This deceptively beautiful cake is surprisingly simple – and inexpensive to make. The base is a simple lemon cake, whisked excessively to a lighter-than-usual sponge, and the basil topping may look alarmingly herbaceous, but is subtle and refreshing. The basil was an afterthought – I was initially going to scatter the smaller petals on top, but my mind moves in mysterious ways, and I ended up with this, instead.
Serves 8 at 10p each
4 tbsp applesauce (or 2 large eggs), 10p (49p/280g, Asda)
175ml cooking oil (or 175g butter), 8p (98p/1l, Asda)
2 tbsp bottled lemon juice, 4p (39p/250ml)
175g self raising flour, 5p (45p/1.5kg, Smart Price at Asda)
175g sugar, 11p (64p/1kg, Asda) (75p/500g)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 2p (69p/170g, Asda)
For the top:
100g icing sugar, 15p (75p/500g, Asda)
10g fresh basil leaves, 20p (60p/28g, Growers Selection at Asda)
30g sugar, 2p (64p/1kg, Asda)
First grab a large mixing bowl and combine your wet ingredients; the applesauce, oil and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly until well combined.
Add a tablespoon each of flour and sugar and stir well. Repeat several times to form a loose, sloppy batter. Add the baking powder and mix together, then add the remaining flour and sugar a little at a time, incorporating into the mixture steadily and evenly.
When all of the cake ingredients are well combined, grab a large balloon whisk (that’s an ordinary whisk to you and me) and whisk well for a few minutes until the mixture grows in size slightly – this incorporates air into the cake mixture and gives a better rise and a lighter, fluffier end result. It isn’t essential and does take a little practise so if it doesn’t work for you, don’t worry, your cake will still be beautiful.
Lightly grease a cake tin and pour the batter into it, leaving room for it to rise. Heat your oven to 180C and pop the cake in on the middle shelf for 45 minutes to cook.
Meanwhile, make your basil sugar. Finely chop your basil, including the stems, using the heaviest, sharpest knife you own. Chop it into smithereens, and again, and again, and again until you have tiny imperceptible shreds of basil, and then go at it again. Transfer it to a small bowl or jar, and add the sugar. Mix well until the sugar is green and slightly clumping together, and set to one side.
Don’t try to get ahead and make the icing – that needs to be left til the very end else it will set.
When the cake is cooked, test it by inserting a skewer, chopstick or sharp knife into the centre. If it comes out clean, you’re good to go. If it comes out with a little cake mixture on, return it to the oven for another 10 minutes.
When the cake is *actually* cooked, remove it carefully from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes in the tin before attempting to remove it. This allows the cake to carry on cooking, and settle into itself – warm cakes are prone to collapsing and crumbling and undoing all of your hard work!
When it is cooler, remove carefully from the tin and set onto a plate or board for icing. Allow it to cool completely, else icing it will be a thankless and messy process.
In a small bowl, mix the icing sugar with the water and stir thoroughly to knock out any lumps. Drizzle the icing over the top and right to the edges, and repeat until the cake is glazed to your liking or there is no icing left. I enjoy a glaze as a sort of softbox, a coy voile to disguise the lumps and bumps of my imperfect bakes beneath a haze of intrigue. It is my favourite kind of icing; the gentle crackle beneath the first bite giving way to springy, soft crumbly cake. But it takes a little work to do it well, and a little tidying up around the edges.
When the cake is glazed, generously sprinkle over the candied basil crumbs to taste. I added wafer flowers to mine for prettiness but they didn’t do anything for the overall flavour.
Leave to set for an hour, tidying up the edges here and there where the icing will slide down the sides and pool around the cake (I simply scoop it up and dollop it back on top, waste not want not!)
And enjoy. It will keep in an airtight container for up to three days (ha!) and in the freezer for around 3 months.
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