I think my insistence on flavour-first baking comes from a simple place - I am, first and foremost, a lover of dessert. Back in the days of actually setting foot in restaurants (coming again soon, yes yes), I would always want to check the dessert menu to help me decide what starter and mains to order; I would prefer to close out my meal with a mint tea or a measure of dark rum if there wasn't anything to take my fancy. It's a bit of indulgence, and it's a bonus part of eating, something you should feel excited about putting in my face. And I feel that way about the cake I make - if you're going to get cake, it better be something that makes your tastebuds sing and worth having a proper slice of. Otherwise, what's the point?
To that end, let's have a little wonder through some of the more unusual parts of the Den Bake Shop menu.
The Banana Chip
Banana cake is one of those Marmite numbers in my experience - people either love it or can't stand it. And so, so many people were making banana cake during one or other of their COVID confinements, I think the number of folks who never want to see another banana cake in their life just went through the roof. BUT, I still love it.
A good banana cake is, to my palate, sweet without being sickly; moist and squidgy without being wet or cloying; and carries the crumb structure of cake, not bread. I also like a bit of texture balance - at home with the kids, we often chuck dark choc chips and flaked almonds into the batter too. On this menu, that texture is achieved with crushed plantain crisps between layers, adding a pleasing bit of saltiness and crunch to the rich chocolate ganache filling the cake. And mine is fully plant-based, as an added plus.
The Original Nutter
As a lithe 18 year old working in Paris with no concept of calories, one guaranteed treat on hand in my studio flat was shop-bought sliced brioche, ever ready to slather in Nutella and dunk in milky hot chocolate several times a week. When I used to work in an office with a canteen (and when I was a regular at the gym), I kept my indulgence alive every Friday with a celebratory freshly toasted Nutella smothered bagel for breakfast. I love a cheeky Ferrero Rocher. And Dairy Milk Whole Nut is the only milk chocolate I will willingly buy, though I don't remember the last time I did.
So hazelnuts and chocolate are my JAM. Stands to reason I needed to make that happen in a cake. I make hazelnut paste with freshly roasted hazelnuts, which goes in both the cake batter (with more chopped hazelnuts) and the buttercream. Plus dark chocolate ganache, stuffed with caramelised crushed hazelnuts. Nuff said.
The Pistachio Almond Mango
My go-to snack when breastfeeding was raw cashews, dried mango pieces and broken Nature Valley bars. I kept Tupperware and jars of that combo in every room (I'm not kidding) so that I was always in reach of a refuel. I still munch on those beloved, delicious raw nuts and dried mango when peckish, and when I was creating a pistachio cake (for my other half, who is all about all sweet things with pistachio in them), I though I'd try pairing it with mango as a way to make that sometimes elusive pistachio flavour sing. And wooiiii, it does.
The nutty layers are packed with flaked and ground almonds and pistachio pieces, plus pistachio paste I make with roasted pistachios. Again, that paste also goes into the buttercream, which also gets a hefty dose of homemade mango curd between layers. Heavenly.
All that to say, if you haven't taken a step off the more regularly beaten flavour path yet, I highly recommend giving it a whirl - check out the full menu here. Keep your eyes peeled for my next cake box release, or treat yourself to a Babycakes from May (mini cakes by post? GET IN) to get a few servings in before you opt for a larger cake.
You won't regret it, I promise.