I‘ve been making some variation on this recipe since I was a kid; my family are now connoiseurs of this particular baked treat. Fairy cakes were one of the first things I ever learned how to cook and this recipe has evolved out of those first messy, gloopy attempts. Aged seven or eight, I remember baking them at a friend’s house and scrawling down the recipe we used on pink notepaper to take home with me. There’s something magic about the alchemy of baking and I am firmly of the opinion that if you bake with love (or – at a pinch – in fits of giggles), you can taste it. Like something fresh and sparkly behind the buttery goodness.
I kept that little pink recipe for years, eventually absorbing the recipe and merging it with one from Nigella Lawson, I think. It’s one of those recipes that I’ve now been making for so long that I kind of do it without thinking. As I got older, baking became my stress relief and this recipe got pulled out time and again because no matter how bad I was feeling, I knew that in the process of creaming butter and sugar, adding flour and eggs, and a splash of vanilla extract, everything would seem better. Bake with love, people, it works.
So when I was spending time with my family, before the “Great Migration North”, and my dad and I were feeling a need for sugary treats, I whipped up a batch of these. And, thanks to my parents’ chickens, I was able to bake them with fresh eggs, which was amazing. If you ever get the chance to bake with eggs picked straight from the nest – or pretty darn fresh from a farmer’s market – don’t hesitate; they are amazing and they turn the batter of whatever you’re baking an amazing shade of sunshine.
Although my parents still had the fairy cake tin I used to make these back in the day, I opted for mini loaf tins because – well, why not? And I’m pleased to say they worked a treat! Giving the little cakes extra room, making them a bit more substantial (the old fairy cakes could – and were – popped in the mouth whole and devoured) really paid off; they were light and buttery, with a light, yet, definite crisp to the edges. Perfection really, especially with a cup of tea.
Keep in mind that this is a recipe that has had its edges mentally smoothed away over the years – it’s all the better for it, I think, but it also means that you should have full and free license to add to it, absorb it, and play around with it. But mainly, please, bake it with love.
For mini loaf cakes:
250g self-raising flour*
250g caster sugar (golden or regular – either works)
1-2 clementines (depending on size)**
*I used gluten free self-raising when I made these as my mum is gluten-free, but they would work just as well with normal flour. If you do fancy making these gluten-free – for dietary reasons or just because you’re curious – use Doves Farm (Self-Raising), it’s the best gluten-free flour we’ve found. And don’t think that you’re missing out on anything; not only could you not taste the difference at all, but I think the gluten free flour actually made them a little bit lighter.
** The mini loaf cakes would be delicious with a more traditional lemon drizzle as well. Or stir some fresh or frozen berries into the mixture and omit the drizzle for a more fruity mini loaf. It’s all good!
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Melt the butter gently (microwave or on the hob) – it doesn’t all need to be liquid, but warm and soft is good – then mix with the sugar. Add a generous splash of vanilla extra to this mixture.
- Start to add the flour. Don’t add all at once (gently does it), but rather add a batch, stirring gently to combine, then add an egg, stirring gently to combine before adding another dollop of flour – you get the idea. It’s not precise, but alternating work – you don’t overwhelm the batter and the end result is light, fluffy cakes.
- Once it’s all combined, pour the batter into your greased (little bit of butter and a light dusting of flour) mini loaf tins – or cupcake tins – and pop in the oven.
- Depending on the size of your tins, it could take about 10 mins, maybe 15. But I’d make yourself a cup of tea and make the syrup while you keep an eye on them – maybe even do the washing up, if you’re speedy! Or, do as I (try to) do and exert Chef’s Exemption – e.g. “She Who Cooks Does Not Wash Up”. (Word to the wise – this doesn’t always work, but it’s always worth a shot!) Essentially, after about 10 minutes, be ready to whip them out when they’re golden and cooked through (prick with a cocktail stick or a knife and it should come out clean).
- For the syrup: peel lovely long strips of clementine zest and pop in a small saucepan. Add to this the juice of said clementine and a few tsps of sugar. This is done entirely to taste. Add the sugar, switch on the hob and gently heat the mixture, stirring while the sugar melts. Dip your spoon in – if it tastes pleasantly sweet (not too sickly), you’re good to go. If you’ve over-sugared, add a little more juice or water. If it’s not sugary enough, add a bit more.
- When the mini loaf cakes are ready, leave them in their tins and drizzle over the clementine syrup. Let them cool ever-so-slightly, if you can restrain yourself – otherwise, dig in! They are delicious when cold, too. They’ll keep for a few days (either in their tins, or out), but in my experience they don’t usually make it to day 2.