Dressing up a plain cake with pantry extras

Poke around your kitchen cupboards and get creative with your supplies

Take a look in your kitchen cupboards. If you are anything like me, there will be all sorts of ingredients, some unopened and some half-used. Many are staples always kept in stock, but a fair number would have been bought, partly used for a particular recipe and put away "for another day".

A look into my pantry is quite revealing - all those good intentions of one day using up the supplies flash back to me.

It also shows an unfortunate lack of checking on what is in there. I discover three unopened packets of polenta, more wholemeal flour than I can hope to get through in a year and some obscure spices I had bought for a particular recipe and then left forgotten on the rack.

Sadly, there are also some things that are a bit past their use-by date. So I end up having a spring clean, throwing out what is looking a bit tired and reorganising what is left.


  • Dried Turkish apricots and pistachio nuts.


    For the cake:

    260g plain flour

    11/2 tsp baking powder

    1 tsp cinnamon

    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

    200g butter, at room temperature

    180g caster sugar

    3 eggs

    100g plain yogurt or sour cream

    50ml milk

    200g dried Turkish apricots, roughly chopped

    75g pistachio nuts, chopped

    Icing sugar, for dusting the top

    Yogurt or cream, optional

    For the orange drizzle:

    Juice of one orange, about 3 to 4 Tbs

    Grated zest of one orange

    60g sugar

    50ml water


    1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Grease the bottom and sides of a 23cm loose-bottomed cake pan. Line the bottom with baking paper.

    2. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together in a bowl.

    3. Cream the butter and sugar using an electric mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed butter and sugar. Add 1 Tbs of the sifted flour mixture if it starts to curdle. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients and stir in the yoghurt and milk, apricots and pistachio nuts, saving about 2 Tbs of the nuts to sprinkle on the cake before baking.

    4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tin, sprinkle the nuts on top and bake for about 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

    5. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup. Place the orange juice, grated orange zest, sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until it begins to thicken slightly. Strain to remove the orange zest.

    6. Once the cake is ready, remove it from the oven and poke small holes across the top with a skewer. Pour the hot orange syrup over the cake and leave it to cool.

    7. Dust with icing sugar and serve plain as a tea cake or as a dessert cake with a dollop of yogurt or cream.

    Serves eight to 10

Lesson learnt: keep an eye on expiry dates and do not risk using something that is no longer fresh.

I have always liked the philosophy of choosing each day's meals on the basis of what is fresh and cheap at the market that day. In a busy working lifestyle, of course, that is not always feasible, but when I can, I do just that, choosing fish, meat and vegetables by what looks best on the day.

Now, with the cupboards clean and tidy, I have a good idea of what I have in reserve - providing a strong hint of what may be feasible to make if I try conjuring up something from what I have in stock.

Apart from an oversupply of noodles, chicken stock and tinned tomatoes, I find some dried fruit, assorted nuts - such as almonds, peanuts and pistachios - and unopened jars of herbs and spices.

The fridge adds a few more staples - milk, sour cream, butter and yogurt. So I decide the challenge is to bake a cake using what I have available and what needs to be used.

When it comes to baking, all you need for a basic cake is butter, sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder. I have all of those. But that would make a rather plain cake.

So what is needed are a few other ingredients to add extra flavour and, with a bit of thought, I decide to go with dried apricots and pistachios as well as a drizzle made from a solitary orange left in my fruit bowl.

The dried apricots are the plump Turkish variety which are good to use in baking because although dried, they retain much of their softness.

Poke around your cupboards and fridge and you will probably find that you have almost everything you need to get creative as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'Dressing up a plain cake with pantry extras'. Subscribe