Darina Allen on cakes and baking: Buy the finest ingredients and always use butter

This week I am going to devote my entire column to cakes and baking.

Darina Allen on cakes and baking: Buy the finest ingredients and always use butter

This week I am going to devote my entire column to cakes and baking. This was prompted by a recent delicious encounter at Philip’s bookshop in Mallow, Co Cork. Philip, Catherine and June O’Flynn invited me back to celebrate 30 years of business.

They reminded me that I had first come to their shop in 1990 when I had brown hair and huge red glasses, to sign copies of my Simply Delicious cookbook.

The photos of that event are still up on the wall behind the tills. There I was in my flowery apron making Ballymaloe cheese fondue in their original book shop, the new premises on the Main Street is much larger. It was such a fun trip down memory lane, to flick through their photo albums…

This entrepreneurial trio had planned lot of excitement for the 30th anniversary celebration, including a baking competition. Contestants could choose a cake, biscuit or bun recipe from any of my 18 — now 19 — cookbooks.

Three whole tables of cakes awaited when I arrived, Peter O’Meara, of Savill’s Auctioneers fame, and I had the unenviable task of judging the best entries. As well as many luscious cakes there were brownies, cupcakes, buns and a gorgeous swiss roll oozing with raspberries and cream. The standard was fantastic, every item was absolutely delicious, I was blown away by how each contestant had reproduced my recipe to perfection.

Some of the baking had been done by children and teenagers, which always gives me a special ‘whoops in my tummy’.

It’s wonderful to get the kids into the kitchen, they often start with baking and then gradually move onto salads and savoury dishes. It is super important to pass on cooking skills to the next generation, so they are equipped with the basic techniques to feed themselves.

It’s also high time we changed our attitude to cooking and hospitality as a career of lesser value — how ridiculous is that.

All I could do initially was scramble eggs and with that one skill, considered by many as of lesser importance than any of the STEM subjects, I have had a hugely enjoyable career and have had the opportunity to bring joy and share my knowledge with thousands of others.

A few little words about baking. As ever, buy the finest ingredients, always use butter, not margarine and organic or at least free range eggs. Check that nuts are not rancid and use fat juicy dried fruit and real candied citrus peel if a recipe calls for it.

There are many, many baking recipes scattered throughout my books but here are some of the recipes chosen by the customers of Philip’s bookshop who were awarded a rosette and copy of my new One Pot Feeds All cookbook, which I am excited to tell you has just won Book of the Year at the Listowel Food Fair, what an honour.

Aunt Florence’s Orange Cake

When my Aunt Florence brings a present of this delicious cake, people suddenly emerge out of the woodwork pleading for a slice. It was chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the European Parliament.

Serves about 8–10


  • 225g butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 225g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 or 2 pieces candied orange peel optional
  • Orange Butter Cream
  • 110g butter, soft
  • 225g icing sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 organic orange
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Orange Glacé Icing
  • Juice of 1 orange and some zest
  • 300g icing sugar
  • Equipment
  • 2 x 20cm round cake tins or 1 x 28cm in diameter and 5cm deep
  • [/factbox]

    Heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease and flour the cake tin or tins. Line the base of each with silicone paper.

    Cream the butter and gradually add the caster sugar. Whisk until soft and light and quite pale. Add the orange zest. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well between each addition.

    Sieve the flour and baking powder together and stir in gradually. Mix lightly, then stir in the orange juice.

    Divide the mixture evenly if using two tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake for 35 minutes or until it is cooked. Turn out on to a wire tray and leave to cool.

    Meanwhile, make the orange cream. Cream the butter; add the sieved icing sugar and orange zest. Whisk in the orange juice bit by bit. To make the icing, simply add enough orange juice and a little zest to the icing sugar to make a spreadable icing.

    When the cakes are cold, split each one in two halves and spread with a little filling, then sandwich the two bases together. Spread the icing over the top and sides and decorate the top, if you like, with little strips or diamonds of candied peel.

    Pearl McGillycuddy’s All in One Buns

    I’ve never bothered to make buns by hand since Pearl gave me this recipe over 25 years ago. They are made by the All in One method in a food processor.

    Makes 24


  • 225g soft butter, chopped
  • 225g castor sugar
  • 285g white flour
  • 4 eggs, preferably free range
  • Half tsp baking powder
  • Quarter tsp vanilla extract
  • [/factbox]

    Heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

    Chop up the butter into small dice, it should be reasonably soft. Put all the ingredients into the food processor and whizz for about 30 seconds. Clear the sides down with a spatula and whizz again until the consistency is nice and creamy, about 30 seconds.

    Put into greased and floured bun trays or paper cases and bake in the hot oven. Reduce the temperature to 190C/gas mark 5 as soon as they begin to rise. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and decorate as desired.

    Butterfly Buns

    Cut the top off the buns, cut this piece in half and keep aside. Meanwhile, put a little homemade raspberry jam and a blob or cream on to the bottom part of the bun. Replace the two little pieces, arranging them like wings. Dredge with icing sugar and serve immediately.

    These buns may be iced with dark chocolate icing or coffee icing. They are also delicious, painted with raspberry jam or redcurrant jelly and dipped in coconut.

    Chocolate Brownies

    Makes 12


  • 275g chocolate
  • 275g butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 350g sugar
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 110g chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
  • [/factbox]

    Heat oven to 180/gas mark 4. Line a deep Swiss roll tin 30cm x 20cm x10cm with parchment paper

    Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a gentle heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until it’s a light mousse. Gradually add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mousse. Fold in the flour to this mixture. Finally add the chopped nuts. Cook in the preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes until the centre is slightly wobbly. Leave to sit in the tin to cool and set.

    When set, turn out by flipping the tin carefully onto a board. Peel off the parchment paper. Place another board on top of the brownies and turn carefully back again to show the ‘top side’. Cut into squares.

    Classic Coffee Cake

    This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake — the sort Mummy made — and we still make it regularly. Everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee.

    Serves 10–12


  • 225g soft butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 organic eggs
  • 225g plain white flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Scant 2 tbsp Camp coffee essence
  • Coffee Butter Cream
  • 150g butter
  • 330g icing sugar, sieved
  • 5-6 tsp Camp coffee essence
  • Coffee Glace Icing
  • 450g icing sugar
  • Scant 2 tbsp Irel or Camp coffee essence
  • About 4 tbsp boiling water
  • To Decorate
  • Caramelised walnuts
  • Equipment
  • 20cm square cake tin
  • [/factbox]

    Heat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

    Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, whisking well between each addition. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture.

    Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes.

    When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tins. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

    To make the coffee butter cream: Whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

    When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with half of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf-shaped cake.

    Place half of the remaining buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star-shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

    Next make the coffee glace icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream.

    To Decorate:

    Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, about 30 minutes. Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelised walnuts.

    Hot Tips

    National Cake Day

    Celebrate National Cake Day on November 26 by baking up a storm. Use one of these recipes or make an old family favourite for a bit of nostalgia and invite some friends around for tea. Better still, start a family recipe book, record favourites to pass on to the next generation before they are forgotten.

    Cookery demonstration

    I will be holding a Christmas themed Cookery Demonstration on Thursday, November 28, for a charity event as part of the fundraising effort for Cloyne Cathedral. ‘Darina Allen Cooks For Christmas’ starts at 7.30pm in the Ballymaloe Grainstore, tickets for are available for €30 by calling 087-1327541 or 086-8733849 or directly from Ballymaloe House and Shop.

    Turkey time

    Time to order your Turkey…Well reared, free range bronze turkeys sell out early, so don’t let next week pass without ordering and if necessary paying for your bird. Seek out an old fashioned gobbledy good, and be prepared to pay a lot more for the flavour and humane rearing. Geese are even more difficult to come by — contact Nora Ahern in Midleton on 021-4632354.

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