From amateur cook to Christmas cake

I’ve said yes to making the pudding at my friend’s annual Christmas dinner. I am barely a month into learning even the basics of cooking and yet here I am Googling impressive cake to serve to 5.


I’ve quickly come to realize that this needs to be a people pleaser. I shouldn’t try anything too fancy (and really, with my limited skills, why would I even bother) and nothing too old-fashioned (no one under 60 is that keen on fruit cake). So it has boiled down to just one ingredient that pleases everyone: chocolate.

When I am baking for myself Mary Berry is my guardian angel – reliable, easy to make and, dare I say it, a little boring. Me in a nutshell. But when baking for other people I always pull out the Primrose Bakery book.

After deciding on their Chocolate layer cake I sent out a flurry of panicked texts to my professional cake-making friend. I begged her to let me in on the secrets of perfecting the perfect, moist cake. My Bake Off show stopper. Her secret? A ramekin filled with water, placed under the cake at the bottom of the oven. My face – 😕


It turns out that making a two layer cake is hard work – I’ve discovered I only have one cake tin. For both layers I set the ramekin of water at the bottom of the oven with a degree of skepticism. Would this actually work?


Primrose Bakery chocolate layer cake recipe:

Makes 2 20cm layers

230g good quality dark choc
170g unsalted butter, at room temp
350g light soft brown sugar
3 large eggs, separated
370g plain sifted flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarb
1/2 tsp salt
500ml semi-skimmed milk, at room temp
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract

Pre heat oven to 170c (fan),190c/375f/gas mark 5. Grease and line two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl, melt on a medium setting in 30-second bursts until completely melted, stirring well in between. Alternatively use a bowl over a saucepan, set the bowl to one side to cool.

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until its pale and smooth, which should take 3-5 mins using a electric hand mixer. Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl and beat for several mins, slowly add the egg yolks to the butter mixture and beat well. Add the choc to this mix and beat again.

Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt in a separate bowl. Combine the milk and vanilla in a jug, add one third of the flour to the creamed mix and beat well, pour in one third of the milk mix and beat again, repeating these steps until all the flour and milk has been added.

In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites, with clean beaters, until soft peaks start to form. Carefully fold in the egg whites to the batter using a metal spoon. (do not beat as this will take out all the air). Divide between tins and bake for 30mins. Insert a skewer in the middle if it comes out clean its done.


Once both layers are cooked, I decorate the top with the gaudiest Christmas cake toppings I could find and put the cake in the fridge ready for tomorrow’s party. Pray for me.


I don’t know if you can say this about your own cooking but HERE I GO: It was perfect. There, I said it. Perfect. I think I may have actually cried out in surprise. It was moist (thanks, ramekin), and thick with chocolate.

The only downside was I had polished off about 4 bottles of wine and the only photographic evidence I have of the cake is this, a photo of me and my boyfriend, cake almost out of shot.

Merry Christmas!



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The unexpected response

Learning to cook has created some problems – and not the ones you might expect.

Firstly, there is the sheer disbelief from friends and family. The responses range from utter shock to betrayal. At first the “WHO ARE U??” and “WHAT’S HAPPENING? R U TRYING TO GET YOUR BOYF TO PROPOSE TO U? LOL” text messages in response to things I had cooked were cute, even funny. But after a while I began to feel frustrated. Was it really that shocking I wanted to learn to cook? The answer appears to be a resounding yes.

Next came the betrayal. Despite being the eldest sibling, I am considered the baby of the family, a role I have routinely indulged in for as long as I can remember. But now I could see that suddenly their roles of looking after me, food wise, were about to become redundant. Explaining to them that I would always want them to slow cook me a casserole or roast a chicken fell on deaf ears. I was becoming self-efficient now, why didn’t I just cook for them now?

So then it fell on the boyfriend to humour me. Serving up food and studying his face for any reaction put him off his food. The soup I made was pushed to one side in favour of leftover fish and chips. I ate two bowls of the stuff before I almost vomited.

Which left me with just me. Having the fanfare of delighted recipients would have to wait. Searching food forums online left me frustrated. I had no complicated receipes to swap, just tales of over-cooked eggs and other such rookie errors. Would there ever be room for an adult to learn to cook this late in life? I guess I will just have to wait and see.

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How to boil an egg (again)

How difficult can it be to boil an egg? Near impossible, if the person boiling the egg is me. So I am attempting it again. Yes, again. What should be a doddle for someone ‘my age’ is apparently the most difficult thing in the culinary world that I could learn.

Delia stresses eggs shouldn’t come straight from the fridge, so this is the first thing I ignore. Great work so far. The first egg cracks as soon as I gingerly lower it into the simmering pan. To be on the safe side I stick in two more. I crack only one. Maybe I’m getting good at this.

White bubbles sprout from the two cracked eggs like the spine-y back of a dinosaur without legs. Or arms. As soon as my timer bleeps one minute I take it off the heat and stick a lid on the pan, happy not to see the deformed eggs for another 6 minutes.

When the time’s up I’m not hopeful. I remove the shell like a messy child and slice off the white almost defeated. Then I notice something – the yolk isn’t hard. The white wobbles. The yolk oozes happily down the eggcup and triumphantly meets the bread on the plate, wanting to be mopped up. Have I really managed to boil an egg? And not just one, but three? I eat it silently, stunned by my simple little creations.

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Cake for breakfast

Cake for breakfast is 100% acceptable if you have made it yourself. I like to pretend I am not ‘gorging’ but instead ‘researching’. In between mouthfuls I ask myself: is this cake too dry? Do I need another one to reach a conclusion? The answer is always yes.

Before I moved to London from Essex I baked a lot. I also went out a lot and drank a lot and was generally a lot more fun. Cakes were my get-out-of-jail card. When I broke up with my boyfriend I baked for him and carried my creation all the way up the Central Line to his house. I baked when I couldn’t afford presents. Or had pissed someone off. Or just wanted to eat something sweet.

The Primrose Bakery say their Honey and Granola cupcakes are an “all-day energy-boosting treat”, which to me is green-lighting early morning cake eating. It took me two go’s to get this right (mainly due to my own incompetence) but really it is a very simple recipe to follow.

Honey and Granola Cupcakes (from the Primrose Bakery) 
(makes 12 cupcakes)

  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 120g light brown sugar
  • 175g clear honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 220g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 65ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 65ml low-fat yogurt
  • 250g granola (pick out large nuts)

– Preheat oven to 160c (fan) / 180c / 350cF / gas mark 4.

– In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar and honey together until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each one.

– Combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl. In a jug combine the milk, vanilla extract and yogurt. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter, sugar and honey mixture. Then pour one-third of the milk combo in. Beat each time. Repeat until it has all been added.  Now fold in the granola.

– Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases. About two-thirds full. Bake for about 25 minutes.

That’s it! You can now legitimately eat cake for breakfast (^^enjoying my 3rd cake of the morning).

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The difference between light and dark (sugar)

They emerged tanned, slick with shine and as heavy as two small moon craters. What I had been expecting was 12 honey and granola cupcakes. What I got was 12 deformed Dime bars.

The blame lies with Nigel Slater. Inspired by the fridge raiding in his latest show, I too searched my kitchen looking for things to throw together. A recent pursuit to find good granola had resulted in barrels of the stuff collecting dust at the bottom of the cupboard. I rounded everything up and realised I had all the makings of honey and granola cupcakes. The receipe required light brown sugar: I only had dark brown. I threw it into the mix anyway, pausing only briefly to wonder What Would Nigel Do?

Here lied the problem. An experienced cook like Nigel would know substituting light brown sugar for dark brown sugar would create problems. Sure, they’re both sugar, they’re both brown. But they are both totally different. But hindsight is, as always, a wonderful thing.

After my moon craters emerged I googled and found my problem: dark takes longer to cook because of its high moisture content, meaning cakes take longer to cook. I pulled them apart, the insides clinging together, and poured honey over them trying to convince myself that the chewy-ness was part of its charm.

Not to be defeated by cupcakes, I tried again. This time I poured in the light brown sugar and smugly mixed it with the butter and honey. Patiently I followed the receipe and emerged with a mixture that looked weirdly like it’s meant to. I pushed the tray into the oven like an expectant mother and waited.

What emerged were 12 honey and granola cupcakes. I broke them apart and they oozed the tantalising smell of cooked sugar. But by now I was on the verge of vomiting. I had eaten too many samples. I pushed the perfect 12 (okay, 9), away and went back to what I do best: looking at the internet.

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How to boil an egg

I don’t know how to boil an egg. If there were a food-crime to be arrested for, surely this confession would have me behind bars.

Many people have tricks they have been taught, passed down by their mother from their mother. I turn to Youtube. And when Youtube can’t answer my problems (which, to be honest, it rarely does), I turn to the internet.

Delia seems like the best bet. She looks like she’s boiled a few eggs in her time. Her first instruction is to make sure eggs don’t come straight from the fridge, as they are likely to crack. Already I am panicking. All my eggs are in the fridge. God, why is this happening to me.

“First of all have a small saucepan filled with enough simmering water to cover the eggs by about 1/2 inch (1cm). Then quickly but gently lower the eggs into the water, one at a time, using a tablespoon. Now switch the timer on and give the eggs exactly 1 minute’s simmering time.”

Okay, got it. So far, so good.

On the first go I smash the egg as soon as I drop it into the pan, obviously. Then there’s the simmering of water. How do you get water to stay simmering without subjecting the eggs to a ride on the wave machine?

Next I realise I’ve read the wrong recipe. I want a soft-boiled egg, not a hard-boiled one. What next can go wrong? Oh, timing. Yes, I’ve forgot to set the timer. I count backwards. It’s been 4 minutes, right?

“Then remove the pan from the heat, put a lid on it and set the timer again. 6 minutes will produce a soft, fairly liquid yolk and a white that is just set but still quite wobbly.”

Eggs off heat, lid on. Got it.

6 minutes pass. Or maybe 7, I can’t remember. Time to see the results. I’m nervous.

On first impressions I am excited to see they have retained their egg-like shape. Setting them in two eggcups feels very professional. I’m enjoying this.

Peeling back the shell I am suddenly nervous. Then I slice the white off and peek inside. I wanted hard-boiled, right?

I eat the toast I’d made dry. There’s no runny yolk to dip it into, only the firm sunny features of a solid boiled egg. The disappointment is written all over my Henry VII eggcup. Off with my head.

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Am I a grown up yet?

I have never really cooked for pleasure – mainly because I have never really cooked.

I thought nothing in whining to my younger sister to cook for me, something she has been used to since childhood when I would buy cake ingredients and beg her to bake for me (yes, really). Like a Crawley sister in Downton Abbey, I relished being taken are of and purposely disdained from learning even the basic cooking skills in case it was ever required of me to cook.

But now as a 28-year-old woman (painful words to type), I have decided to learn. The thought of being a modern day Kevin has scared me into it. First I will start with the basics and hopefully over time I will learn to boil an egg (still can’t).

This blog is where I can publicly keep up with my progress without having to bore my friends who can (obviously) already cook and don’t want to be constantly pestered with my cries of “I can’t believe I didn’t burn it!” I won’t be reviewing restaurants or telling you have to roast a pork belly. Sorry in advance.

What I will be doing, hopefully, is learning how to cook.

– The Almost Adult

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