As autumn beds in, there’s nothing like a simple rustic cake and a pot of tea in the mid afternoon.

The imperative to feed ourselves up through autumn and winter may be a now-redundant instinct inherited from our ancestors of yore who, we’re told, were either found feasting or in the midst of a famine. But if it is, it’s one we’re quite happy to perpetuate, because what is cosier or more comforting than a hunk of farmhouse-style – or ‘naked’ – cake with a pot of tea at 4pm on a chilly autumn afternoon?

We’re emphatically not talking about fancy confections with frills or elaborate icing work. What we mean are the hulking great rustic types of cake, moist (all the haters of that word, we make no apology; moist is what they are) and given to becoming tastier and tastier over the few days they are stored in their air-tight tin – if they’re not devoured in one sitting, that is. These are a few of our very favourites comfort cakes, with a couple of steamed puddings thrown in for good measure on account of the fact that, really, they’re more warm hug than dessert. Now, someone get the kettle on.

Pear Loaf Cake


Pepper Delight


Pears are just coming back into season, and what better way to celebrate that joyful fact than with this glorious loaf cake? The ‘hidden’ pear – for which, read ‘sunken’; it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to locate its whereabouts – is soft, delicious and, in this case not actually poached, which makes the recipe all the easier. We’d be tempted to throw in a little ginger, but otherwise, this is the perfect cake to cheer up drizzly autumn afternoons.

Dundee Cake


Hairy Bikers Via BBC Food


The beauty of Dundee Cake lies in the fact that it’s basically Christmas cake that you can legitimately eat all year round. With decorative almonds, it’s always a showstopper plus, like its festive cousin, keeps forever thanks to the alcohol content. As the Hairy Bikers advise, it’s especially brilliant eaten with a good slab of cheese and a piping hot cup of tea.


Ginger and Walnut Carrot Cake


Nigella


Nigella just has a god-given knack for creating unfussy food that’s comforting, delicious and exactly what we want to eat at almost any given hour. This ginger and walnut cake is no exception. We love the addition of ginger in this recipe. As she describes, ‘This is very different from the richly sweet, loftily layered and aerated American original. While it is in some senses far more reminiscent of an old-fashioned, slightly rustic English teatime treat, it is, with its ginger-spiked cream cheese icing – only on top, not running through the middle as well – just right to bring to the table, in pudding guise, at the end of dinner, too.'

Coffee and Walnut Cake


Karen Burns Booth/ Great British Chefs


There are few things so redolent of nostalgic afternoons spent in National Trust tea shops as an old fashioned coffee and walnut cake. Karen Burns Booth’s recipe for Great British Chefs is the absolute exemplar, the buttercream icing obscenely thick and the cake crumbly yet moist and so delicious that, after we’ve finished, it has us hoovering up every last crumb with the efficiency of a Labrador after a Sunday roast.

Apple Crumb Cake


Crunchy Creamy Sweet


There is nothing – not one solitary dish – that epitomises autumn quite like a crumble. Unable to stop ourselves, we’ve been at them since August, greedily gathering blackberries from hedgerows for our crumbly pleasure. But even we have had our eyes dangerously opened by the idea of crumble as cake. This one purports to be the best crumb cake in the world, and we’ll take it at its word. Sublime.

Sussex Pond Pudding


Delicious


Less of a four o’clock pick-me-up, more the ultimate comfort pudding of dreams, this is, in short, suet pastry with a whole lemon encased, plus butter and sugar thrown together and then steamed. It is incredibly simple and the ultimate cold weather pud. It’s lovely now, but by November, we’ll be mainlining it. At the risk of turning everyone off, it is slightly reminiscent of school dinners, but in the best possible way.

Clementine and Almond Cake


BBC Food


This is one, hands down, one of our favourite cakes of all time. Made without flour (ground almonds make a great substitute), the four eggs, olive oil and whizzed-up boiled clementines ensure that it’s wonderfully moist. The recipe suggests the option of serving with whipped cream, but we’ll take ours naked, every time. If, as for us, the smell of clementines takes you right back to the autumn term at school, this cake provides the olfactory backdrop to the home time treat.

Raspberry Custard Cake


Olive Magazine


Raspberry, custard, ground and flaked almonds: need we say more? This is the ultimate cheering teatime treat and would work with other autumnal berries too. Plus, the recipe stipulates ready-made custard, making it easy on the labour front too. Perfection.

Treacle Pudding


BBC Food


There’s a reason that the wonderful Angela Hartnett’s treacle pudding recipe is listed under the BBC’s Christmas Kitchen collection; it is a truly indulgent and festive-feeling affair. But there’s also no reason to hold off until the twinkling lights of that season beckon to begin to enjoy this horribly moreish steamed pudding. We say why wait?

Cardamom Sponge With White Chocolate Icing


Mary Berry


It is apposite that we should conclude this list with a stunning recipe from the queen of cakes herself: Mary Berry. We love the slightly unexpected flavour of the cardamom, offset by the rich sweetness of the white chocolate – all of which proves why she’ll never be knocked off her perch as the reigning monarch of teatime.

By Nancy Alsop
September 2020

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Nancy Alsop

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