I have long found great comfort in baking; from the collating of ingredients, the creaming of butter and sugar to anticipating the satisfaction gained from turning out a light and fluffy cake. It is a kind of everyday alchemy that cannot be beaten for its soothing qualities. And yet I never realised that it could also teach one a salutary lesson about confidence and not taking oneself quite so seriously.
I had oodles of chocolate and so a choccie cake of some description seemed the obvious solution to the question of what to take to friends (as well as wine, clearly). I chanced across Nigella Lawson's recipe for a chocolate orange cake but I have to admit what really sold me was that it involved marmalade. Probably not the content of many people's guilty secrets but here goes....... I have a deep-seated passion for this orangey, orgasmic sweetness, the gooier the better with so much peel that there's barely any room in-between for the amber nectar. I could blame my mother - she craved marmalade sandwiches (aka Paddington Bear) when pregnant and I'm convinced that the sticky, sweet stuff is in my blood.
I don't often buy marmalade as, once opened, a jar mysteriously evaporates within days, however when I saw that Nigella's recipe would use 3/4 a jar, my tastebuds prickled with anticipation. So, with apologies to the mighty Nigella, here is the recipe, tweaked slightly.
Chocolate Orange Cake
125g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate, broken up (I used Barry Callebaut couverture pellets)
300g medium-cut marmalade (make it a good one!)
150g unrefined caster sugar
pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
150g self raising flour
slug of Grand Marnier
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Butter and flour an 8inch round cake tin.
Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. When it's liquid, stir in the chocolate and when softened, take the pan off the heat and stir until the butter and choc make a smooth, melted mixture. Add the marmalade, sugar, salt, eggs and a generous slug of Grand Marnier. Stir until well mixed and then beat in the flour, bit by bit. Pour into the cake tin and pop in the oven for approximately one hour or until a skewer comes out clean when poked into the cake. Cool in the pan for 15mins and then turn out.
Now comes the lesson. The cake was baked and it slid out of the tin with ease however when I tried to prise away the base, disaster fell and the cake split down the middle - a yawning chocolate chasm which sent me into despair. I was a complete failure. Call it tiredness (call it stupid if you will) but my fragile culinary confidence was shattered.
Desperate to avoid the evidence of my failings I escaped the flat and walked.......and walked. As ever, my clearest thinking is always done in the fresh air and I finally realised what a Charlie I was being. The day before I'd attended a civil ceremony where over 100 guests had tucked into a three-tiered, brandy-laced cake made by my own fair hand. Not exactly the work of a complete cooking chump. Good grief. I'm sure even Saint Delia has been exasperated by the odd sunken souffle or the occasional curdled mayonnaise.
Heartened by such thoughts I skipped to the grocery shop to buy some plump oranges and creme fraiche and lo, a new dessert was born - choc orange surprise.
So that is the rather long-winded explanation of how baking taught me to have a little faith in my own abilities, that the glass (indeed the marmalade pot) is not half empty and that with a bit of creativity, a collapsed cake can be spirited into a chorus of 'mmmmm' from friends.