BAKING: Let us eat cake!

Christmas comes early for bakers. Rosie McGlade picks up some expert tips from the new Whitley Bay and Tynemouth Clandestine Cake Club 

Sarah Pace and Christine Gunning love baking and they love social get-togethers. The Clandestine Cake Club was, therefore, an obvious draw, but the Newcastle branch was over-subscribed and so, living on the coast, they formed a new group which had its first meeting in September – fittingly, with a seaside theme. 

“We’ve had a fantastic response and already have 25 members, and we really want to welcome new people,” Sarah says. ‘The cakes that first night were magnificent; sandcastles, ice-creams, carousels.

“One of the most interesting ones was in the shape of an egg and tomato sandwich. They were something that member’s family always ate at the beach as children, though she hated them. She’d sprinkled golden sugar over the top to resemble sand.”

The next theme is harvest festival and Sarah and Chris are working on ideas for it. The Clandestine Cake Club is a growing gathering of amateur bakers who meet monthly with a cake of their own improvisation, a chin-wag, and then dive in to each others’ wild and wonderful concoctions in a sugary frenzy.

The clandestine bit refers to the secretive nature of the venue, which is different each month and is not disclosed until two days prior to the meeting. You get to bring a friend, and it’s all free, which is a recipe for a very pleasant evening indeed.

“There’s a big element of meeting new people, and while everyone works hard to think up something different there is no sense of competition,” Chris says. “Cake making was a bit of a lost art for a long time, but it’s back with a vengeance, and this is a great thing to do if you like baking. And eating cakes – that’s the best bit, trying other people’s and picking up really useful and sometimes quite quirky tips.”

Sarah, for instance, has invented her own chocolate and mulled wine Christmas cake which she now bakes every year in December. “It’s really nice, very moist and spicy,” she says.

For Chris, who is a recently retired primary school teacher, the October half term has always been put aside for Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mincemeat making, and she often produces several versions of each for different family members. She’s the perfect person to ask for tips, then.

“You should always soak the fruit beforehand for the cake,” she says. “I use brandy, my mother used sherry. Take out some of the flour and replace it with ground almonds – it makes it much more moist and adds flavour. Wrap the cake in foil and get it out every week to prick all over with a skewer and pour in a capful of brandy.

“I still use my grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipe, which has real ale in it rather than brandy or sherry. And for the mincemeat, I never chop up the fruit tiny
like the stuff you buy in jars. I prefer the texture that way.”

To find out more about the Whitley Bay and Tynemouth Clandestine Cake Club, contact Sarah and Chris


or email  or Tweet @girlpace


Chris’s White Chocolate Almond Cake

200g/7oz butter

200g/7oz caster sugar

4 eggs, separated

75g/3oz white chocolate, melted

½ tsp vanilla extract

150g/5oz self-raising flour

50g ground almonds

Frosting and covering

200g/7oz low-fat spread

500g/1lb icing sugar

50g/2oz dark chocolate, melted

2tsp cocoa powder

75g/3oz white chocolate, melted

Milk as needed

Preheat oven to 180C/Gas 4 and grease and line two 8ins cake tins. Beat butter and sugar till light and creamy. Beat in egg yolks, fold in melted chocolate and vanilla. Sieve flour and almonds and fold in with a metal  spoon. In separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the cake mix. Divide between tins and bake for 35 mins. Allow to cool in tins for 10 mins, then place on cooling rack. For the frosting, beat the spread then add icing sugar and enough milk to make a soft consistency. Continue beating till light and fluffy. Separate ¼ of mixture and add to melted dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Use to sandwich the cakes. Add white chocolate to remaining mixture and use to cover cake.


Chris’s buche de Noel









6 eggs, separated

150g/5oz caster sugar

50g/2oz cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

Dark chocolate icing

175g/6oz dark chocolate, chopped

250g/9oz icing sugar

225g/8oz soft butter

1tbsp vanilla extract

Icing sugar to sprinkle



Preheat oven to 180C/Gas 4. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites into peaks and sprinkle in 50g/2oz sugar. Continue whisking until the whites hold peaks, but are not dry. In another bowl whisk egg yolks and remaining caster sugar until pale and thick. Add vanilla extract, sieve cocoa powder over and fold in. Lighten egg mixture with couple of spoonfuls of whites folded in and then fold remainder in carefully. Line Swiss roll tin with baking parchment. Pour in cake mixture and bake for 20 mins. Cool in tin then turn onto baking parchment. For the icing, use a food processor to mix sieved icing sugar, butter, vanilla and cooled melted chocolate to make a smooth icing. Coat cake. Cut an angled piece from one end of cake and bring round to other side to form a ‘branch’. Sprinkle with icing sugar.



Sarah’s cardamom cake with apple juice Icing

190g/7oz unsalted butter, softened

190g/7oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting

10 cardamom pods (shell and crush seeds with a pestle and mortar)

190g/7oz caster sugar

3 large eggs

1tsp baking powder

¼tsp salt

25ml/1fl oz soured cream

1tsp vanilla essence

Apple juice icing
2tbsp butter, melted

3 tbsp apple juice

150g/5oz icing sugar



Preheat oven to 170C/Gas 3. Grease a loaf tin with butter and dust with flour. Cream butter, crushed cardamon seeds and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. Break in the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure all ingredients are mixed together properly. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and then add to the batter, a little at a time, and mix together. Mix in the soured cream and vanilla essence. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 50-60 mins or until the sponge is firm. Allow the loaf to cool. For the icing, simply combine all ingredients and then cover the cake.

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