At last a Coffee and Walnut cake that tastes of coffee

Coffee and walnut cake
Coffee and walnut cake

At last a recipe by Jane Hicks from the May edition of the Waitrose magazine for a cake that tastes of coffee. My last attempt looked good but didn’t have much flavour.

It’s always good when friends come to coffee because then I can try out one of the cake and muffin recipes I’ve torn out of magazines or newspapers, or got on cards from Sainsbury’s or Waitrose. Josh and I are both off sugar so we wait for guests to come before we indulge.

The recipe was for a square tin but I don’t have one so I used my 20cm round tin instead.

Memoir extract from Woman in a White Coat
Learning to cook
When I finished my second house job I was five months pregnant. I was unlikely to find a part-time temporary job in medicine and I couldn’t face the thought of standing all day in a dental practice, though it would have been much easier to find a locum dental appointment.I decided to take a cookery course instead. At that time, I could cook omelettes and minestrone, but not much else. Only the girls in the lower streams at school did cookery and my mother had always shooed me away.

‘Food is rationed,’ she’d say. ‘Don’t want you wasting good food. Time enough to learn to cook when you get married.’

My mother was a very plain cook. Her repertoire was more or less limited to chicken soup, boiled chicken, braised beef, fried fish and sardines on toast. On Saturdays we’d have cholent, potatoes and meat or chicken that had been cooking all night on a gas ring turned on very low before the Sabbath came in.

I saw an advertisement for a six-week full-time course at the Good Housekeeping Cookery School. The courses were originally designed for debutantes who needed to learn how to run a kitchen, though they might never set a foot inside one except to give orders.

Most of the students were upper crust young women who had hardly ever gone into a kitchen. One 17 year-old had never even peeled a potato. A few of the others had moved to London and got a flat of their own so they had done a bit of cooking. There was also a woman in her early thirties who had been in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). We paired up and shared chores.

Before the war the students would have cooked in the morning and learned about housework in the afternoon: how to use the starch-enriched water from the potatoes to starch a frilly cap or even a shirt; how to use gophering tongs – the tubular bladed instruments that made little tunnels in starched caps and how to iron men’s shirts, though they might never have to do any housework once they were married. When I took the course it only covered cookery.

The kitchens were in a large basement in Mayfair. There were eight Formica-topped tables for the sixteen of us. The shelves around the walls were stacked with bowls and saucepans of every shape and size. There were drawers and drawers of cooking implements and several gas cookers and hobs. On Mondays the room smelled of cleaning fluid but the rest of the week we were greeted by the gorgeous smell of the cakes we’d cooked for tea the day before.

We were taught from scratch – how to boil an egg, how to boil potatoes, how to skin and bone a fish. We were taught a mixture of traditional English cookery – roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding – and some more exotic dishes like dolmas (stuffed vine leaves), curries and the classic sole dishes Sole Veronique, sole with green grapes and Sole Meniere, sole pan‑fried in butter.

In the mornings we cooked a main meal for lunch and ate it – meat, fish or a vegetarian dish and two vegetables. In the afternoons we baked cakes, bread, brioches, and pastries – I adored them all, especially the chocolate éclairs. In 1960 no-one seemed to bother about pregnant women putting on too much weight and I ate for two with gusto.

I couldn’t find a suitable sized alphabetised book so I bought a linen covered book and made my own index. I still have it, a few food stains on the cover and the leaves a bit faded, but the recipes as good as ever.

The teachers were all highly experienced cooks and managed their often unruly pupils very well. At dental and medical school there had been few women – there was still a 10% quota. I thoroughly enjoyed the fun of bonding and giggling and having a great time in an all-female group.

I thrived on being pregnant, though I got a bit more tired than the others. It was a lovely six weeks. I cried when they gave me a beautiful embroidered layette at the end of the course.

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