Virginia Barton

2 November 2014: Let us eat Cake…


2 November 2014


Excuse me if I lower the tone somewhat.

When darkness comes early and a little chilly, one suddenly thinks of cake. Well I do. At such a moment it’s probably just as well that there is none in the cupboard.




The other day I was given a slice of Opera Cake (above). This is quite out of the ordinary in Cake Realm; it sits on a pink cloud far above ordinary mortals. In my book it is ranged alongside properly made Shepherd’s Pie and Risotto con funghi. No, I’m not recommending eating these three things simultaneously.

Opera Cake is a celebration gâteau – it would be an insult to precede it with Shepherd’s Pie, however properly made. And Risotto is so s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g (to put it politely) one could not possibly eat even a sliver of cake afterwards. Or even a modest sundae dish of Coppa Olympica, that outrageous Roman “ice cream”.


I didn’t make the Opera Cake, I sampled it. A friendly neighbour made it with enormous patience and skill. He’s a mathematician. I have never even made an English Christmas cake. (BH is very scathing about this traditional dainty. His Army Mess was given one by well-meaning ladies during the war. The icing was so hard it defied cutting, even with a sword, but was handy for striking matches to light cigarettes. Oh the insult to English tradition!)

Countless sponges and quite good ginger biscuits have come out of my kitchen, also éclairs and itty bitty macaroons. But I know my limits, and Opera Cake is way beyond.


Should you know such a person, get a baking neighbour to have a go; perhaps offering to buy the ingredients or supply the ruler, razor sharp knives, cranked spatula and Joconde biscuits – and that’s just the half of it! (Incidentally, a Joconde biscuit is an almond spongy thing named after the Mona Lisa – as in giaconda.)

What I love about very good cooks is the generous way they share their masterpieces among us humble folk who live on Rich Tea biscuits and Custard Creams. One’s shape is testimony to their goodwill and big heartedness. My greedy little ears prick up when I know they are watching The Great British Bakeoff. Sooner or later I know some samples will come my way and these chefs could not have a more appreciative audience.

(Dear Father Christmas, please can I have a cranked spatula…?)






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