Raspberry sponge pudding

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I didn’t find my dad a particularly easy man. He could be fun, full of beans and brimming with jokes, face alive with mischief. But he could be the opposite too – sometimes he didn’t get out of bed all day and on that sort of day his presence was a black, dead space in the house, sucking everything into it. As an adult, I can see he struggled with mental health at a time when it wasn’t easy to say so. As a child I felt unsettled by the uncertainty and anxious about the shouting. As I got older I sometimes dreaded going home because of him.

But when he died eight years ago, I stopped seeing him as the person he was at a single moment in time and saw what he really was – all of those things together at once. The cheeky, slightly vulnerable little boy whose socks were falling down, the dad who always had an irrepressible joke in his eyes, a man with insatiable intellectual curiosity who was haunted by a black dog, an older man who’d somehow found patience and acceptance of a kind.

Since then I try, when I look at the people I love, to remind myself that the here and now is just one piece of a puzzle that makes up the whole of them. I look at Bert’s less and less round cheeks and the disappearing dimples on his hands and try to remember that the cuddly toddler will always be in there somewhere. I hope I live long enough to see as many of the pieces of his puzzle as I can, but I imagine that, in all of them, there’ll be glimpses of the focused earnestness and wild, cackling showmanship I see now.

Bert’s dad was already a father to two children when I met him, so it’s hard for me to imagine him as anything else – as Bert dictated for his Fathers Day card, ‘Dad loves children and children love Dad’. Whispered schemes about chocolate and wild wrestling matches seem as much an intrinsic part of him as Arsenal and the necessity to try on fifteen different shirts before going out. Of course there are many parts to the jigsaw puzzle that is him, but I think there’s a little corner of the picture of a dad on all of them.

As a society, we can be unnuanced in what we ask of our dads – that they accept fatherhood unquestioningly but don’t grieve the lack of it, that they’re always one-dimensionally fun and high-energy, and that they wear uncomplainingly the slightly hands-off and a bit useless persona. But I do know men who’d have been great dads who aren’t parents and may be sad about it, I know dads who are the cooks and the tear-wipers and dads who are the carers.

I made this raspberry pudding in a rush last week to follow the coq au vin (mushroom au vin for me) that Bert’s dad had spent the afternoon making. Normally I’d have tried to think of something that might spruce it up a little (it’s a bit of a plain cake) – white chocolate chips, lemon, coconut? – but I was in a hurry so this is what we had, with custard.

Serves 6

1 punnet of raspberries

1 tablespoon soft brown sugar

1/2 cup of soft butter

3/4 cup of golden caster sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups plain flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup whole milk

Pre-heat the oven to 180. Toss the raspberries with the soft brown sugar in a 20cm round cake tin.

Beat together the sugar and butter till light and fluffy – as long as your arm can bear it or about 5 minutes in a mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla. Gently fold through the flour and baking powder then add the milk.

Bake for 30-40 minutes till golden brown and firm. Serve, warm, with cream, icecream or custard. Good the next day too. What cake isn’t?

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Strawberry shortcake pudding


When you fancy strawberry shortcake but can’t be arsed to make it. This has the same soft, vanilla crumb and berry sweetness but takes 10 minutes to prepare and 10 seconds to finish off out of the oven.

Bert declared this ‘not a birthday cake: a normal cake’.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. On his way out this afternoon Bert’s dad asked me if we needed any food. 

Me: you might need chocolate? Self-raising flour? Candles?

Him: blank face

Leftover normal cake it is then.

Serves 4-6 (ahem. Ok. Three)

6 tablespoons soft butter

1 measuring cup caster sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1.5 measuring cups plain flour

1/2 measuring cup milk 

1 punnet strawberries

1 tablespoon icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180.

Beat the sugar and butter together till fluffy then add the egg and vanilla and beat again. Mix through the flour, baking powder and milk till you have a smooth, thick batter then tip into a deep, buttered pie dish and smooth out the top. Top with the hulled and halved strawberries and bake for about an hour (check after 50 minutes – it’s ready when it’s deep golden brown and coming away from the sides). 

Dust with sieved icing sugar and serve warm with thick cream.

Raspberry, almond and yoghurt cake

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I strapped Bert into his car seat as he picked his nose and… ‘Are you eating your snot?’ I said. ‘That’s disgusting.’

‘No,’ he corrected me. ‘It’s delicious.’

He then swiped the back of his hand across his nose and held it out to me. ‘You try it,’ he said.

This cake was moist, just sweet enough and delicious. But its not the most delicious thing we’ve eaten this week.

Makes a small loaf

125g soft butter

175g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

45g ground almonds

125ml Greek yoghurt (or other plain yoghurt)

125g raspberries

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180 degrees.

Beat the sugar and butter together till light and creamy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Add the vanilla with the last egg. Fold through the flour, baking powder, almonds and yoghurt, then finally stir through the raspberries, gently. Pour into a lined 2lb loaf tin or 20cm round tin. Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, till golden and firm on top. We had ours warm with a dollop of yoghurt, and now I’m thinking that that’s practically a balanced breakfast tomorrow.

 

Blueberry and lemon loaf (or 12 muffins)


Me and Bert took my mum out for dinner for Mother’s Day, to a perfectly family-friendly restaurant (in fact, the waitress was either Bert’s soul mate or a highly-skilled professional charmer, and exchanged dinosaur facts with him for hours, seeming genuinely disappointed to serve other tables). But yet again we were given the blandest of food options for Bert. Even though I had delicious sticky ribs, coleslaw and fries and my mum had an amazing fish pie, his options were the usual fish fingers, chicken nuggets, macaroni cheese and spag bol. No kids’ cutlery, so he had to struggle with even larger than usual adult ones (or a teaspoon). And I’d lugged a bag of stickers, books and playmobil people with me to try to stave off the moment where all the child-free adults in the room collectively put a court order on him to leave. (Despite this, the ten minutes before we left were taken up with trying to coax a three year old in full Gruffalo gear out from under the table.)

I thought, I should set up a Me and Bert cafe! Books and lego at every table, children’s plates and cutlery, a different, free, ‘try something new’ tiny-taster bowl with the kids’ meals each day, children’s loyalty cards and space for push chairs. Child-friendly food that’s tasty first, nutritious second and edible by actual adults. We’d clean up with the pre-school mums and dads and grandparents! We’d only need to open school hours…

Then I remembered that, as a work at home freelancer, my standard day encompasses putting dinner on, stroking the dog’s ears (not a euphamism) and making an impulsive cake for pudding. And I realised that the reality of running a cafe  would be a huge shock to my  system, one that would probably age me ten years in a week. Nevermind my less than perfect cooking days suddenly being extremely public.

But here’s a cake that would have been on the menu.

Makes a small loaf

150g soft butter

150g golden caster sugar

150g self-raising flour (hold a tablespoon back to toss the blueberries in)

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 tablespoon whole milk

3 eggs

Grated zest of one lemon

100g blueberries, tossed in a tablespoon of flour (supposed to help them not to sink) (update: but didn’t)

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180 degrees and line a small loaf tin or 12 muffin holes.

Beat everything except the blueberries together for a good 5-10 minutes (about 4 minutes in a mixer), till it’s pale and fluffy. Gently fold through the blueberries and bake for about an hour (or 15-20 minutes for the muffins), till it’s golden and firm on top. Hide from your child’s father till dinner time. (The cake, that is – I’m not suggesting a game of hide and seek.) Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Jammy berry, lime and coconut cake

I was in the car with Bert yesterday, went to change gear and couldn’t find it straight away. Bert laughed and laughed. ‘Your driving!’ he said, overcome with mirth. ‘You drive like this!’ And he leaned forward, scrunched his face up, held an imaginary wheel and made a screeching sound.

Today, on an empty country lane, I went round a bend slightly wide. ‘Too fast!’ he chuckled. ‘Corner too fast!’

Despite this, I made him a coconut cake for pudding. ‘You!’ Bert laughed, ‘you put cheese on cake!’ He picked the berries off, stood up, emptied the plate into the bin, put it in the dishwasher and pressed start.

Makes a 25cm square cake 

110g self raising flour

110g golden caster sugar

110g soft butter

2 eggs

Zest of 1 lime, finely grated

80g dessicated coconut

To top:

Dessert of spoon jam (we used raspberry)

Berries (we used blueberries and blackberries)

Scattering of dessicated coconut

Preheat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4.

Beat together all the cake ingredients until smooth, then tip into a lined 25cm square tin. Bake at gas mark 4/ 180 for 25-30 minutes, till golden and springy to the touch. 

Let it cool in the tin for 15 minutes then remove to a wire rack. When completely cool, thinly spread jam over the top. Stud with berries then shower with coconut (not cheese).

Little pineapple upside down cakes

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Tonight I had a flushed, tired, whinging toddler on my hands and no pudding planned. But sometimes everyone needs something sweet. The whole thing took 20 minutes, 15 of which were oven time. Five of those 15 were taken up with spoon licking.

The quantities are in ounces because the maths, dividing down from four times the quantity, was so much easier.

The quality of the picture is because a toddler soaked my phone in spit and cake batter.

Makes 3 muffin sized cakes

1 egg

2 ounces of self raising flour

2 ounces of soft butter

2 ounces of golden caster sugar

A few chunks of pineapple

Put the egg, flour, butter and sugar in a food processor and mix till smooth and whippy. Butter three holes of a muffin tin, layer a few chunks of pineapple in the bottom and top with batter.

Cook at 180 degrees (or on a grid shelf on the bottom of the Aga roasting oven) for 15 minutes.

I ate 2.5 of the three.