...it's amazing the difference some fresh fruit, a new spice or a funky sauce can make to a basic recipe.
The same applies to cakes and desserts. There is nothing wrong with a good old Victoria sponge, thickly spread with butter icing and home-made jam, and dusted with icing sugar. But why not add flavourings such as ground coffee and chopped walnuts (then ice with coffee butter cream) or lemon zest (and ice with lemon curd folded into whipped cream) or a few strawberries? Or try the recipes below for chocolate cake with a thick fudgey frosting or a 'thunder and lightning' topping. The latter is a combination of black treacle and clotted cream; a variant of the classic Cornish treat of the same name.
175g butter, softened
175g golden caster sugar
3 large free-range eggs
175g self-raising flour, sifted
Place the butter and sugar in a food mixer and beat for at least five minutes, until the mixture turns pale. There will be a noticeable difference in colour from when you start, going from creamy yellow to almost white (or pure white, if you are using white refined sugar). Alternatively, place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon for 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, to ensure the eggs are all incorporated. Gently fold in the flour and then divide the mixture between two buttered and base-lined 20cm sandwich tins. Bake at 190¼C/375¼F/gas mark 5 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until springy and just firm to the touch.
Leave for five minutes and then remove to a wire rack. Once cold, add the filling.
Chocolate fudge cake
Follow the recipe for Victoria sponge, but substitute two tablespoons of sifted cocoa for two of flour. Top the cake with the following frosting.
300g icing sugar
50g butter, softened
3 tbsp strong coffee, cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting, combine everything in a bowl and beat until smooth, adding a little milk - enough to make it soft and spreadable. Use it to fill and top the cake.
Thunder and lightning
Add a tablespoon of black treacle to the cake mixture. Make the filling by mixing a 250g pot of clotted cream with a couple of tablespoons of sifted icing sugar (taste for sweetness) and then use this to sandwich the cakes together.
You can use low-fat crème fraîche, but the texture will be softer.
250g digestive biscuits, crushed
80g butter, melted
500ml crème fraîche
100g cream cheese
100g icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
For the base, combine the biscuits and butter and press into the bottom and a little up the sides of a lightly buttered, deep 24cm springform cake tin. Leave this to chill.
Place the remaining ingredients in a food mixer and beat well, until smooth. Tip this into the tin, spreading it evenly over the base, and chill overnight.
Blueberry and white chocolate cheesecake
Melt 250g of quality white chocolate and stir it into the cheesecake mixture. Top with the following blueberry sauce.
50g golden caster sugar
juice of half a lemon
Whizz half of the berries with the sugar and lemon juice, then add the whole berries and check for sweetness. Pile atop the cheesecake for a delicious result.
Coconut and mango cheesecake
Add 75g of desiccated coconut and three tablespoons of Malibu to the cheesecake mixture. Once it has been chilled, top it generously with slices of fresh mango.