The rise (and rise) of home baking has a lot to answer for. Talk of such is everywhere. Across telly, in all kind of magazines, whole social groups brought together over cake recipes and sharing tips. In the chill of hard times ahead and the gloom of a deepening recession the waft of vanilla essence seeps into our daily life. Butter cream, chocolate, jam or cream cheese fillings wrap friendly arms of reassurance turning morning coffee time, plain cake and afternoon tea into comforting occasions. Brash muffins and cheeky cupcakes move over, the noble Victoria sponge has regained her top spot on the cake stand, graced on every side by numberless cakes of every invention.
My kitchen cupboard spills forth an assortment of baking tins and mixing bowls; a licked spoon, a scraped bowl and a spatula lie discarded in the sink; the work surface has been liberally messed by flour and sugar and smudges of buttery cake mixture have appeared on my kids’ faces. One tweet, a cyber whisper and the rumour’s out there: the first Clandestine Cake Club in Cornwall is about to happen but nobody knows where.
I’m curious. What is a cake club? Who goes, and why the big secret? Lynn Hill started the first Clandestine Cake Club, however her whereabouts in Britain, or who she is, remains unknown. The premise of a cake club, Lynn’s website reveals, is create opportunities for social interaction with cake loving strangers to bake, bring, eat, share and take slices of each other’s cakes home.
The Clandestine Cake HQ email pinged into my inbox a few days before: ‘The Beach Hut, Watergate Bay– 10am’ it disclosed. ‘Theme: Ice Cream. Let us cling to the last remnants of summer with a myriad of flavours in our cakes’
There are accompanying rules (this is no free-for-all): ‘Each cake must be large enough to slice into around 8 – 12 good slices and no cupcakes, muffins, brownies, pies or tarts’, Member numbers are restricted, but we can bring a guest, so in the spirit of an undercover agent I surreptitiously invited my friend Wendy, with a wink and a nod, to sally forth in this covert cake-bake.
So how to turn an ice cream into a cake? I can only think of one perennial childhood favourite: Raspberry Ripple. Could it work?
I weighed four eggs and then measured out their weight in self-raising flour, caster sugar and butter and beat it together with a good measure of vanilla while I puzzled how to make the ripple. Swirling raspberry and sugar syrup into the cake mixture, my fingers were firmly crossed. The dilemma was even greater with the icing. In my head I wanted it to look like the ice cream but the butter-creamy icing was determined to repel the sticky, fruit ripple I was hoping to incorporate. I had to make do with the effect of jam on an ice rink.
Fifteen cakes in all, from amateur to the professional, graced the inaugural event. The standout Baked Alaska cake was made by Stuart Pate, executive pastry chef at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, with it’s Rococo ruffles of Italian Meringue encasing a heart of cake layers and Treleaven’s ice cream. My ‘Raspberry Ripple’ cake was deliberately simple (I don’t do decoration): yellowy white with a swirl of sticky raspberry coulis on top. Gratifying though, it was quickly sliced and readily devoured.
The club drew variety both in the cake and participants. Will Ashworth MD of the Hotel & Extreme Academy made a delightful Chunky Monkey cake, blogger Rachel Wilson Couch, aka the Saffron Bunny, created an enormous chocolate fudge sundae in a vase, and my friend based her cake on the famous Chapel Porth Hedgehog Ice Cream with Vanilla cake, clotted cream and toasted hazelnuts.
Cake unites. It makes us smile. Ellie Michell who instigated the first Clandestine Cake meeting in Cornwall says, “Cornwall’s CCC works brilliantly as a blend of work, pleasure, social networking and fun. It gives a chance to meet people face to face that we’ve only encountered on twitter,” and the reason for the secret location –revealed a few days prior to the meeting? “It’s just to add a sense of intrigue and mystique to the occasion.”
- National Baking Week Tube Map (london-underground.blogspot.com)