This history corner is the ‘youngest’ book I’ve featured – it’s “A Spoonful of Sugar” issued by the British Sugar Bureau in 1973. Two very good things happened for the world of cake in 1973; firstly, this booklet was published and, secondly I was born! Now you see why I opened with how this is the most recent book I’ve featured in history corner......
This cake is a simple sponge with a coconut meringue topping baked onto it. It’s far less complex to make than you might think because both the cake and topping bake at the same time. I was sceptical as to how well this would work but I shouldn’t have worried – it’s a doddle, a very delicious doddle!
The booklet features a surprising number of savoury recipes and, while we all know that a spoonful of sugar can help regulate the acidity of tomatoes and bring out the flavour of carrots I’m not sure I want to add sugar to dishes such as devilled prawns with egg mousse...even I think that’s taking things too far!
Sugar has many uses beyond eating; I think the British Sugar Bureau was just (some might suggest cynically) trying to get people to use as much sugar as possible so I can’t vouch for any of the following “Sugar Hints” printed inside the cover:
- A cube of sugar in your biscuit tin will help keep biscuits fresh and crisp
- A cube of sugar is just the answer if you’ve run out of candles for a birthday cake. Drain a small can of apricot halves and arrange them around the cake, putting the cut side uppermost. Soak some sugar lumps in lemon essence, put one on each apricot and light with a match [I love the notion that you’re so disorganised you’ve run out of candles, yet will have tinned apricots, sugar cubes and lemon essence in your cupboard! They might as well have suggested that you use albatross feathers!]
- A spoonful of sugar added to the water in a vase of flowers will make them stay fresh longer
- Three of four cubes [they really increased the “hard sell” with this one!] of sugar put in a suitcase will prevent damp odours when storing
- A spoonful of sugar in water used for washing a linoleum floor will give it an extra shine [and no doubt attract all the neighbourhood ants and wasps!]
The quantities looked a bit mean so I’ve doubled them; the doubled amount is what’s set out below. I also made two tweaks to the recipe; firstly I added coconut extract to the sponge (but vanilla or almond would work just as well) and secondly, I dotted some jam on top of the batter to add an almost bakewell vibe to it. Feel free to leave both out if you want to be a purist about it (but, when I make the cake again, I will definitely repeat both those modifications). It didn’t need much jam:
The cake sunk a little in the middle during cooling but the topping didn’t. I wonder if that was caused by my adding jam to it – whatever the reason it had no effect at all on flavour.
This cake is awesome! It’s the sort of cake that, however much of it you eat, you want just a tiny slice more. The topping is crunchy and coconutty and the cake is soft and spongy – the extra egg yolks make it wonderfully golden in colour and give it an almost custard-like flavour. I think it’s one of the best cakes I’ve eaten in a long while as it packs so much flavour and texture into such a simple recipe.
I finish how I began: 1973 was a very, very good year for cake!
For the cake:
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
170g caster sugar
2 egg yolks (keep the whites for the topping)
230g self raising flour
2 tablespoons milk (either whole or semi skimmed)
Optional: 1 teaspoon of coconut, vanilla or almond extract
Optional: 2-3 teaspoons raspberry jam
For the topping (which bakes at the same time as the cake):
2 egg whites
115g desiccated coconut
115g Demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 160°C/fan oven 140°C/325°F/Gas mark 3.
Line a 20cm round springform tin with baking paper.
Beat the butter and sugar together until they are pale, light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on this stage as it’s where you get all the air into your sponge.
Beat in the two eggs and two egg yolks along with one tablespoon of the flour.
Fold in the remaining flour and milk and – if using – coconut extract.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
If using, dot the jam over the surface of the batter.
Now make the topping: whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and then fold in the coconut and sugar.
Spread on top of the cake batter.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. I found this far too short a time and mine actually took 55 minutes – although, thinking about it, I did double the quantities so it actually makes sense!
Leave to cool, in the tin, on a wire rack until the tin is cool enough to remove safely.
Leave the cake to cool completely on a wire rack.
Serve in thick slices – no accompaniment is needed.
Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.