The mythology of cake

When I was growing up, tea after school was my favourite meal. It’s hard to relay the awfulness of school dinners in those days and by teatime I was ravenously hungry. On the bus journey home and the long walk from the bus stop, I fantasised about what there might be to eat.

My great aunt made my tea each day and the best days involved cake. There was a particular cake she bought from the frozen food section at the supermarket – vanilla sponge with whipped cream. When she was short of time, the sponge would still be icily solid and the whipped cream coldly leathery in texture. Biting down through a frozen slice I would muffle my teeth with my lips to shield them from the nerve-jangling cold.

I have a hazy memory of a short story in which a smart hostess expresses disdain that an already-cut cake might be served at teatime. In her opinion cake had to be a complete, uncut circle of deliciously airy sponge. Once a wedge had been removed it lost its magical properties. I don’t believe in such a tyrannical approach to sponge but I do believe in the mythology of cake. It’s a euphemism for home, generosity and celebration.

Chestnut and Roasted Hazelnut Sponge With Whipped Cream and Rose Geranium Jelly

150g whole hazelnuts

180g softened butter

180g caster sugar

Half teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 eggs

125g self raising flour

125g chestnut flour – it has a beautifully sweet, slightly smoky flavour, but a short shelf life. If you can’t find it, simply double the amount of self raising flour and omit the baking powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

300ml whipping cream

Enough rose geranium jelly to spread thinly over the sponge. If you can’t get hold of rose geranium jelly, you could try a thin layer of chocolate filling perhaps, or leave it out altogether and rely on the cream

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Line two 18cm cake tins with buttered baking parchment.

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan for five minutes or so, until they turn slightly golden in colour. Once cool enough to handle, rub them between your hands to flake off most of the powdery skins. Tip the nuts into a food processor and pulse them into a crumbly-textured gravel.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Mix in the vanilla extract and then add the eggs one at a time. Tip in the ground nuts.

Sift the two flours and baking powder together into the bowl and mix until combined. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake in the oven for around 25 minutes until caramel brown on top. While they’re baking, whip the cream until it forms peaks.

Once the cake is cooked, cool it for five minutes and then remove from the tins. Once cold, spread one half with jelly, the other with cream, and sandwich together.

This cake won’t keep long because of the whipped cream filling. Much like the posh hostess who gasped at the idea of hanging on to an already-cut cake, I had to get rid of my sponge quickly. I asked my very clever friend who lives a few doors along from me if she’d like a slice. Ever resourceful, she suggested to one of her Bed and Breakfast guests that he knock on my front door. Newly arrived from Vienna he was bemused to be sent to a strange house to ask for cake. But he seemed rather touched to be presented with a paper-wrapped bundle of sponge, so I will mark that down as further proof of the glorious properties of cake. Who knows, he may go back to Vienna reporting that it’s an ancient English custom to welcome strangers with sponge. And that really wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.




  1. Looks delicious and I so look forward to making it (when I am off a no-carbohydrate regime recently started!). Have you ever made rose geranium jelly?

  2. The no-carbohydrate regime sounds very annoying but hopefully short-lived. I've never made rose geranium jelly – have you? Charlie

  3. One of your very best. Wonderful evocation of coming home from school and hoping its cake for tea. The cake itself sounds great too, although I've never heard of geranium jelly.

  4. So glad you enjoyed it jakey. Thanks very much for commenting – I really appreciate it. Rose geranium jelly tastes rather like Turkish Delight. Charlie

  5. There is nothing better then a saved slice of cake, stashed in the back of the fridge to keep your sisters from finding it, and then enjoyed with a hot cup of tea. A whole cake is a beautiful thing, but that last slice is truly heavenly. Now to find me some geranium jelly….

  6. Hi Anna Good to hear from you. So true – nothing like the final slice. Hope you strike lucky with the rose geranium jelly.Charlie

  7. Bumped into your blog, which is very entertaining. But I don't think cake can be a euphemism, at least not for lovely things like home, generosity etc. Daryn

  8. Hi DarynThanks for leaving a comment, which I always appreciate. I'm glad you've been entertained and of course you're quite right about the use of euphemism in relation to lovely things. Perhaps synonym would be better. Charlie

  9. Very annoyingly Blogger has been suffering from technical problems over the last two days, affecting users all over the world. It has wiped recent comments made by Anna and Daryn. So if you're reading this Anna and Daryn, I do apologise and do feel free to resend your much appreciated comments and I will republish them.

  10. No I haven't made Rose Geranium Jelly – yet. Last summer I did my first foray into 'alternative' jellies (other than the usual red, black, white currant ones) and made Rhubarb Jelly which was, although I say it myself, delicious, so who knows what may occur in the kitchen this summer!

  11. Hi Mitzi FritzI love the sound of rhubarb jelly – it must have been a fabulous colour. Charlie

  12. Thanks very much for your recent comment Daryn. As instructed I haven't published it in its entirety, but I'm so pleased you're 'enjoying the blog immensely'.Charlie

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