I've always loved tea and cake but since becoming a mother, they've featured somewhat more prominently in my life. They are my sweet reward for 5am wake-ups, and a delicious afternoon pick me up when I'm surrounded by the chaos of a warring five year old and three year old. And also the reason we spend so much time in the local garden centre. I can no longer keep up the pretence that we go there for the play area and pretty flowers. You all know that it's mainly for the tea and cake, right?
This year, I'm on a mission to improve my baking. I have biscuits under my belt and I can turn my hand to the odd chocolate pudding or two, but cake-making has always eluded me. It's soggy bottoms and sunken tops galore, in this house. Recent requests for donations for the school bake sale have had me cringing and running to the nearest supermarket. I'm not averse to throwing sprinkles over shop-bought cakes and passing them off as my own creations but my eldest has cottoned on to this and he's a bit of a stickler for rules and authenticity so lead by example, I must!
Last week, two of my passions collided and gave me an extra nudge of motivation to make a start on my cake-mastering endeavour ... the most stunning tea set and a brand new baking magazine. Pretty tea cups and recipe magazines really do make my rain-filled days a little more joyous (although, the sun is actually shining as I'm typing this ... it's probably just teasing me for half an hour and will then laughingly disappear for another few months).
These gorgeous tea cups along with a teapot, milk jug and sugar pot are part of a collection of exclusive tableware designed by acclaimed artist and designer, Dee Hardwicke, for the National Trust. And aren't they beautiful?! Featuring delicate blue flowers and speckled butterflies, the collection was inspired by the floral-filled borders in the cottage garden at Barrington Court in Somerset. Oh to live a little bit closer and see the real thing for myself!
Flicking through the pages of my baking magazine, I found the perfect recipe to tackle and try out my tea set with ... Auntie Inga's sticky chocolate cake (taken from The Scandi Kitchen by Bronte Aurell). This, would you believe, is a recipe that you can start preparing as soon as your children are asleep and can be sat enjoying a mere thirty minutes later. It's genius in its simplicity and tastes divine.
200g caster sugar
150g plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter (melted but left to cool for a few minutes)
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy (I did this by hand ... there's absolutely no need to get the mixer out for this recipe).
3. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt in to the mixture and pour in the vanilla extract. Fold everything in until incorporated and then add the melted butter and do the same.
4. Pour the mixture in to a lined and greased 20cm deep, round cake tin and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
The cake will not rise and will still be a little soft in the middle when you take it out of the oven. This simply means it will be lovely and gooey inside when you come to eat it. The recipe suggests serving with whipped cream but I dusted mine with icing sugar and served it with a bag of mini eggs. In all seriousness, who doesn't love mini eggs?! And no, I didn't have them to hand in case I failed on the cake front. Go on, admit it, that's what you were thinking, right? You cheeky thing!
If you want to try it, I have one slice left if you can get here in the next hour (after that, it's all mine). I'll even get a fresh pot of tea ready for you. Quickly, now!
The Dee Hardwicke Cottage Garden tea set was received as a gift for the purpose of this post. You can purchase it online or from selected National Trust shops. 100 percent of the profits from the collection will support the National Trust's conservation work.