Since returning back to London from the holidays in Colorado and Connecticut, I’ve been on a bit of a healthy eating kick. I would say I’ve been doing a good job – in part because when my groceries were delivered, the guy said, “you ordered a lot of vegetables.” So if he’s impressed with the amount of veg I’ve been eating, I must be eating a lot. But even so, I just can’t resist desserts because they are my favorite thing to eat and make.
While I was in the US my DVR recorded all of season 4 of the Great British Bake Off. That means when I got home, I indulged in watching so many beautiful cakes, pies, cookies, being made. The show always inspires me to get in the kitchen and bake. One of the things I like best about Bake Off is the segment they do on historical and traditional British baked goods. I was particularly won over by the bit they did on Tottenham Cake.
This cake was invented by Quakers who lived in Tottenham, in north London. One of the dorkiest things I might ever say, is that I’m in to Quakers. Growing up I went to a Friends School (a Quaker school) for 11 years. I’m not a Quaker, I’m not even religious, but the experience has stuck with me. As a kid, sitting in silence during Meeting (the Quaker religious ceremony) was really challenging, but as a teenager stressed about friends, boys, and college it was nice to have a place for quiet reflection. Quakers also value simplicity and equality. I find that simplicity has stuck with me somewhat when it comes to my wardrobe. In school the dress code meant to reflect simplicity, and didn’t allow us to wear a number of things, but what I remember most is that we couldn’t wear shirts with pictures on the front or crazy patterns. To this day, the majority of my shirts are solid colored. I have a Star Wars shirts and a few Washington Nationals shirts, but beyond that I always shop for solids.
Anyway, I have a soft spot for Quakerism. In some ways, Tottenham cake reflects Quaker values of simplicity and equality. The cake requires just five ingredients to make and the icing needs only two. It’s a really straightforward recipe with ingredients that everyone has. Also, it is meant to show equality. As a tray bake it is easy to cut up lots of pieces so everyone can have one. Originally, the bakers sold this cake for 1 penny and off-cuts for half that. The cake would have been available to pretty much anyone.
The pink icing is what makes Tottenham cake. Originally the pink was made from mulberries that were picked just outside the bakery. I’m not sure I’ve ever even seen a mulberry, or mulberry juice, so today people use pink food coloring or black currant juice. I found black currant juice easily here in the UK, but in the US I’m not sure that would be so easy. I bet you could use any similar dark red colored juice if you want that hint of berry flavor.
If you’re like me and thinking of breaking your health kick, then this cake might be right for you. It’s easy to make and will give your sugar fix. Then, it’s perfect to take around to friends or coworkers so you don’t eat it all yourself.
Adapted, just slightly, from Bake With Me Blog.
Messy level: Two spoons. I think most cakes are three spoon recipes at least because you ordinarily need two bowls and there’s so much flour that gets everywhere! For this, you’ll need two bowls, one for the cake and one of the icing, and your baking tray. Easy! Also the icing isn’t too messy because you’re only doing the top of the cake.
- 6 oz/150g/12 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter
- 6 oz/150g/ ¾ cup caster sugar (in the US just use granulated)
- 6 oz/150g/ 1½ cups self-rising flour
- 3 eggs
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5oz/125g/1 heaping cup confectioners sugar
- 30 ml/ 5 teaspoons, water/black currant juice
- pink food coloring (only needed if you use water instead of juice)
- Pre-heat oven to 350º/180ºC.
- Line an 8"x8" square tin with parchment paper, then grease that with a bit of butter.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high, cream together the butter and sugar until it becomes a light and fluffy. This takes about 2 minutes, but you may need to clear your beaters intermittently to make sure everything gets mixed.
- Add the vanilla extract to the butter mixture. Mix until combined.
- Turn your mixer to low or medium-low and beat in the eggs, one at a time.
- Once the eggs are mixed, turn the mixer to low and add in the flour all at once. Mix until just combined. It's ok if you have a few lumps!
- Pour the batter into your prepared tin. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes. The cake is done with you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.
- Let the cake cool.
- While the cake is cooling prepare the icing. In a medium bowl, add the confectioners sugar. One teaspoon at a time add the blackcurrant juice or water and just a bit of food coloring. Mix in between each teaspoon. Keep adding liquid until your icing looks like proper frosting and is thick enough to spread but not so thick it would rip up the cake when you spread it on. (Note: you may not need all the liquid or you may need more, just mix until it feels right to you. If it gets to drippy, then add more sugar)
- Let the icing sit for a minute it will harden and get shiny.
- Cut the cake into squares and serve.