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I was a little bit scared to try this cake. I had high hopes, but worried that perhaps I’d gone too far. I don’t make that much cake, despite it being the first thing I learned how to cook. I also don’t eat that many cakes, despite being the mother of a toddler. I do, however, like baking cakes, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me. I think I’ve been put off because I was led to believe that you have to strictly follow a recipe or your cake will fail, you need scales that are so accurate that an ant crawling over the flour would be registered, and you need an oven that tells you what temperature it is. Pfff!

I decided to do a fennel cake, I think because I’ve been trying to think of ways to get more vegetables into Molly. Last week I tried courgette and carrot muffins. Not a great success. I’ve since abandoned this plan, as have found that the greatest success I’ve actually had has been to have a showdown with Molly and to be strict. Since ‘the leek incident’, she’s tried so many more new things, and I don’t even have to disguise them as cake (or behind bacon). However, it has got me thinking more about vegetables and how else to use them (not to mention agonising over what kind of mother I now am). Fennel is one of my favourites, and I’m often adding it to dishes, where perhaps it’s not always welcome (on Jamie’s plate anyway). It’s great in lasagne and cottage pie, and always goes well with pork. But in cake… hmm…

This isn’t a fancy pants cake. But it is a warmly reassuring, moist, sticky and, if I wasn’t diabetic, incredibly devourable cake. Think rustic, cake by the hearth with a glass of milk, kind of cake.

Fennel And Sultana Cake

250ml olive oil

1 fennel bulb, finely chopped

250g golden caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

250g s/r flour

2 tspn baking powder

1 tspn orange extract

1 tspn salt

75g sultanas

Pre-heat oven to 180c, grease a round 18cm tin. In one bowl, mix until smooth, the eggs, sugar, orange extract and oil. In another bowl sift the flour and baking powder. Then make a well, and gradually mix in the other bowls’ ingredients. Then fold in the saltanas, salt and fennel.

Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes (or until a knife comes out clean when you insert it into the cake. Leave to cool in tin. Then remove, and slice with a serrated knife in half to ice the cake.

Mascarpone Icing

1 tspn vanilla extract

250g mascarpone cheese

250g icing sugar

Mix the mascarpone and vanilla extract together, gradually adding the icing sugar until smooth. This is a sticky, gloupy icing and so it won’t be the neatest of finishes (I decorated mine with halved black olives, thinking it was inkeeping with the olive oil, but really because it was the only thing at hand and Molly was about to stab me with the cake knife if I didn’t hurry up).

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