It all started with an impromptu cuppa at The Olive Tree Cafe two weeks ago. My weakness is always right there for all to see in either one of those two cake stands on the counter. This is where you'll find their classic jam and buttercream sponge, lime and coconut sponge and Weller's apple and blackberry sponge to name just a few of my favourites.
But on this day there was a new danger and it was so far up my particular street there was no room for a u-turn. I give you Gill's
Apricot, Plum & Almond Cake.
It needs it's own line. It really does. All three excellent flavours combined into a moist sponge cake with a hint of chewiness from the slightly caramelised plums and texture from the almonds. Not to mention the apricot jam oozing out of the middle with the buttercream. Anyway, of course I had to have a piece, telling myself I would share it with my four year old (now I think about it, the 1/4 width slice I gave him may be where he researched his definition of sharing. Do as I say and all that..?) and he had been promised a treat. I took a not-very-flattering photo of the oozy deliciousness and posted it to Instagram Stories, where it very quickly gained plenty of love and envy despite my photography skills.
Now, I'm originally from Cornwall, at the diametrically opposite end of the UK, and two friends there saw the post and asked me if I might beg, borrow or - if necessary - steal the recipe from Gill as nearly 700 miles in the middle of the pandemic was a bit far to travel for cake, even for them. I imagined the knowledge behind such a cake might be a closely guarded secret, something akin to the original recipe for the digestive biscuit which, legend has it, Alexander Grant traveled with on the train between the two McVitie's factories in London and Edinburgh, never removing it from his person (more on this in the Heritage Centre if you're interested). So with thoughts of subterfuge, I nervously messaged Gill to ask if she might consider sharing the recipe with these distant Cornish cake-bakers. 'Yes! How lovely!' was the immediate reply, along with the hand-typed recipe.
So that is how two of the best bakers I know west of the Tamar (or west of anywhere really) set to work on a recipe from one of the best in the north. I give you the versions from Barbara Tamblyn, life-long baker of Botelet and fount of all traditional Cornish baking knowledge including such specialities as pasties and clotted cream-making, and Lucy Newman, another life-long baker and former owner of the fantastic Courtyard Cafe in Looe, Cornwall where the crab sandwiches were worth a detour of counties and the cake stands groaned under the weight of such deliciousnesses as her own speciality, chocolate and beetroot cake. Below left is Lucy's mid-way through being devoured and right is Barbara and her version.
Gill's Apricot, Plum & Almond Cake: The Recipe
10oz salted butter (softened)
10oz caster sugar
10oz self raising flour
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1 heaped tsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tsp almond essence
Dash of milk
Mix all the above ingredients together in a bowl
Line and paper 2 cake tins and into each tin, sprinkle an even layer of flaked almonds & then add 2 heaped tbsp of light soft brown sugar and spread evenly on top of the almonds to create a layer of sugar. Slice the plums and spread over the sugar in both tins. Divide the cake mix between the two tins and cook at 180 degrees fan for approx. 25 minutes.
Once cool, sandwich the two sponges together with vanilla butter icing and apricot jam.
This post is from Oct 2020. Gill & Weller's Olive Tree Cafe has now changed hands and is The Cafe at Logie Steading, run by Mags and Robbie Cairns (Feb 2022). This delicious cake still bakes just as well as when it was on Gill's menu!