Confessions of a terrible baker, and how my mum rescued me

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Barm Brack, aka Working Mother’s cake, plus tea and muffins

I have a confession to make – as my children and husband know, I’m a terrible baker. If it wasn’t for them, it’s quite possible that my oven would be used for shoe storage, like Carrie’s in Sex and The City. We’re talking Bridget Jones levels of ineptitude here. My sponge cakes just don’t rise, and I once made tuna pasta without the tuna in. And as for what happened when, as a child, I was left in charge of a pan of simmering rice… Well, of course, I went off to my room to write a story and forgot all about it.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I started a new job and found that my office was full of keen and very expert bakers, and they had a cake club which I was immediately invited to join.

So what did I do? I turned to my mother for help.

This is her recipe for Barm Brack, which she used to make pretty much every week when I was a kid. I think it was originally her mother’s recipe. I promise you, it works, even if you’re really rubbish like me. And it rises into a nice satisfying loaf and makes your kitchen smell all cinamonny. Serve with butter and a nice cup of tea.

(Easter Sunday update: my mum tells me the recipe is actually based on a Mary Berry one, which she adapted depending on what she had to hand. I remember Mary Berry’s Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book having pride of place on a shelf in our kitchen in the 80s. So all hail Mary Berry, the source of happy tea-times down the decades!)

I’ve been thinking about this recipe because I’ve been reading Jenny Colgan’s Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (I know, about a million years after it came out), which has lots of recipes in it that are named according to how the heroine is feeling at the time. For me, this cake is Working Mother cake. It’s the cake you can knock up when you’re knackered and it’ll still come out all right. And it makes me think of my mum and my grandma (there’s a pic of me going to collect eggs with my grandma at the end of this post.)

Oh, and my cake club liked it!

Sorry, it isn’t metric. If you want to give it a go, hope you can figure it out, and that the recipe works for you too – let me know!

The pic at the top of this post dates from a bake-off my daughter challenged me to last summer. She made some very delicious muffins. Luckily, thanks to Working Mother’s Cake once again, I wasn’t too badly disgraced.

Happy Easter everybody!

Barm Brack (aka Working Mother cake)

½ pint cold tea

6 oz soft brown sugar

12 oz mixed dried fruit

10 oz self-raising flour

1 egg

Put tea, sugar and fruit in bowl – cover and leave to soak overnight (or for 2 hours!)

Add one teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice for flavour. (My note – don’t forget this bit! I once did and fished the cake out of the oven to add at the last minute – shades of the tuna-less pasta once more.) Beat egg and stir with flour into mixture. Grease and flour 2lb loaf tin, add mixture and bake in oven, gas mark 4 (180 C) for approx 1 hour/1 hour 10 min.

(PS – when I read How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis recently, I came to a bit where she said it wasn’t possible that somebody could be quite so useless in the kitchen as Bridget Jones – it was the bit where Bridget leaves blue stringy packaging on the meat, or does something bad to spaghetti, or something like that. Samantha, I’m sorry to break it to you, but it *is* possible, alas!)

(PPS – luckily for everyone, I married an absolutely excellent cook. I think Sheryl Sandberg should stress the importance of this, if she hasn’t already.)

childhood time in the countryside
Childhood time in the countryside