Have you ever dreamed of running away with the circus?
To be honest, it’s not a dream that I have ever chased – too many animals (I’m not a fan), far too many death-defying stunts (I’m a wuss) and travelling from one portaloo to another … well that would push me over the edge.
Let’s face it, nowadays, for most people, the circus has all but lost the charming, romantic image of yesteryear. It’s now big business, in the biggest of big tops with the biggest convoy of articulated lorries in tow.
A few years ago, when our children were still pretty young, we went with some lovely friends to see Gifford’s Circus – which had really and truly been created by a lady who had ‘run away with the circus’. Now if that doesn’t sound promising, then I don’t know what does …
It turned out to be everything that I had hoped it would be – small, intimate, charming, simple and packed with inspiration and enthusiasm … thoroughly beautiful. The show was held on a village green – not housed in an extravagant or exotic, enormous dome, but instead a proper Enid Blyton style big top.
It attracted an audience of all ages and the show itself was captivating – a clumsy, endearing clown; an onstage band; fire jugglers; acrobats; horses and tumblers – ‘not so much death-defying as life-enhancing’.
I was in love – hook, line and sinker. And if all that wasn’t enough … at the interval, the refreshments tent was the stuff that dreams are made of – enormous, brightly coloured enamel tea pots, generously filled Victoria sponge cakes piled high and everything adorned with bunting and a good dose of sparkly fairy lights. Perfection.
It’s true to say that this tent was my most vivid lasting memory of Gifford’s Circus but funnily enough, for my lovely friend who came with us, it was neither the refreshments tent nor the circus itself that stuck with her, it was the Mini Lemon Loaves that we ate out of the back of our car before setting off on our journey home!
And here’s why you won’t be able to get them out of your head either –
- This is a Nigella recipe and let’s be honest – it requires no tweaks, no adaptations, no nothing. This is a ‘works-perfectly-every-time’ recipe.
- And it’s easy … very, very easy.
- I made 8 mini loaves (why wouldn’t you? … they are the cutest), but you could also do 1 large loaf or 10 cupcakes.
- The drizzle makes the cakes SO moist and lemony. This is heaven in a cake.
- Great for a bake sale, perfect for a picnic, fantastic if you have friends coming round, gorgeous for a gift.
If I HAD to run away with the circus, Gifford’s would be the only one for me. Come to think of it, I wonder if they need anyone to make their tea and cakes ….?
- For the cake -
- 125g (4½ oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 175g (6oz) caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- zest of 1 lemon
- 175g (6oz) SR flour
- pinch of salt
- 4 tablespoons milk
- For the syrup -
- juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
- 110g (4oz) icing sugar
- 8 mini loaf tins or a 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin or a 10 cupcake tray with paper liners
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F (gas mark 4).
- If you are using mini loaf tins, be sure to grease them well and line them with a strip of baking parchment. For a large loaf tin, greasing and lining the tin is also essential - I cut 2 rectangles, one which is the length of the tin and one which is the width of the tin. Be sure the 2 pieces are long enough that the paper comes up at least a centimetre above the top of the tin. The two pieces will form a cross inside the tin. For cupcakes, line the tin with paper cases.
- Cream together the butter and sugar, and add the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well.
- Add the flour and salt, folding in gently but thoroughly, and then the milk.
- Spoon into the prepared tin(s) and place in the oven.
- While the cake is cooking, get on with the syrup - put the lemon juice and icing sugar into a small saucepan and hear gently so that the sugar dissolves.
- Bake the mini loaves and cupcakes for 20 minutes or the loaf for 45 minutes. In all cases, the cake should be golden, risen in the middle and an inserted cake-tester will come out clean.
- As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top all over with the cake-tester. Pour over the syrup, trying to ensure that the middle of the cakes gets as much syrup as the sides.
- I like to use a zester to create little swirls of lemon rind to use for decoration. Put these on just after the syrup to make sure that they stick.
- Leave the cake to be completely cold before removing it from the tin.