisk, because electric whisks are cheating. Then I saw Nigella using one, and thought it might be all right, and bought one. I can’t begin to describe how much quicker, easier and fluffier cake-making becomes if you have an electric whisk. They only cost about £20. Just do it. You’ll never go back.
Oh, and make sure it’s caster sugar. This really matters.
3. Whisk in the eggs and milk. As we all know, curdling the fat-and-sugar-mix by adding the egg too quickly is the curse of beautiful sponge-cakes. So, use your electric whisk, and add it in the following proportions, whisking well after each addition:
– One carefully-measured tablespoon
– One not-so-carefully measured tablespoon
– Two tablespoons at once
– One large, incautious slop of mixture using up almost all of what’s left, followed by a rather frantic whisking session on the fastest setting
– The dregs remaining in the bottom of the mug
3. Using a spatula, fold in the flour and the lemon zest.
4. Grease your loaf-tin, and line the bottom with baking parchment. Baking parchment is another thing I refused to contemplate for years. I honestly thought it was one of those inexplicable relics of a previous age that old people insisted on clinging to, like Vim scouring powder and antimacassars. But as it turns out, it really does make a difference to how easy it is to pry your cake out of its tin later. Hold the front page – my grandma really did know what she was talking about! Who knew?
5. Pop into the oven at 180C for about 55 minutes.
6. While it’s in there, occupy yourself by mixing your lemon juice with enough icing sugar to make a nice, thin, watery icing. Since all lemons are variable, the amount of icing sugar you’ll need to achieve this is also quite variable. The only clue I can offer is that it’s generally quite a lot more than you’d think. Begin with a heap in the bottom of a bowl, then pour your lemon-juice over the top and mix it in. Stir, taste and add more icing-sugar accordingly. It’s important it tastes sweet rather than sharp – we’re not making lemonade here – but it’s also important it remains pourable.
7. In the remaining cooking-time, do something dainty and feminine. Embroidery is an excellent choice, as is the light dusting of some fragile china ornaments on a high shelf. Alternatively, do something to enhance your environment. For example, you could decant your washing-up liquid into a decorative container. Or maybe you could try beautifying your scrubbing-brush. In Stepford World, even the most mundane task can be turned into a pleasure!
8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, and while it’s still in its tin, spoon the icing all over the top. There will be a lot of it. Use it all. It will hiss, and steam a bit, and then disappear down the sides and into the body of the cake.
8. Leave the cake in peace to cool down. It usually takes about two hours to get to the perfect temperature, i.e. cool enough to handle, but still a little bit warm and steamy. Don’t try and get it out before then, because it will just fall apart. When it’s time to serve, loosen it all around the edge with a palette knife. Put it on your beautiful heirloom cake-stand.
9. Break out all the ancient and beautiful china you inherited from female relatives. Pause to enjoy the sensation of having generations of dainty, cultured female ancestors – all with minds like razors, tongues like barbed-wire dipped in honey and a stare that could turn milk sour through an iron door – standing at your shoulder, approving of your cake. Then, invite your friends round for afternoon tea.
10. Serve slices of your cake on pretty plates, with fragrant cups of tea, made properly in a teapot and poured into your most impractical tea-cups. Enjoy the taste of civilisation. Enjoy even more the taste of small-minded suburban triumph as they all ask for the recipe, and you graciously manage to avoid giving it to them. Alternatively, send them here. The occasional bit of Stepford Cooking is the way forward for all of us.
Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.