Borough Belles: Becky Marlow

Categories: Reflections and opinions

The Borough Belles, Borough Market’s neighbourhood branch of the Women’s Institute, is packed with keen cooks, happy to share their ideas and insights. This month: Becky Marlow

I think baking appeals to me because I’m a scientist—I like measuring out the ingredients precisely and following recipes closely. My grandmother is a big baker, that’s her thing—if she’s ever at a loose end, she’ll be in the kitchen baking, so I have definitely grown up with it. I’m not trained in any way: I’ve used lots of YouTube videos to learn how to do icing and things—it’s amazing what you can find out on the internet now, it’s fab. I cook a lot at home, for friends and for dinner parties, but there’s just something about baking a cake and sharing it with people that I really love.

Becky Marlow

The baking element of WI was partly what appealed to me about Borough Belles. I joined in January this year, mainly because I was looking to extend my social circle. In my head, the WI was white-haired, older women baking, but I kept reading about the sort of things the ‘new age’ Belles were doing, stumbled across the Borough Belles and decided to join.

I somehow ended up volunteering myself to run a film club, which came about off the back of the book club, really—a few of us had loved some of the books we’d read and wanted to see the film versions. Once a month we go and see a new release at a local cinema, and we’ve done some ad hoc events, too. We recently went to see a classic film at Backyard cinema in Elephant and Castle—we sat on bean bags on a ‘beach’, it was great fun!

I haven’t done much baking for the Belles so far—I actually live in a new build flat and I have banned use of the oven at the moment, it’s too hot! It’s a real winter thing for me, unless I have a specific thing to be doing, like my brother’s wedding cake—which is what the recipe I am sharing here was originally for. He got married in Tower Bridge last summer, which was so exciting.

My sister-in-law wanted the wedding cake to be decorated in hundreds and thousands on the outside, I did a red velvet cake for one of the tiers, which always goes down very well, and a classic victoria sponge for the second, then the top tier was this earl grey and lemon cake recipe. I chose it because it’s my sister-in-law Alex’s drink of choice! It’s a really unusual cake flavour—when you first taste it you don’t quite know what it is—but it’s lovely with the sharpness of the lemon and the flavour of the bergamot from the tea. I’m a great fan of Great British Bake Off, and it was inspired by a cupcake recipe from there, which I have adapted.

Three-tiered cake with hundreds and thousands

Becky’s earl grey and lemon cake 
Line a loose-bottomed 8” cake tin and preheat the oven to 180C. Heat 400ml semi-skimmed milk in a pan until it is steaming hot. Remove from the heat and add 4 earl grey tea bags, then leave to infuse for 2 mins. Squeeze the bags gently and then remove them. Measure 300ml of the milk and leave it to cool to room temperature.

Measure out 500g plain flour. Beat 230g unsalted butter and 450g caster sugar together until creamy. Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, beating them in well, along with 1 tbsp flour. Add ⅓ the remaining flour to the creamed mixture and beat well. Add ⅓ of the infused milk and beat again. Repeat until all the flour and milk has been added. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and level off. Bake for 40 mins, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let it cool in the tin for 10 mins. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

For the icing, beat 150g unsalted butter with 10 tbsp lemon juice. Measure out 750g icing sugar, and add half to the butter and lemon juice mix. Gradually add the rest of the icing sugar, beating well until smooth and creamy. Taste and add a little more juice if needed.

Split the cake into 2 halves—use the base of the cake as the top. Spread icing in the centre, then place the other half of the cake on top, and spread icing on the surface until smooth. Decorate with lemon zest. If you want to cover the entire cake with icing, you will need a double quantity of the above icing mix.