An Aunt’s Recipe and a Little Black Dress of a Cake

Here’s today’s ‘Piece of Cake’ column in Mint Lounge newspaper – it features a  family recipe for yogurt cake and this is what my kitchen looked like when photographer Priyanka was trying to get a shot of it….

Piece of Cake | Pamela Timms

I recently read about a woman who’d vowed to take her much-loved masala recipe to the grave, unmoved by pleas of family and friends to share. My heart breaks for her daughters: Despite having a cookbook collection which could fill a medium-sized library, the only one I’d brave a burning building for is my mum’s old handwritten recipe journal. It contains the story of my childhood and the food that made me the eater, cook, person I am.

Click here to view a slideshow on how to bake a yogurt cake

A good cook is made not born, her best recipes have been handed down, tweaked, transformed and adjusted; they have a personal history, a lineage, a soul. I don’t cook everything the same way my mother did—margarine has certainly been banished—but I always feel her at my shoulder in the kitchen, her mother and grandmother not far behind. And that’s an immensely comforting and inspiring kitchen to work in.

Decadent: Raspberries and lemon glaze turn this simple sponge cake   into a treat. Priyanka Parashar / Mint

Decadent: Raspberries and lemon glaze turn this simple sponge cake into a treat. Priyanka Parashar / Mint

Today’s yogurt cake comes from another relative and began its passage to India on one of Scotland’s far-flung islands back in 1975, when my aunt and uncle found themselves posted to Skye. While all their belongings, including kitchen scales and measuring cups, were still in storage, auntyji (as we refer to her after a recent visit to India) had been unable to do any baking. So she was delighted to tune into the Jimmy Young Programme, a popular radio show at the time, one morning and hear a recipe for yogurt cake requiring no special equipment, everything being measured out in the yogurt pot.

Auntyji’s cake is a moist, no-frills, never-let-you-down, little black dress of a cake; you can take it anywhere, dress it up, dress it down, reduce the sugar, omit eggs, and it will still be eager to please. In its unadorned 1970s form, it’s a soothing bite to accompany a cup of tea; with fruit and icing it becomes a gooey pudding. It’s had to adapt to life in India—the yogurt pots are a different size here—but has also already started winning friends. I took a mulberry-laced version to a dinner party the other night. We ate half of it immediately, then the host devoured what was left of it during a midnight raid on the fridge. The next morning, she was on the phone for the recipe.

Also See Previous columns by Pamela Timms

Here, I’ve made it into something quite decadent, with the addition of raspberries to the sponge and a tangy lemon glaze. And in the universal spirit of recipe-sharing, here it is.

Lemon and Raspberry Yogurt Cake


1 small (200ml) pot of natural yogurt

2 pots caster sugar

1 pot sunflower oil

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 eggs

Zest of 2 small lemons (take care not to grate in any of the bitter white pith)

1 tbsp lemon juice

3 pots plain flour

1K tsp baking powder

K tsp bicarbonate of soda

Pinch of salt

200g fresh raspberries or other soft fruit

For the glaze

2 pots icing sugar

Juice of 2 small lemons


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius, then line a loaf tin with baking parchment paper (it’s worth investing in real baking parchment instead of butter paper as it’s completely non-stick). I use a rectangular tin that measures 10×5 inches (26x13cm).

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt. In another large bowl, mix the yogurt, sugar, eggs, oil, vanilla essence, lemon zest and lemon juice. Beat the mixture well until smooth.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the wet until everything is well incorporated. The mixture will be more like a thick batter than a traditional cake mixture.

Pour half the mixture into the tin, sprinkle half the raspberries, then cover with the remaining mixture. Add the remaining raspberries, then put the tin immediately into the hot oven.

Make the glaze by sifting the icing sugar into a bowl and mixing with the juice of about two lemons.

When done, the cake should be firm on top and lightly brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. If not, put it back for 10 minutes.

When the cake is ready take it out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, turn it out on to a plate and drizzle with the glaze


Mulberry Cupcakes: My New Baking Column in Mint

This was a landmark weekend for me – the start of my new fortnightly baking column, ‘A Piece of Cake’ in Mint newspaper. I’m particularly excited because although I’ve been writing for British newspapers for over 10 years and have written weekly columns before, this is the first time I’ve had my own little space to write about my passion: food!

The column will be fortnightly in the Lounge lifestyle section of Mint on Saturdays and will focus on baking. I’m particularly thrilled to be doing a baking column because I know a lot of people are terrified of the prospect of baking at home and I want to show that with a few basic techniques, anyone can rustle up wonderful cakes, biscuits, pies. I hope to pass on some of what I’ve picked up over the years – I’ve been baking since I was a kid and learned most of what I know from my Mum who was an ace baker.

I’m keen also mix up traditional British baking methods with some of the wonderful local ingredients.This week, for instance, I focused on cupcakes with a crushed mulberry icing.  Mulberries are  in season for a few weeks right now and for me they’re even more exotic than mangoes.  At least we get imported Alphonsos at our local Pakistani grocers in Edinburgh – I’d never seen a mulberry till I came to India.  The recipe can also be adapted to use any soft fruit – they’re particularly delicious with raspberries as in the picture above.

Here’s the recipe

Crushed Mulberry Cupcakes

Makes 18

225g plain flour mixed with 2 level teaspoons of baking powder

pinch of salt

125g unsalted butter

175g vanilla sugar (sugar in which a couple of vanilla pods have been stored – much nicer than synthetic vanilla essence)

200ml soured cream

finely grated zest of one lemon

1 egg

2 egg yolks

175 ml milk


250g icing sugar, sifted

handful of fresh purple mulberries, hulled

a squeeze or two of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases (you’ll have to make two batches to use up all the mixture)

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat together the vanilla sugar and butter until pale and fluffy.  In another bowl, beat together the soured cream, lemon zest, egg, egg yolks and milk until well mixed.

Gradually add the egg and cream mixture to the butter and sugar.  When the mixture is completely smooth, carefully fold in the flour. When all the ingredients are combined, spoon the mixture into the muffin cases to about three quarters full – you need to leave room for the icing.

Bake for about 20 minutes.  These cupcakes don’t brown on top but they’re done when you press the sponge and it springs back.

While the cupcakes are in the oven, make the icing.  Carefully hull the mulberries – you don’t want any traces of stalk to interfere with the luscious soft berryness. Thoroughly sift the icing sugar into a bowl, spritz with a little lemon juice then with a fork crush in a couple of mulberries at a time. Go slowly, you don’t want this icing to be too runny. Leave the cupcakes to cool in the tin then top with generous teaspoonfuls of icing to about 4mm thick.