Thursday, 3 June 2010

Coffee and walnut cake

I am the world's most prolific hander-out of unsolicited advice. All you need to do is ring me and reply to my "How are you" with "Oh, I'm okay, coming down with a bit of a cold," and I'm off:

"Oh you must buy First Defence immediately," I will say. "It works retroactively, so just take it whenever - it shortens the life of your cold, you know. Alternatively a raspberry leaf on your head. Hot water and honey. Lemon. My advice is to take a few days off work. Go to bed as soon as you feel that tickle in the back of your throat, shut the curtains and sleep for 24 hours. It's a miracle cure. My advice is to put your out of office on your email and then you can relax and get better. Paracetamol every 4 hours. Time it - put on an alarm. Every four hours. Honestly, it's a miracle cure. Anyway do all of that and you'll be better. Ring me in the morning. Nice talking to you, bye."

And it's not just health. Buying or selling houses ("Oh don't wait for the market to do anything, buy when you need to and sell when you need to. People who try to play the market always get shafted."), boyfriends, ("If he's not dropping hints about marriage after 18 months, move on"), families, ("Oh, you can only have the relationship with your mother that you can have. Don't idealise it and you'll never be disappointed.") diets, pets, make-up, skincare, haircare - I've got a fucking answer for everything and force it on everyone, unasked.

I'm trying not to, I swear to God. I wrote a thing the other month for a magazine about friendship and read a lot of stuff about how to be a good friend and how to be a good listener. And one of the top tips for being a good friend was to not hand out unsolicited advice. The other top tips, if you're interested are:

- Don't interrupt
- Don't garnish your friends' story with a story about something similar that happened to you
- Don't go "mm hmmm" all the time
- Don't finish people's sentences

I do ALL of these things, ALL the time. It's a miracle I have any friends at all. Oh wait, I DON'T.

I don't know why I have to hand out advice all the time, I should really not - mostly aswell because I'm almost always wrong. And it doesn't come from a place of love, it comes from a place of meddling.

For example, I have to restrain myself from going round to my sister-in-law's house with a bottle of Aveeno and some 8-hour cream for her boyfriends hands, which are very cracked from doing a lot of gardening. (I dispensed this miracle cure recipe last weekend but I can tell it has not been acted on.)

And the temptation to ring up some friends of mine who are swapping their large-ish flat for a miniscule flat in London and a house in the countryside (they've got two children! Who aren't going to get any SMALLER) in order to give them a jolly good lecture is, at times, overpowering.

The only thing I can console myself with is that I know that I do it and I know that it's bad. I am trying to do a thing where I only hand out advice if someone specifically says "What do you think?" Then I take a deep breath and talk non-stop for 1 hour. But no-one ever says that. No-one cares what you think they should do. They just want you to nod and smile and say "Oh, I am so sympathetic," and then tell a joke.

Which brings me to coffee and walnut cake. I was feeling a bit scatty today while I was making it and I used plain flour instead of self-raising flour. But rather than throwing the bowl against the wall and storming out into the garden to kick over some flower pots and then starting all over again, I sprinkled over the mixture 1 tsp of baking powder. And the cake came out better than, I think, any cake I've ever made.

So there we are: if you ever use plain flour instead of self-raising flour by mistake, sprinkle over 1 tsp of baking powder. Just don't ring me up and say you're not feeling well.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall's coffee and walnut cake, interpreted by me

Makes one small loaf - 7in x 4in

2 eggs (weigh these and then use the same amount of flour, sugar and butter. Mine weighed 119g.)
119g flour
119g butter
119g sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla essence
1tsp baking powder
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tbsp espresso powder dissolved in .75 tbsp hot water

1 Beat the butter until it's creamy and then beat in the sugar until pale and fluffy.

 2 Then beat in one egg at a time. Mine curdled to buggery but it didn't make any difference to the end result. You can in theory add one tablespoon of flour after each egg to stop it from doing this

2 Fold in the flour. Stare at the recipe and then stare at your flour packet and scream "FUCK!!" then reach for some

3 Baking powder. Add 1 tsp, sieved so there are no lumps and mix in. Add the vanilla essence, coffee and walnuts

4 Pour into your cake tin and then bake at 180C for 30-35 mins or until the top is firm.


  1. I took the First Defense advice, and the sleeping bit. It worked. My cold is much better. Maybe your advice is better than you think.
    Kicking flower pots? I thought that was Giles Schtick?

  2. No I am a very angry person too, in the privacy of my own home. I am just not a loud fog-horn psycho Twitter ranter.

  3. I love coffee cake but I can't eat walnuts - do you know if taking them out would completely alter the texture of the cake?

    Love the blog btw,


  4. Hi Clare

    Are you allergic to nuts? If not then you could substitute the walnuts for hazelnuts with no big diff.

    If yes, then I'm sure the cake would still be delicious, just less nutty. What I would do if doing no nuts at all, wld be to add more coffee to the mix - maybe 1.5tbsp espresso powder to give more of a certain, coffee taste - as it stands the coffee flavour is mild.

    Come again,
    E xxx

  5. Oh god, that wasn't your question at all. Yes, it would alter the texture, but that doesn't matter too much I don't think.

    You could possibly throw in a large, ripe, mashed banana into the mixture, that would do an interesting thing to the texture, if that's what you're most interested in. xxx

  6. awesome, will give the extra coffee version a go! x

  7. You're fab. Just wanted to say.

  8. What is espresso powder exactly? Is it like instant coffee? I assume it's not the grounds or your loaf would be all... gritty. More to the point, where do they put it in Waitrose?

    I am the queen of the related story. Oops.

  9. Thanks Rach! What a lovely thing to say. xxx

  10. Great question, Erin-o. Answer above. You ARE the queen of the related story but that's a good thing. xxx

  11. I love the fact that you summed up your 'I love to give advice' thing so perfectly in answering Clare's question with a completely unrelated answer. Brilliant.

    GREAT tip with the baking powder. I'm a complete spanjob when it comes to baking so that is a most useful nugget.

  12. I found myself with plain flour instead of self-raising when the recipe demanded baking powder AS WELL. Clever old me decided to put four teaspoons in, and the resulting cake practically burst out of the oven. It was inedible. If I'd only had you to help!

    Keep it up! You're funnier than Giles.

  13. I must admit that I rang my mum for advice, I shouldn't make myself out to be some ESP baking guru.

    I must refute that I'm funnier than Giles because I'm not - Giles is the funniest person in the whole world. (But thanks for saying it anyway... xxxx)

  14. Hi Esther,

    Just found your recipe blog courtesy of Vicky C on her blog You have rekindled my interest in cake baking and I will soon try your coffee and walnut cake.

    I like the kitchen picture on your Home Page. Makes my little one look like it belongs in a model village.

    Best wishes.

  15. Hi, I love baking and your blog looks fun. Can you answer the question about espresso powder....what is it and will diluted normal freeze dried coffee granules make any difference?

  16. The espresso powder question gets its own dedicated post (see ''what IS espresso powder" in the post list). Don't use freeze dried granules, that would not be nice.

    E x

  17. The recipe might be alright but I dont think much of the language,as children might read this

  18. Oh nonsense, the language is fine; very authentic and exactly what happens in my kitchen. In fact I called my 14-year old daughter over to read the recipe as it made me laugh so much. Get a grip, Anonymous 9th June.

    (oops may have posted this twice, soz)

  19. Okay, am going in with this fucking cake. Will update after I have killed everyone with my masculine baking techniques... ( which generally is deep house music, swearing like Satan and making wwII look tidy).

  20. I promised to comment, then my own failure sent me on a downward spiral. The cake was in many ways a failure. The rising was minimal and the filling was too liquidy. Anila really liked it and had 2 slices though. FYI - listened to 'lifeblood' but the manics and the unified theory by Mumbai science.