Chocolate Layer Cake


Hey Joe

Heres some written bits about birds and baths, and a chocolate cake (!!!!!! haha)

There are lots of birds in the garden at the moment. I’ve been thinking about them, in the sky mid-flight, fully feathered and singing. A picture book, pitch perfect bird. The image of a bird in my mind is a simple one; it never gets old, it never takes its first flight, it never eats its first worm, it never suffers a wing injury or almost gets eaten by a bigger bird.   

Then last week I read this by Richard Mabey: ‘nightingales… are more cultured singers in June than they are in April…’ and a small part of my mind exploded. I have read and re-read that sentence. What a great thing. And a simple thing, that a bird becomes richer in singing power from one month to the next.

In March I thought of the word ‘relish’ a lot. I thought of this word on its own, and as part of a phrase which sounded like the opening of a book, or an essay, or an entry in the diary I don’t keep.

I will relish this time. This phrase came on March 1st and stayed stuck on a loop until about March 24th. I understand the core of it. It’s speaking to the domestic beats that have punctuated my days since moving back home after a period of unsustainable effort. At the root of it, I think, was an instruction to hold the knowledge that I will relish these moments later. In April maybe.

April came and I spent a lot of time in the bath. I learnt that missing someone deeply has a way of making your bones ache. For a few weeks just about the only thing that would soothe that ache was a bath. So, I like baths more now than I did in March.

I made this cake in honour of that time. A rich chocolate cake – brilliant, restless, playful. And every now and then, sassy. 


For the Cake Layers

Note On Layers – This makes for two very thick layers of chocolate cake.

  • 200g Dark Chocolate
  • 100g Cocoa Powder
  • 200g Boiling Water
  • 400g Sugar
  • 300g Salted Butter, Softened
  • 4 Medium Eggs
  • 200g Plain Yoghurt
  • 300g Plain Flour
  • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

For the Buttercream

Note on Buttercream – This recipe makes A LOT of buttercream, for a thick covering all over the cake and extra to put in a piping bag and play around with decoration. If you aren’t feeling as excessive as I was while working on this recipe, half the quantities for the buttercream will give you just enough to sandwich the layers and cover the cake. The buttercream can be made up to a week in advance of icing the cake if kept covered in the fridge. Just make sure to bring it to room temp and give it a really good mix before using.

  • 80g Dark Chocolate
  • 20g Golden Syrup
  • 350g Butter, Softened
  • 550g Icing Sugar
  • 170g Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 5 Tbs Milk


Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Grease and line two 7 inch / 18cm round cake tins.

Start with the cake. Chop up the dark chocolate roughly and add it to a bowl you can cover. To this bowl add the cocoa powder and the boiling water then cover with a lid ( I used a plate) and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until fluffed up slightly. Add one egg at a time, beating into the butter mixture until fully combined before adding the next.

Remove the lid from the cocoa powder and chocolate which should now be melted and stir to form a thick paste. Mix this paste into the butter mixture, quickly followed by the yoghurt and the flour and bicarbonate of soda. Give everything a good mix to combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the two tins and bake for about 35 – 45 mins or until a kinfe inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. The top will be cracked that’s exactly how it should be. Allow the cakes to cool while making the buttercream.

For the Buttercream, chop up the dark chocolate and melt together with the golden syrup on a low heat over an bain marie (This is a bowl resting over a saucepan that is filled with a small amount of water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water in the saucepan).

While the chocolate melts, beat together the butter and icing sugar for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Now add in the cocoa powder, the vanilla extract, the melted chocolate mixture and half the milk. Don’t worry here if the chocolate mixture has split a bit or is very firm, it will still whip into the buttercream with no problem. Beat the mutter cream for a further 2 mins, adding the rest of the milk if you want a slightly slacker consistency.

To assemble the cake, make sure the layers are cool. You may want to trim off the cracked tops but it’s not necessary. Place one cake on a serving plate and spread the top with an even layer of buttercream. Flip the second cake over so the base of the cake is towards the ceiling and place ontop of the partly iced cake. Cover the top and sides of the whole cake with a thick layer of buttercream and it is ready to go (eat).

The cake will keep covered well at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Caitlin x

Upsidedown Blueberry Banana Cake


Hey Joe

I made this cake for international women’s day. And because last week there were a lot of blueberries and bananas in the kitchen. Mum had bought them at the market. It made me think of the addition of blueberries she puts in her banana bread.

I’m stuck trying to write about the ways this cake can be representative of a woman’s qualities or a woman’s greatness. And that isn’t because I can’t tell you why women are great and why this cake is great.

On Wednesday this week I spent a day at a friend’s house whose just had a baby. The first of my friends to give birth. Her husband works in London 3 days a week, so I visited on one of these days. I applied for jobs while she looked after her new baby. That’s not to say she was in need of the company or needed help to keep her baby looked after. But it was nice to be able to be with her in this moment of her life and to eat soup with her at lunch time and laugh with the baby transfixed at the image of himself in the mirror. Watching my friend work on this day obliterated the ‘full-time’ classification of the jobs I was looking for in my job search.

After we had soup and drank orange squash she asked if I could take him so she could go to the toilet. The second she was out of sight, he started to cry. Loudly. I rocked him, and thought it was a fair reaction considering I wasn’t his mum. Slightly alarmed but trying not to be, I called to her that it was all fine, to stay in the toilet and spoke to him – that it was all fine, his mum would be back from the toilet very soon. She came back in a second still doing up the buttons of her trousers as I passed him over to her. When I went to the bathroom later that day, the tap was on. I switched it off and understood a little bit more about motherhood.

The trick of this cake is getting a good caramelisation on the bananas, so they become a little browned and crisped, without really overbaking the cake. It’s a balancing act this one, but worth baking slightly over what you would normally want to let it bake for. Served still warm from the oven this is a winner, melty and fruity. It’s a great cake to have around and doesn’t seem to last long. The cake base is loosely, very loosely, adapted from a Nigella recipe.


  • 2 bananas
  • 250g blueberries
  • 240g plain flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 210g sugar + extra to coat bananas
  • 210g yoghurt – one with a high fat content such as a greek style natural yohurt
  • 125g melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon / 15g veg or oilve oil.
  • splash of vanilla and lemon zest optional


Pre heat the oven to 190 / 170 fan. Grease a 22cm round tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Halve the bananas lengthwise coat the sliced side generously with sugar. Lay the bananas sugar side down on the base of the cake tin. Pour over the blueberries.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Set aside. In a jug or bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients working quickly and making sure the melted butter is cooled slightly to avoid the mixture going lumpy (don’t worry if it does, the cake will be fine). Combine the wet with the dry, trying not to over mix. Pour in the tin and bake for 55 – 1 hour 15 mins or until the cake is dark golden brown and a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool in the tin for 15 mins before carefully unmoulding.   

Caitlin xx

Ginger Marmalade Cake – Test Kitchen No. 3


Dear Joe,

24th December

I went to the Christmas service at Christ church this morning with mum. We were late, throwing keys at our bike locks and taking off our coats as the bells were ringing. I’m not a church goer but the Christmas services at Christ church is a special thing worth going to. I’m not too fussed about the praying. But I like the outfits the priest wears, and hearing the choir sing and that everyone comes together in one place. The sheer volume of people that gather to be together for one moment makes me smile to my core.

I was struck by how religious the sermon was this year. It’s normally not as God heavy, with less focus on sin and Jesus as a saviour. It’s been more – applicable to everyday life, to politics and social issues. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the priest was speaking of Jesus and God with such conviction, he is a priest after all. I still didn’t understand it. That another person can believe so wholeheartedly in something that I just can’t believe. But I am aware that I might be the one that’s wrong. The priest might have it all sussed. And I would still choose to hear his sermon even if I knew beforehand the contents of it.

I told you these exact thoughts and you were much less confused by the difference in belief. Said it was a nice way to live, a comforting way to live. To believe in something collectively. To have something to gather for.

26th December

After a 13 hour sleep, I came down stairs to find a small green bit of paper on the dining room table. I made out mums writing and read ‘Hi Guys, I’m going for a sauna now (12.20), maybe we can go for a walk together later xx Mum’. We went on the walk later that day, and went to the boxing day sales, and a book shop, got you a hot chocolate, me and mum a coffee.

27th December

I’m still dripping from the shower as I write this, but these thoughts have occupied my whole morning, shower included. If not explicitly religious, in the sense of worship, it seems we too took part in our own spiritual ceremony. Our ceremony was more, boxing day sales, bookshops, parks and lack of coffee fuelled tantrums. No incense, church windows, hymns in chorus and Amen, as nice as that sounds. But it was still a ceremony, no less reflective, no less moments peace, no less joyful. We gathered and found each other and our places within our three as the thing to believe in.

This is Paddington Bears’ cake, and it brings a smile behind my eyes. A thick slice of white bread, generously buttered and spread with marmalade in cake form. It’s buttery dense and slightly chewy, the ginger is there because I couldn’t get the flavour combo of marmalade and ginger out my head. Safe to say it works in delicious ways. Based on a madeira cake, this one keeps well, travels well, and wants to be eaten with hands. The icing on top is pure joy, where there is a lemon water icing, there is joy lol.  

Test Kitchen Note – It was suggested to me by one I trust that it could go well with a syrup, not to make this a drizzle cake, but just to give it a bit of moisture. I love a bread like cake, and I think the chewy, buttery-ness of this loaf should be celebrated, but, if you like your cakes more on the fluffy, moist side, give it a soak – try 2 table spoons of juice from an orange, a table spoon of boiling water and 40g caster sugar, mixed together. Or even better, replace the orange juice with ginger syrup.


For the Cake

  • 200g self raising flour
  • large pinch of salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 50g crystalised ginger
  • Zest of one medium orange
  • 175g unsalted butter – softened
  • 210g caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs – aprox 165g in shells
  • 60g thick cut marmalade
  • 1 tbs milk

For the Icing

  • 100g Icing sugar – sifted
  • 1 heaped tsp marmalade
  • 1 tbs + 1 tsp lemon juice


Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin.

In a small bowl measure out the flour, salt and ground ginger. Finely chop the crysalised ginger and add this to the flour mixture. Set aside. Zest the orange and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and a 1/3 of the sugar at a time, each time beat until just incorporated. Don’t you don’t want too much air in the cake, so don’t beat the mix beyond getting the sugar incorporated. Now beat in one egg at a time, making sure the egg has been incorporated fully before adding the next. The mixture may curdle at this stage, it’s all good.

Beat the orange zest and marmalade through the batter. Add the flour mixture and milk to the bowl, beat to combine. Pour the batter into the tin in bake for 70 – 75 mins or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning it out onto the counter to cool completely.

Mix all the icing ingreaidnets in a small bowl and pour over the cooled cake. The cake will keep for up to 5 days, covered very well or in a air tight container at room temperature.

Caitlin x

Banana Butter Crumble Cake


Ello there Joe

Your message read ‘I’m gunna do a self-care day. Cucumber on the eyes. Face packs. That kind of thing. Any tips?’ As well as ‘put cucumber on your eyes – or anyother watery, green and helthy looking veg, such as celery, or lettuce’ and ‘listen to the late night jazz playlist on Spotify’ and ‘moisturise’ I strongly believe that the planning of a successful SCD (self-care day) is sometimes just as therapeutic as the act of the SCD itself. For example, I’ve been thinking about doing yoga for the past 3 days, so much so that I feel like I’ve already done it, which is really great, becauase the time I would have spent doing yoga, I’m using to write to you. And you already started planning your SCD a couple days before you wanted to have it, so you were already winning when you sent me that message.

In preparation for this letter, I asked Coco if he had any tips for your successful SCD. Giving someone tips for such a sacred thing as an SCD is quite the undertaking, which Cokes expressed with an ‘uummmm…’ – clearly he wanted your SCD to be just right, didn’t want to set you off on the wrong path. So, I asked him to describe what self care was.

12 hours of sleep passed and Coco sent me a message, ‘self-care is losing track of time.’

With Coco’s definition, I’m an expert a self-care. A bloody professor of self-care even. I lose track of time all the time. Particularly when I’m asleep. I woke up to that message having lost track of time whilst asleep, to quite the extreme. All sounding alarms in the world wouldn’t wake me.

It is true that I was, albeit unwillingly and sharply (definitely not how you should commence your SDC) shunted into (you should go for an ‘ease into’) my SCD. On this day, I decided I would carry on loosing track of time. Maybe you could do the same for a little bit, see where you go.

Now, if I was going to bake an SCD into a cake – it would be a banana cake. Specifically this banana cake, this Banana Butter Crumble Cake. It’s got self-care written all over it. So do bananas, everyone knows bananas are healthy, a perfect snack for a SCD. And their sweetness when they are a bit old and brown affords them a comforting presence, because bananas are one of those fruits that really does have presence, and a great addition to any fruit bowl because of that, on a SCD or not.

So here is a banana cake, a great, buttery one. The name may be misleading, there’s no butter in the cake batter, olive oil takes its place giving a soft and dense crumb, but the butter is a crucial component to the crumble topping. A high proportion of butter to flour and sugar in this crumble mixture, creates a heaver, thicker biscuity topping that sinks a little into the cake as it bakes. Once cooled and sliced little pockets of butter soaked banana cake can be found near the cakes surface under lumps of crumble and flecks of brown sugar. And every now and then, you strike gold, hitting on a lump of crumble sunk into the cake and baked within the batter. Self-care cake. Like the banana cake is giving these lil crumble clusters a big old hug. haha.


For the Crumble Topping

  • 65g butter – very cold from the fridge and cubed
  • 75g plain flour
  • 45g caster sugar
  • Large pinch salt

For the Cake

  • 200g ripe banana / about 2 medium bananas – mashed
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 20g soft light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 110g olive oil
  • Scant tablespoon milk
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder


Start with the crumble topping. In a bowl rub the butter into the flour, sugar and salt using your fingertips to make a breadcrumb texture. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge or freezer while you make the cake.

Pre heat the oven to 185 / 165 fan. Grease and line with parchment paper a 7 inch / 18 cm round cake tin.

In a large bowl whisk together the mashed banana, sugars, salt, eggs, oil and milk until thoroughly combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir in until only just combined. Pour into the cake tin, top with the crumble mixture and bake for about 70 – 80 mins or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the cake comes out with some moist crumbs. Long bake, I know, don’t worry, it’s all that crumble and banana.

Lee Dixon, Big Lee, ‘Just keep playin’ (spoken in a soft Mancunian accent). Hahahah

Caitlin xx

Honey Cake with Custard Cream


Yo Joe

A nostalgic one this week.

Tiger told me about a honey cake the canteen of her secondary school used to offer up. The area she went to school in had a big Jewish community, which in turn influenced the food served in the cafes and canteens about the area. Honey Cake was one of the traditional Jewish foods Tiger had particular memories about. The cake is eaten on Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year but it sounded like Tigers school celebrated with honey cake most days.

The way Tiger described the cake to me, it’s taste and texture was with an attention to detail particular to the way people describe food from their past. It’s a special fondness I’ve notice, food nostalgia. That food is a common topic of reminiscing, makes sense to me, the immediacy of taste, smell or touch, brings the past a bit closer to now.

You’ll probs notice the very very stark lighting changes in these pics. Not an artistic choice. I had a 13 min window of light between sunrise and me having to get on my bike to work. Funny though, the changing light works pretty well with this weeks letter.

Last night me and Emma had ‘Soy Glazed Things Are Different Salmon’ for dinner. Things do feel very different. Everyone around me is becoming an adult very quickly, not a bad thing, but, and I tread carefully now so as not to read like the diary of a mid-20s graduate, (which this is hahaha) bloody nora it’s all change.

It was because of Tigers fondness towards the honey cake, probably bound up with a fondness towards her memories of pre university years, that I set about working on a recipe. He’s where I’ve ended up. A beautifully soft syrupy tasting cake paired with a custard cream, custard seeming a suitably nostalgic taste. I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find someone without a fond memory that features custard. If you find that person, please send them my way, I’ll whisk them up a custard that’ll blow their socks off haha. Honestly the cake is worth making for the cream alone, me and Emma call it ‘crack cream’. That good.

Note on Finishing The Cake – This is a sweet cake, I’ve warned you. Saying that, it’s level of sweetness is matched in lightness. Light like a cloud, this cake. If you want a bit of tang with your sweet, a bit more complexity in taste, make up the plum compote from last weeks Plum Syrup Cake Pudding, and add it on top of the custard cream between each cake layer. Make double the recipe of the compote and you’ll have enough to fill each layer of this cake.


For the Cake

  • 150g honey
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120g water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 150g sugar
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

For the Custard Cream

  • 250g full fat milk
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 30g cornflour
  • 50g egg yolks – about 3 large egg yolks
  • 25g unsalted butter – softened
  • 280g double cream
  • Salt to taste – start with half a teaspoon


Preheat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Grease and line two 18 cm/ 7 inch round cake tins.

Melt the honey and butter together in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the hob. Set aside to cool slightly. In another small bowl or jug combine the vanilla, water and eggs, set this aside.

Add the sugar, flour, baking powder and bicarb in a large bowl, whisk to get rid of any lumps. Pour in the egg mixture followed by the melted butter and cream. Whisk everything to a smooth liquid batter, your only whisking to combine, don’t beat it, you’ll get a pancake not a cake. Divide the batter evenly between the two tins. Bake for 40 – 45 mins or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing.

For the custard cream, you’re making a very firm set creme patissiere and then folding through whipped cream. Start with the creme pat. Add the milk, half the sugar (25g) and the vanilla extract to a small, heavy bottom saucepan, stir to combine and heat on medium heat.

While this is heating, add the remaining sugar, corn flour and egg yolks to a bowl, whisk that together. Place this bowl on top of a tea towel set on your work surface.

When the milk is just about to boil (steaming and bubbling at the sides) take it off the heat and, with one hand pour slowly into the egg yolk mixture, as you pour the hot milk whisk the yolks continuously with the other hand, this will stop the eggs from scrambling with the heat.

Once all the milk has been incorporated into the egg yolks, pour the liquid back into the saucepan. You’re now going to cook off the cornflour and thicken the cream. Set the heat on medium and whisk vigorously until it starts to thicken. This needs to be quite firm, so once the cream is very thick you want to keep whisking fast for about another minuet. Take off the heat, add the butter in small pieces into the saucepan and stir through the cream until fully incorporated. Get it into a clean bowl and covered with cling film making sure the cling film is touching the surface of the cream to prevent a skin forming, place the bowl in the fridge to cool completely.

For the assembly, cut the domes off the cakes and slice each levelled cake into 2 layers. Using the back of a metal spoon or a spatula, work the creme pat back and forth to loosen it so it can be folded through the whipped cream easily. Whip the double cream to stiff peaks and fold through the creme pat, add salt to taste. Pick the two most sturdy looking layers of cake, one will be the top, the other will be the base. Put the base layer on your serving plate or cake stand and spread over an even layer of the custard cream, leaving a little rim of un-creamed cake around the outer edge, place the next layer on top. Repeat for each cake layer, finally smoothing the remaining cream on top of the cake. Allow to chill for an hour before slicing to give it all a chance to set (that’s if you care about getting a very neat slice of cake, that’s what I wanted this time, but you could equally go at it with a knife straight away).

Have a good Sunday Joe, and Happy Birthday Mum for tomorrow boiii !! We love you to space and back. Caitlin X

Sticky Toffee Cake with Toffee Icing – Test Kitchen No.2


Hi Joe

This cake is for Emma.


I want to write to you about the icing. Tricky. Because, as I sit down to write this, I realise I left the recipe for the icing in a storage cupboard at my old flat. I moved out yesterday. The whole process was very simple, carried out with the kind of detached mind needed when packing up and filling bags and boxes with one years’ worth of living, ready to move the contents to another location, to unpack the old way of living, and do it again. Maybe I’ll do it differently this time.

There’s something poetic that could be written about leaving this crucial recipe for toffee icing tucked away in a notebook in the cupboard of a flat I spent my last year at university in, but, life moves on in a way that often leaves little space for poetic reflection. Thank God haha. I’m now planning when I can get on my bike to retrieve the recipe.

To understand why I want to write to you about this icing, at this time, it needs a proper description.

Hot toffee is poured over the cake still sitting in the tin, which sets firm and sticky. You might forget there’s any cake beneath the layer of glassy toffee, until you unveil the cake out the tin. As you peel the baking paper collar off the cake, the icing catches and holds on, with an almost elastic quality, before giving up, and falling over the cakes edge. It’s the most beautiful kind of giving up I’ve ever seen.

The toffee falls slow and graceful, with an understated purpose of direction. Magic. The thick layer of icing that was held in place by the cake tin has set enough so that when it’s unveiled, it bunches, slowly, slowly, slowly at the edges of the cakes top, until it just keeps falling, down the sides and sinking into the cakes body.

At first a little burst of excitement, (yeahhh… haha), peeling off the paper flood gates holding the slow-moving avalanche of toffee icing. And then, a wave of comfort as you watch the icing relax into the cake. What’s incredible about this transformation, is that like most transformations, you only notice it once it’s happened. The toffee moves too slowly, or maybe your too wrapped up in its shiny beauty to notice the change.

In every way, this cakes rhythm, the way it transforms, echoes the rhythm me and Emma have when we’re together and captures how our friendship has grown. A burst of hold-your-breath, lift-your-fists-in-the-air-like-you-do-not-care and scream out with excitement, followed by a slow, barely noticeable, sinking into the reassurance of a slow pace and a hug.

Enjoy the cake Joe!

Note on the Test Kitchen – This recipe hasn’t been developed or tested multiple times. So do with the recipe what you want. You can follow it exactly, and you’ll get a delicious cake. Or you can play around with it, and make your own delicious cake.

My Notes – The cake could do with a shorter bake, so would do well in a slightly bigger tin. I’d try subbing the water with milk, next time too, to give it a bit more dairy-ness (haha, you’ll see what I mean if you give the cake a go). I love the icing, but it’s not for everyone, it really is like toffee, I reckon adding 150g icing sugar would make it more of a buttercream consistency.


For the Cake

  • 200g dates – chopped
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 85g butter – softened
  • 80g dark brown sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 185g self raising flour

For the Icing

  • 60g butter
  • 60g granulated sugar
  • 150g condensed milk


Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan. Grease and line with greaseproof paper an 18cm (7 inch) round cake tin.

In a bowl or jug combined the chopped dates, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda. Give everything a mix and set aside. In another bowl cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture has fluffed up around the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding in a tablespoon of the flour with each egg addition.

Now add the rest of the flour, the salt and dates/water to the butter sugar mixture. Stir to combine, pour into the prepared tin and bake for 65 – 75 mins, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow the cake to cool in the tin.

Once the cake has cooled, make the icing. Add all ingredients into a heavy bottom saucepan, and heat on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the sauce simmer until it’s a rich golden colour – 4 mins, or when a little dropped into a glass of cold water forms a soft ball/blob. Remove from the heat and whisk until it just begins to thicken. Pour over the cake still in its tin and let it set in the fridge.

When the icing feels firm, remove the cake from the tin. The icing will fall slowly down the sides and into the cake. The cake is good for up to 5 days in an airtight container at room temp.

Caitlin x

Cognac Prune Cake and Perfect Pastry – Test Kitchen No. 1


Hi Joe,

There are two things on my mind as I start writing this.

It’s beginning to feel like autumn in Glasgow, the air is smelling cold and I like it. Mum said she always feels a sense of new beginning in these times. Maybe because she spent most of her life in a job that starts again every September. My September isn’t a fresh start how I’m used to, there are no more classes to go to. Sick. Haha. Still, the cold mud smell of autumn has coated Glasgow’s floor with a fresh autumn carpet. It’s quite nice, soft on the feet and sparking a desire for comfort in the evenings, nutty tasting things and bedside lamps switched on.

I love bedside lamps for their glow. I love how they instantly create a pocket of light you can dip in and out of.

The other thing I have on my mind is how I can make these letters to you feel less like they need to be perfect.

Sometimes perfect is absolutely perfect. Very necessary, even. Like, if you are sharing a recipe for a cake with a lot of people. These times ‘perfect’ is a measure of precision. Sometimes though, perfection is something you are seeking, and it’s less about accuracy. These times ‘perfect’ is a measure of satisfaction. Most often, this is a search for the most above average level of satisfaction I know to exist.

So one finger up to that kind of perfect, here’s a new kind of post. I made this cake once, from the memory of drinking cognac at night, in candle light, the rustic kind of bedside light, with a feeling of new beginnings and a sweet, nutty taste on my tongue.

Note on the Test Kitchen – I love this cake, it’s a cake that wants teeth to sink into it, but the recipe hasn’t been developed or tested multiple times. So do with the recipe what you want. You can follow it exactly, and you’ll get a delicious cake. Or you can play around with it, and make your own delicious cake.

My Notes – The pastry is the way I want it, maybe my new go to pastry, I wouldn’t change a thing. The fruit needs more cognac if this is to be called a cognac cake and the frangipane needs to be spread thinner – use a larger tin. This will likely reduce the baking time. This cake should be eaten at least once warmed up with cream and does not keep well longer than 3 days.


For the Pastry

  • 90g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 175g plain flour
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon cold water

For the Cake Filling

  • 190g dried prunes and figs
  • 50g cognac
  • 150g butter, softened
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • salt and lemon zest to taste
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 165g ground almonds
  • 80g plain flour


In a large bowl rub the butter through the flour sugar and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and cold water. Use a knife to begin clumping the mixture together, finishing off with your hands until you have a ball of pastry. Shape into a disk and put in the freezer for 15 mins.

Pre heat the oven to 180/160 fan. Grease an 8inch round cake tin, if you use a tart case make sure it is a deep one. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin. Use a dinner plate bigger than the tin to trace a circle out the pastry. Line this into the greased tin, the pastry will come up the sides of the tin a little.

Blind bake the pastry case for 15 minutes. To do this, cover the pastry with greaseproof paper, then pour baking beans, rice or lentils over the paper to weigh everything down. After 15 mins, remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans/rice or lentils and bake for another 5 mins. Remove from the oven but keep the oven on.

Roughly chop the dried fruit and put in a small saucepan with the cognac. Bring to a simmer then turn the heat off, cover, and allow to infuse while you make the frangipane. (Possibly the two most autumnal sentences I have ever written).

In a large bowl cream the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt and lemon zest until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, ground almonds and flour in one and mix until just combined. Tip in the cognac and fruit and mix through the frangipane before scraping into the pastry lined tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs.

Speak soon, Poe. Caitlin x

‘Old House’, Cranberry Orange and Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream



Yo Joe

We were out to dinner, talking about these letters.

‘I love them’, you said. I felt a pin point pressure in my chest slightly up from my heart, to the top of my breastbone. It rounded out into a ball of fizzy yellowy warmth. The ball stayed there for a few minutes more, until the food arrived and my attention got taken by pasta sauce.

It was the quickest moment that fit into a conversation we had about writing, reading and the odd observation of how much bread we’d managed to eat since sitting down.

In that conversation you told me to read Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, a collection of short essays that weave details of Solnit’s life into broader thoughts on the world. Since reading this book, it got me thinking about why I write to you about cake.

The opening essay is about trees. It talks about how they stand as symbols of continuity and how George Orwell believes in planting trees as an act of contribution to posterity. That planting a single plum tree might promise sustenance to future generations is a great thought to hold close to your heart.

There are trees that have lived for hundreds of years, they are part of a history that we weren’t even alive to see. And their roots, like you said, are connected underground across the world in a web that supports the soil we stand on. A hive of past wisdom that’s buried underground. There’s something grand, slow and peaceful about this, in the same way that a grandmother, or whale, or old house is.

Reading Solnits essay, it struck me that the reason I love cake, was because it stands as the exact opposite of the tree. The cake is not wise. And cake is also not peaceful. I’m not talking here about the act of making a cake, but of presenting and eating one. A beautiful, quick, excited example of an effort to make moments of joy. And the consumption, a brilliant and messy confirmation of the closure of celebration. Finishing the cake signals these moments will come again, like little erruptions of excitement in an individual’s lifespan. The cake isn’t wise like the tree because it’s eaten too quickly to gain any life expereince.

Solnit writes about her love of the steadfastness of trees, in the same manner of fondness I write about cake to you. She intersects her essay about trees with glimpses into her personal life. She seeks to find pockets of space where her own intimate experiences of daily life might fit into the wider world, the trees world. I find this to be infinitely comforting. Writing to you about the cake I bake skates close to Orwell’s idea in planting a tree as an act of contribution to future life. As I said, the cake has no wisdom itself, but the accumulation of the cakes I bake, the moments they signal in our life and the capturing of them in these letters I see as planting and tending to a tree that will grow on after us.

Soltin’s last line in the essay goes like this ‘…where (do) pleasure and beauty and hours with no quantifiable practical result fit into the life of someone, perhaps of anyone, who also cared about justice and truth and human rights and how to change the world.’

I write about beautiful cake to capture hours of pleasure passed. Keeping a record of them feels important. Like a way to change my small world, and maybe to add something to yours too, to give us some perspective, some past wisdom we can call on at a later date.

I’ve written this to you in a cafe in Naples where I’m waiting to get an overnight train to Zürich. I feel I should be more excited than I am, in reality I feel quite scared and like I want to jump back to London on the plane with you – I’m kicking myself for deciding to get this train. What I’m actually saying is, I’m kicking myself for a desicion that I have made – it could have been any decision. I would have doubted it and myself all the same. Writing this, I realise it is these moments where my writing offers real solice and perspective, like the steadfastness of a tree. Since I started writing this an hour and a half ago, I’ve felt refueled by cakes, trees and writing. Reasurance from letters of cakes past, each marking one moment of celebration or consolation, these letters very existance is evidence enough for me that more of these moments will come.


I’ve since come back to Oxford from Zürich and a long trip around Italy. It was amazing. And the overnight train that kicked off this adventure, I would do again in a heartbeat. This cake is for Cokes, who I got the overnight train to Zürich to meet, and who is sitting on the sofa next to me in Oxford as I write this. It’s his spirit cake, both joyous and wise, where a play between the excitement of a celebration cake and a depth of flavour brings each slice alive. It’s a really brilliant cake, you should make it.

Note On Berries – I first made this cake in December, for Coco’s birthday, so fresh cranberries were easy to find. Sour cherries are a great alternative for this time of year, that’s the fruit I used for these picturse. You can also use any frozen berries of your choice, just make sure to reduce the oil to 5 ml.

Note On Tins – this is a forgiving cake that is difficult to overbake and works well in a slightly larger or smaller tin that I have written in the method, just be sure to adjust the baking time.


For The Cake

  • 45g plain natural yoghurt or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 75g plain flour
  • 135g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g caster sugar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Zest of one orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons / 6g baking powder
  • 10ml / 2 teaspoons vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 120g fresh cranberries or sour cherries

For the Topping

  • 40g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 50g caster sugar
  • A small handful of flaked almonds (optional)

For The Vanilla Mascarpone Cream – you may have extra

  • 90g mascarpone, room temperature
  • 60g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 70g double cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 30g icing sugar


Preheat oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line 2 7inch / 18cm round cake tins.

In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients for the topping to form a paste. Set aside.

Combine the yoghurt and lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine the ground almonds and plain flour in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, lemon and orange zest, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one after another adding a heaped tablespoon of the flour and almonds mixture with each egg addition – this will stop the mixture from curdling too much. Add in the oil and beat to combine. Now add the rest of the flour and almonds, baking powder and yoghurt mixture in one go, mix until just combined. Fold the cranberries or other berries through the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between each cake tin. Top one tin with small lumps of the topping paste, making sure it is evenly distributed.

Bake for 35 – 40 mins or until golden brown and a knife inserted into the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs. Allow to cool.

Whist together all the ingredients for the vanilla mascarpone cream until it reaches soft peaks. When the cake is cooled, sandwich the two halves with the mascarpone cream.

Once filled, the cake will keep for 3 days in an airtight container. Past one day, keep the cake in the fridge, this is due to the cream filling.

To cakes, trees and writing. Caitlin x

Sugared Green Apple Thyme Cake


Yo Joe

I’ve been thinking of this scene from the Matrix for the last two weeks. I’ve dreamt about it, thought about it in the shower, eating dinner, running. Had a lot of conversations about it too. With Emma having a coffee, Coco in a sauna and Máté on a park bench. The scene is lodged in my head.

Imagine it for a second. No longer than a second though, mum told me this was the film that gave you 5 years of nightmares when we were kids. So, for a second only, think of the bit where the main man with the sunglasses is on a roof, dodging bullets. Who, or what, is firing the bullets – your guess is as good as any, but they’re coming from every angle. Main Matrix man’s reflexes, and the bullets, are moving at lightning speed, in deep, breathy slow motion.

Someone ran out of bullets. Only one thing for it… to lob their afternoon snack at main Matrix man. The crunchiest, juiciest, just-plucked-from-the-tree, green apple. Cutting through the air, the green globe is spinning slowly on its axis headed to hit our main man dead centre in the forehead. He knows it. I know it. You know it. The apple, poor sod, doesn’t know it. The apple is just catapulting through the air, fast in a direction that it’s unsure of only so far as it hasn’t chosen it. But holy moly, this tasty morsel is moving with impressive conviction.

Time is slowed to an 8th of its normal pace; a thicker wave of bullets now, like a fleet of mini submarines (llolll what an effective use of a simile). But Matrix man is fixated on the green apple globe about to bonk him. A bullet impact would be far more painful, but nothing comes close to the fixation, fear and… bewilderment at something as out of place as a green apple flying through a battle field. With a sharp backwards back bend and a chin tuck, Matrix man dodges, only just clearing a path for the apple to drive through.

That’s where it ends, the scene that’s been playing in my head. I never see what happens to the apple. I only see its impressive globe greenness, and its shininess, and the sheer speed of it hurtling through the air in slow motion. The apple might be a bit baffled by the speed of the situation, only, its rapid movement forward doesn’t allow for it. The only way I can comprehend the apple’s feeling is the way the scene is distilled, neatly, but disorientingly, in mega pixel slow motion (lol what’s that?).

I have to confess, I’ve never watched the Matrix. And I’ve come to find, that scene doesn’t exist. I realise it would’ve been impressive to have a memory of a scene in mind from a film I’d never watched, but I was pretty convinced. Ever since I handed in my dissertation and finished my degree, there popped up that green apple Matrix scene. I’ve been describing it to everyone. Emma told me it made her think of Magritte’s The Son Of Man and it got me and Máté googling ‘what does you are the apple of my eye mean?’

When I realise half way through narrating this scene that the listener has watched the Matrix, I cut to the chase, tell them that I feel like that green apple. A bit lost in air and space, no ground at my feet, moving slow, a bit adrift, but hurtling so surly in a direction that I can’t comprehend, through a world that’s too quick for its own good.

Thyme gives this cake a lemony savoriness that’s initially surprising, and then addictive. It creeps up on you, and then demands to be craved. Cream cheese gives a crumb that’s soft and buttery, that holds integrity. Sugared chunks of green apple add layers of sweet and sour in equal measure that sing a lil bit when hit against the thymey cakey base(y – haha). Like I said, arresting, and then, it melts together in comforting, thrilling ways.

A Note On Thyme. You need fresh thyme leaves for this cake, so you’ll need to hand pluck them from the stalks. Yup, it takes time, but it makes a good thing in the end. I’m heavy handed with my spices and herbs, I’m not one for their subtle use. If you prefer a less punchy herb or spice experience, go for 1 and a half teaspoons.    


  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, amount to taste
  • 160g green apple, aprox. 2 small apples peeled cored and cubed
  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • 170g caster sugar, plus a tablespoon extra to finish the cake before the oven
  • Zest of an orange
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 130g plain flour
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder


Pre heat the oven to 180 / 160 fan oven. Grease and line a 22cm / 8inch round cake tin.

Peel, core and cube the apples. Don’t worry too much about getting exactly 160g. Just keep in mind, if you go a lot over that weight, the cake will take longer to bake, resulting in a tough cake texture. Strip the thyme leaves off the stalks and give the leaves a rough chop. Set both aside while you make the cake batter.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest until fluffed up, about 1 min. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until fully incorporated between each addition.

To the bowl, add the thyme leaves, cream cheese, flour, ground almonds and baking powder. Give everything a gentle mix until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix the batter. You should end up with a soft but thick-ish batter. Smooth it out into the cake tin, scatter over the cubed apple and the tablespoon of sugar.

Bake for 50-55 mins, until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean but with a few moist crumbs still attached. The cake will keep covered for 4 days, but this one is best eaten on the day or the day after.

Till next thyme, Caitlin x

Vegan Spiced Carrot Cake


Hello there Joe

This loaf has a crunchy sugar crust and a kinda caramel vibe to its soft inside, in its sweet stickiness. It’s the kind of stickiness that makes you want to eat one thick slice of this cake after another… and another, and then another. And then, it’s gone! Hmm. Oops. I really had no idea that a vegan cake could taste so good. A while ago, Beulah had sent me a photo of a carrot cake recipe scribbled on a notebook page that she had been given by a friend. I wanted to make her a surprise carrot cake using this recipe. I was asking her if she liked raisins in her carrot cake, before I chucked them in. Didn’t want her to be eating the surprise carrot cake, smiling but feeling sad that there were unwelcome raisins in her cake. The conversation went like this:

Caitlin: If you had a hypothetical carrot cake would you want it with or without raisins?

Beulah: I am an unhypothetical vegan. But I love raisins!

I worked on the un-vegan (non-vegan?) carrot cake recipe she sent me. What I ended up with was a beautiful beautifl lil vegan carrot cake that I’d take any day over one with eggs and butter.


  • 175g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 100g water
  • 100g vegetable oil
  • 50g golden syrup
  • 50g black treacle
  • 60g chopped walnuts – any nuts are good
  • 375g grated carrot – yes, 3 7 5 g
  • 60g raisins
  • 40g demerara sugar – to sprinkle over the top

Pre heat the oven to 190 / 170 fan. Grease and line a 1kg (2lb) loaf tin.

Grate the carrots and chop the nuts. Set them aside.

Combine sugar, flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Set this aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the oil, syrup and treacle. When the first bubbles appear, remove from the heat and pour into the dry ingredients. Add the water, carrots, nuts and raisins. Mix everything together until combined.

Pour into the loaf tin. Sprinkle the top of the unbaked loaf with the demerara sugar and bake for 55 mins or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out with no wet batter on it.

Have a good carrot cake. Caitlin X