I haven’t thought much about marmalade for years, despite a fondness for Paddington himself, but I was given some for Christmas last year and have been pondering what to do with it since I don’t like oranges. Inspired by Oliver Thring’s recent piece on this traditional preserve in The Guardian I decided to try baking with it in place of using lemon.
A marmalade loving little bird told me that Nigel Slater had the ultimate recipe for marmalade cake and thanks to the power of online archives, I soon had my little hands on it. It had a simple list of ingredients and was part of an article about easy straightforward baking. What could go wrong?
Rather a lot it turns out. For such a seemingly simple recipe, it had several potential pitfalls. I notice that quite a few food writers such as Nigel Slater or Nigella assume everyone bakes using an electric mixer or food processor at all times with their baking recipes tending to be all-in-one suggestions. I prefer to bake by hand to get a feeling for my ingredients and because I find mixers overwork the gluten in the flour too easily and make tough cakes. I only use a mixer if I’m pushed for time or it sounds like the recipe can’t be done any other way.
A certain experience at both baking and following Nigel Slater recipes made me err on the side of caution and get the mixer out for this cake. I am so glad I did. This cake would actually dislocate your shoulder if you tried to make it by hand. It requires so much mixing to achieve the required fluffiness that it was actually surprisingly time consuming even with my kitchen gadgets. I’d have been there til Christmas doing it by hand. I do wish food writers would skip some of the flowery prose to give some more details about their recipe…
After whipping the butter and sugar and eggs (both individually and together) it was time to add the marmalade. The recipe only calls for 75g of the stuff which seems stingy to even me. It also makes no differentiation between fine or thick cut marmalade which seemed odd to me. Since I only had fine cut marmalade, I decided to live dangerously and make the cake a bit more citrus-y by adding some candied peel to the batter. This added a lovely jewelled aspect to it.
Everything looked delightfully light and fluffy once all the flour had been folded in, but still slightly worried that the cake would lack flavour, I added the juice of a half an orange as suggested. Instantly the previously perfect looking batter looked slightly curdled and rather watery. I wished I hadn’t bothered. Especially as the batter was now so thin it was hard to pour into the greased loaf tin without it dripping everywhere and sitting unevenly in the tin. I did my best to tidy it up and popped it into a hot oven to bake.
The recipe suggested checking it after 35 minutes with a metal skewer. When the time came I realised that I had set the oven at 190˚ instead of 180˚ as instructed, yet the cake was still liquid in the middle despite being nicely brown on top. Kicking myself for adding the extra liquid, I put it back in the oven and left it for another 20 minutes. After 55 minutes in total, it was finally cooked. I left it to cool in the tin and went off to whip up some more rosemary cookies.
When I came back to a cool cake, it then refused to come out of the tin without some rather vigorous shaking and even more vigorous swearing. It eventually slithered loose so reluctantly I’m sure I heard it sigh on the way out and plopped onto the wire rack below leaving a large chunk of the underside behind. Telling myself that once it was on a plate at the tea party no one would notice a large gap in its undercarriage, I left it at that.
I chose not to ice this cake as it would have made it too awkward and sticky to transport from Brixton to Finsbury Park, but apparently it keeps even better when anointed in the simple icing sugar topping that helps seal the moisture in. It probably looks more appealing to as the the finished article seemed a bit plain looking to me, even with the added excitement of mixed peel.
The cake travelled well and cut easily, looking light and fluffy when sliced. It smelt zesty and citrussy and surprisingly summery. I found it rather sweet though, probably due to the fact that there was extra sugar in the marmalade along with the sugar specified in the recipe. I would have preferred it to be more tart and I think the others at the tea party might as well as there seemed to be quite a lot of the cake left at the end of the day. All in all I wasn’t impressed with this seemingly ‘easy’ cake. God knows what I’m going to do with the rest of that jar of marmalade now…