Cookies and cake

Treat family and friends to some good home baking this month with Michele Guinness’s delicious recipes

Many of us don’t have the time to do much baking these days and that’s sad. I fear that many children will grow up never knowing what it’s like to lick out a mixing bowl, or get their fingers stuck in the dough, or be greeted at the front door by the most mouth-watering smell. 

My grandmother and mother-in-law were great bakers. I’ll never forget the sight of my grandmother stirring and kneading with the skill, dedication and determination of an artist, puffing a Woodbine out of the side of her mouth.  I used to think it was the ash that made her baking so good.  My mother never managed to make her cakes rise or taste like my grandmother’s.  Neither can I, I have to say and it’s one of the greatest laments of my life.

My mother-in-law was Canadian and made the most amazing cookies. When I married Peter, we had one of those, “You will bake like my mother” moments that many couples have when they first tie the knot.  And since I was hopelessly in love, I said yes, and acquired the recipes. So here is her “to die for”, turn-of-the-century, simple date cookie mix.  It never turns out the same twice, so don’t worry about failure.  Just go easy with the bicarbonate of soda, (or it will end up on the oven floor),  and surprise your home group with a North American toffee-like treat.

Who first discovered that 4oz marg, 4oz sugar, 4oz flour and 2 eggs could make a cake?  It’s a source of endless wonder to me, but I hope whoever it was isn’t turning in their grave as they watch us eat those awful, supermarket, high trans fats alternatives.  The beauty of home baking is that it’s so much healthier.  You can pick your fat carefully.

Date (and Nut) Bars

50g (2oz) melted butter or good quality margarine
200g (7oz) sugar
100g (3.5oz) plain flour
Half tsp bicarbonate of soda
125g (4oz) chopped dates
50g (2oz) chopped hazelnuts (optional)
1 beaten egg
pinch salt

Melt the butter in a heavy  pan, then mix in remaining ingredients.  Pour into 18 cm by 28 cm well-greased, swiss roll pan.  Bake on 4/180C (160C fan oven) for 12-15 mins, until firm.  Cool and cut into squares. 

Grandma’s squidgy lemon cake

125g (4oz) good quality margarine
200g (7oz) sugar
2 eggs
175g (6oz) SR flour
1 tsp baking powder
Juice and rind of two lemons

Beat together the marg and 125g (4oz) sugar, then add the flour and the egg yolks and the rind and juice of a lemon.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold in.  Pour into two 18cm well-greased tins, the bases lined with baking parchment.  Bake for 20 mins on 4/180C (150C in fan oven) or until it springs back in the centre.
Meanwhile, boil the rind and juice of the remaining lemon and castor sugar until it thickens very slightly.  Remove the cake and pour over the syrup immediately.  Leave to cool and turn out.

This cake can be filled and topped with either lemon curd or cream cheese mixed with a little castor sugar.

Rich Guinness Cake

250g (9oz) butter
175g (6oz)  dark muscovado sugar
350g (12oz) plain flour
600g (1lb 5 1/2 oz) dried fruit
4 eggs
1 tsp mixed spice
I tsp bicarbonate of soda dissolved in
250ml (9 fl oz) Guinness (heated to boiling)

Beat together the butter and sugar, then add the remaining ingredients.
Grease a 23cm square tin and line with baking parchment.  Pour in the mixture, cover and bake on 3/170C (150C for a fan oven) for two hours or until firm in the centre.  Remove from the  oven, cool completely, then turn out. This cake will improve with some keeping in a cool place.  If it dries out - pour a little Guinness over it and leave it to soak in for 24 hours.  It is wonderful buttered with a slice of Lancashire or Wensleydale cheese.