When I feel anxious, I head to the kitchen: to the put the kettle on for a sustaining cuppa, to chop vegetables for a nourishing soup, or to bake a cake that smells of my childhood. In these uncertain times, I find myself baking once again. Nothing too fancy. I don’t want the pressure of complicated ingredients that will take me out to the shops, and I don’t want the added stress of levelling and layering and icing. Besides, when there’s only my Mum and me to enjoy the cake, icing seems a needless decadence.
What I crave are simple, plain cakes that come together in a single bowl, with a wooden spoon. Last week, I made this madeira loaf cake. This week, I made a banana and cherry loaf, which was originally my grandmother’s recipe. My Mum remembers this cake from her childhood spent near the sea in Dorset, and she in turn baked it throughout my early years. So this cake holds many happy memories for me, and I love to sniff at the mouth-watering fragrance that fills the flat as it bakes in the oven.
Whenever I’ve made this cake for friends, I’ve invariably been asked for the recipe, and these repeated requests don’t surprise me at all. The cake is moist (it keeps very well and tastes even better on the second and third days) and not too sugary, although the cherries and sultanas do add a plump juicy sweetness that’s truly delicious. This is quite an old-fashioned cake: rubbing in butter is a technique I rarely come across in new cookbooks, but I think there’s a charm to old methods, and it’s nice not to have to pull out your mixer.
Good books and good bakes are certainly welcome companions during worrying times. I’ve always turned to my bookshelves for comfort and right now I’m enjoying reads that don’t require a lot of focus, but can be put down and easily taken up again. Two such volumes are The Morville Year (sequel to the equally brilliant The Morville Hours) and Dear Mr Murray.
My favourite thing to do when I bake is listen to an audiobook, and lately I’ve been turning to some of my favourite ‘cosy’ mysteries: the Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth. I finished The Clock Strikes Twelve and am on Miss Silver Comes to Stay. Already queued to play next is Grey Mask. If you’re a fan of Miss Marple, then you’d love Miss Silver, the retired governess turned amateur sleuth who is rarely without her knitting and has penetrating, but kindly, eyes.
So if you’re in need of a bit of time to unwind in the kitchen, then I heartily recommend downloading an entertaining audiobook, getting out a big bowl and a sturdy spoon and baking this cake.
Cherry and Banana Loaf Cake
8oz self-raising flour (plus a little extra for flouring cherries)
4 oz castor sugar
1/2tsp salt (level)
4oz unsalted butter
4oz glacé cherries rinsed, halved and lightly floured
2 large eggs
1lb ripe bananas (about four)
Butter a regular sized loaf tin and line the tin with greaseproof paper. Turn the oven to 170°C. Sift flour and salt into large bowl. Add butter and rub in with your fingers, until crumbly. Add the sultanas, sugar and cherries. Add lightly beaten eggs. Mash and beat bananas with a fork. Add to the bowl and mix everything together with a wooden spoon until combined. No extra liquid is required.
Pour mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 1 hr -1 1/4hrs at 170°C. Run a knife along the edges to ease the cake away from the tin and turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.
This loaf cake keeps well and is even nicer after a few days.
Sending lots of love to you all at this challenging time and hope you keep well and stay safe.