‘I got obsessed’: the 15 best reader bakes of lockdown – from cathedral biscuits to perfect brownies

Lifestyle

Rainbow cake
Eve Catherwood, corporate welcome host, Manchester

To celebrate Pride month, I challenged myself to bake a rainbow cake. It took me about eight hours, but I was so pleased with the result. I iced the title of the Lady Gaga song Born This Way on the top, as it’s my favourite LGBTQ+ anthem and embodies what Pride is all about.

This was my granny’s recipe: 6 eggs, 12oz (340g) self-raising flour, 12oz butter or margarine, 12oz caster sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp vanilla essence and various food colourings. The batter is divided into six bowls, a colour is added to each and then they are baked separately. Once cooled, they can be layered with buttercream. I also used Skittles to create a rainbow on the side and sprinkles for the top.

It was absolutely massive, so I ended up portioning it up and dropping to local friends – spreading the love!

Strawberry tart
Andrea Fahrmeyer, mystery shopper and receptionist, County Dublin, Ireland

Usually, at this time of year, I would fly home to Germany for my mum’s birthday. It’s strawberry season, so we would go to our favourite cafe and choose strawberry tarts. This year, I attempted to make the tart at home – and the result was surprisingly good.

I used 200g digestive biscuits, broken up and mixed with 100g melted butter, then pressed into a cake tin lined with greaseproof paper. Next, I melted 120g chocolate and brushed it on to the biscuit base. I cut off the strawberry stems and balanced the fruit on the chocolate, flat side down, and filled the gaps with blueberries. Then, I poured over slightly warm fruit tart filler (you can make your own using diluted jelly granules) and left it to set in the fridge for four to eight hours. It’s best served one hour out of the fridge and with cream.

Easter balls
Jacquiline Singh, researcher, Delhi, India

It was on Holy Saturday that it dawned on me that, due to the lockdown, we would not be having any Easter eggs. If we wanted to indulge in goodies, it would have to be done inhouse. I found a simple no-bake recipe for rum balls on the Bigger Bolder Baking site, which was perfect – except that I didn’t have most of the ingredients.

I wore my chef’s hat and decided to innovate: cranberry juice for rum; honey for maple syrup; peanuts for pecans; tea biscuits for vanilla wafers. We enjoyed the (no-rum) rum balls on Easter and were grateful that we had something nice on the table and a roof over our heads during this unprecedented time.

Bloomer loaf
David Rickard, IT worker, Buckinghamshire

I’ve been getting most of my recipes from Paul Hollywood’s book Bread and I doubled up the ingredients of his white bloomer to make this 1kg loaf. It was a monster – and took a fair bit of effort to knead – but it came out well.

I bought a 16kg bag of flour and a 500g pack of yeast early on in lockdown, because I decided it would be fun to make loaves when we ran out. I’m now over halfway through the sack. I’ve also made doughnuts and baguettes.

Choco-banana cake
Sudarshana Kashyap, Assam, India

I had never baked before the pandemic, but during lockdown I found myself looking to try something new. I have been staying in Delhi for the past six years, so having home-baked cakes is a rare opportunity. I had seen a few recipes on YouTube and asked my mother to help me. On average, I’ve baked a cake almost every week since.

My best lockdown bake has to be this choco-banana cake. Fruit was not available in our area for the first month of lockdown and I love bananas. So, when I could next get them, I thought: why not incorporate them into a cake?

This recipe mixes 2 ripe bananas, 2 eggs, 1.5 cups (210g) icing sugar and ¾ cup (170ml) vegetable oil with 1.5 cups (210g) flour, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tbsp baking powder, ½ tbsp baking soda and ½ cup (115ml) milk. I baked mine in a pre-heated pressure cooker, on a medium heat, for 25 to 30 minutes.

Pink cream and berry layer cake
Catherine Parfitt, university disability services manager, Brighton

I wanted to make my grownup daughter a birthday cake – something light and fruity. Wheat flour shortages called for an alternative approach and a friend had given me some white spelt flour. I combined about three online recipes (to match the ingredients I had in the cupboard), using the spelt flour to make the sponge and lining the cake tin with breadcrumbs. For the whipped cream filling, I used a dried red berry powder to get the colour. Once the sponge had cooled, I cut it into layers and poured 2 tbsp milk over each. Between each layer, I added the cream mix and chopped fruit, then decorated the top. It was lovely and light, with a slightly nutty flavour thanks to the spelt. I thought it would be like a brick, but it turned out perfectly!

Raspberry pie with a sweet basil dragon crust
Devoney Scarfe, artist, Auckland, New Zealand

During lockdown, I decided to master the art of the pie. I got a little obsessed and made a lot of pies – it’s how I found the balance between my creative needs and the practicalities of feeding a family who were suddenly all at home, all the time.

This one is my favourite. You just blind bake sweet shortcrust pastry in a pie tin until it’s a deep golden colour. Then, while it’s cooling, put 450g raspberries and 1 cup (200g) sugar in a saucepan and gently heat. When the mix is bubbling away, sprinkle in 3 tbsp cornflour and cook for a few more minutes. Let it cool and thicken, then tip into the pie crust. Sculpt a pie top however the mood takes you, then freeze for 30 minutes, before cooking until golden. Then, gently place it on top of your pie.

Cathedral biscuit
Jayne Thorn, procurement worker, Berkshire

Last December, when we were able to travel, I visited Barcelona, where I spent a wonderful afternoon at the city’s famous cathedral: La Sagrada Família. I love cathedrals and cathedral architecture and this was pretty special. I had always wanted to do a “stained glass window” bake, but rather than go with the traditional gingerbread house, I tried to replicate a window from the cathedral. The orange-hued windows are on the west, taking advantage of the warm afternoon light, whereas the eastern facing side has blue and green hues, sharpened by the cold light of sunrise.

I don’t think I’ve done any justice to the cathedral itself, but I really enjoyed doing it and it gave my brain a well-earned rest. I used Fox’s Glacier Fruits for the glass, but I’ve subsequently learned that Jolly Ranchers have much stronger colours. The recipe is one I’ve adapted slightly from the National Gallery cookbook – their biscuits have never failed me.

Rhubarb cream pie
Deborah, Brightlingsea

This is a pie that my neighbour in Minneapolis made for me right before I left to move to England in 1987. It was so delicious that I thought about it many times over the next 30 years. On a whim, I did a Google search and found a recipe that made this exact pie. The funny thing is, on the website where I found the recipe, the author describes having exactly the same experience: having the pie some years ago, then spending a long time hunting for the recipe.

Sourdough loaf
Carol, doctor, New South Wales, Australia

This is the basic sourdough loaf from Baking School by Bread Ahead. The wait for the starter to mature was an act of blind faith and I was expecting something resembling a floor tile from the first attempt, so couldn’t believe it when I got a beautiful, chewy, flavourful loaf. I make one a day, since I’ve had five adults in the house while in lockdown. Apparently all starters need a name, so ours is Son of Covid. The dough knows if you’re getting too cocky though and only gives back as much as the love and attention you put into it.

Camping cake

Jan Raposa, management consultant, London

I made this cake (pictured top) for my wife to cheer her up on her birthday. We had been locked down in the house with a three-year-old while juggling work and things had started to get to us. In preparation for a staycation, she had treated herself to a new tent, while I bought camping gear for her birthday present. To fit the theme, I made this cake, which went down a treat. It’s a simple Sacher-inspired chocolate cake, using firm ganache for decoration, along with marzipan and icing. A couple of layers of zingy jam cut through the cake so that it didn’t feel too heavy. We polished it all off prior to our second lockdown camping trip. This time we stayed at … the other side of our garden.

Lemon custard tart
Sophie, student, Edinburgh

My best lockdown bake was lemon custard tart – flaky pastry on the outside and a set lemon custard on the inside. I used Dan Lepard’s recipe, which is based on one from Marco Pierre White’s book, White Heat. It was so delicious that I made three in one week!

Pizza
Bryony Bowie, writer, London

Like the rest of the UK, I jumped on the lockdown sourdough bandwagon, but I hated throwing away flour when I refreshed the starter, as it was so hard to get hold of – so I developed a recipe for pizza to use it up. It has a gorgeous depth of flavour and tanginess, but without the hassle of slow-rising or the technicality of a full sourdough.

For a 14in (36cm) pizza, start by stirring any liquid back into the unfed starter. Measure 250g into a large mixing bowl, then add 125g lukewarm water and combine, before adding 300g bread flour, 1 tsp fine salt and ½ tsp dried yeast. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic, then transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and set aside for about four hours, or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan/350F/gas 4), lightly oil a pizza tray, gently stretch out the risen dough, then use your knuckles to guide it to the edges of the tray. Set aside to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before adding your toppings and baking for 30 minutes.

Four-layer cake
Nick Dunn, sales manager, London

My housemate was turning 30 and had cancelled her big party. Restricted to just the three of us and a Zoom call, I wanted to make something that was extravagant, but wasn’t designed to feed 50. This is a four-layer cake: raspberry sponge, New York cheesecake, blondie and chocolate brownie cake, with dark chocolate and cream cheese ganache and raspberry truffles. I made each layer separately and the frosting was a blend of butter, cream cheese, icing sugar and cocoa powder.

For the chocolate work, I covered a baking sheet in cling film before freezing. Then, I piped the chocolate patterns on to the panels and left them to set before peeling off the cling film and arranging around the frosted cake. My housemate wasn’t expecting anything like it and she loves dark chocolate and raspberries, so she was very happy.

Chocolate fudge brownies
Nigel Barnes, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire

During lockdown, I’ve been making tray bakes and my partner has been taking them to her mother, Dorothy, who is 93 and has been enjoying them immensely. She has not been out for ages, so we’ll do anything to bring a smile to her face. I was looking for a recipe that didn’t require a mountain of chocolate and came across this one, which used cocoa powder instead. I also added chopped roasted hazelnuts to give it a little something extra. These were just the ultimate in “gooeyness” – and of course I’ve now had to make more to keep Dorothy going.