Sometimes amongst all of the serious day-to-day cooking, it’s refreshing to make something a bit more fun and lighthearted. I don’t bake nearly as much as I should. As it’s just Katie and I living in our flat, it always seems a bit silly to make a big cake or a batch of muffins that will take us days and days to get through. But every time I do I really enjoy it. There’s nothing like the smell of a cake baking in the oven, and the joy when you pull it out and see the results (most of the time anyway…). Cake also brings unlimited happiness. People are connected when giving it as a gift, and many can recall fond, vivid memories of cakes that relatives made them when they were young.
Baking is also partly responsible for my passion for food being the way it is today. Years ago I was an intern for a food charity in Brighton, and every Wednesday, a different member of staff had to bring in a cake. This started as something lighthearted and simple, but as the weeks went by the standard of the cakes rose staggeringly. Simple scones and sponges turned to juice soaked almond cakes and multi-layered tarts. This stoked a fire inside of me, and for the first time I strived to find recipes and use techniques that I would never have dreamed of before. Gradually this enthusiasm transferred to the rest of my cooking, and before long I was making my parents dinner on a regular basis and gaining confidence in what I was doing. I certainly wouldn’t be the cook I am now without that progression, and I am still striving to learn more all of the time.
These cakes are easy. Really easy. There is no painstaking creaming of butter and multitude of stages. It’s simply a case of mixing the wet ingredients with sugar and then adding the dry bits. I made these the other day for Katie and they were the perfect afternoon pick me up with a nice cup of tea.
Courgette cake has been around for a few years now, but it still raises eyebrows whenever I make it. But it is just as good a vegetable for baking with as the more traditional carrots or beetroot. I used them in this recipe to celebrate the closing of the courgette season for this year. I really love courgettes. They are such a versatile vegetable; amazing stirred through pasta with brown shrimps, roasted with honey or eaten raw in thin ribbons. I was the happy recipient of many bags of courgettes from my parent’s allotment this summer, and I will be sad to have to wait until next year to have them again. They add moisture and texture when added to sponges, and contrary to old wives tales, will not make it heavy. The important thing to remember is the draining process. Courgettes contain loads of water, and you don’t want that leaking into the sponges as they cook!
Makes approx 16 mini muffins.
For the sponge:
1 tbsp salt
200g caster sugar
200ml vegetable oil
1 lemon, zest only
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g plain flour
1 pinch of salt
For the frosting:
400g icing sugar
200g cream cheese
1 tsp lemon curd
For the spiced sugar topping:
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
A little grated nutmeg
1 tsp caster sugar
Butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
Grease the mini muffin tray with butter. Cut 16 approx 3” x 3” squares out of greaseproof paper, and use these instead of muffin cases to line each slot.
Grate the courgette coarsely, then mix with the tablespoon of salt and transfer to a sieve. Allow to drain over the sink for about half an hour, then tip onto a clean tea towel and squeeze out any remaining moisture. Set aside.
To make the sponge put the caster sugar, eggs, oil and lemon zest into a large mixing bowl and whisk well together.
In a separate bowl mix the flour, raising agents and salt. Whisk this into the sugar, egg and oil mixture until well combined. Finally stir through the dried courgettes. Spoon the mixture into the lined mini muffin tray holes, filling each to about three quarters full. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the sponge is just cooked.
When baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
Make the icing by beating the cream cheese in a large bowl until softened. Thoroughly mix in the icing sugar, then add the butter and beat well until combined. To finish, stir through the lemon curd. Add a little more icing sugar at this point if the frosting is still a little sloppy.
Ice the cooled cakes in the style of your choice. I like to spoon on the icing and roughly shape with a palette knife. You could also pipe it or simply use a spoon.
Mix the sugar and spices for the topping together in a small bowl and lightly sprinkle over the top of the cakes.