The 1st Birthday Cake


For a non-baker I seem to be doing a lot of baking at the moment. I often tell people that, no, I don’t bake cakes … I’m no good at things like Victoria sponges; I only ‘do’ dessert cakes. With family from north Wales to the south coast coming to London for grandson Freddie’s first birthday party this weekend it became clear that at least one cake with a proud 1st candle on top was required. I’ll make a Torta Caprese, I said, as I usually do for big family events (like my daughter’s birthday last November). But then I thought, a Torta Caprese isn’t exactly a first birthday cake … even though Freddie is developing tastes for Italian food in local Italian cafes and even tucked into a little portion of this glorious chocolate and almond cake at Corto Italian Deli last week (they’d kindly brought a selection of little pieces of cake with our coffee, having discovered it was Lyndsey’s birthday). So, I gave it all some thought and remembered the lovely marble pound cake I used to make years ago; the recipe in a now old but still brilliant book, CAKES by Barbara Maher.


If I made a double portion to put in my large 28cm cake tin, that would work well, I thought. A marble cake has half vanilla and half chocolate sponge mixed carefully together to form a marble effect. Then, thinking I would write it all up on the blog I took a little more time to actually read the book … and well, a ‘pound cake’ is of course (as the bakers in you will no doubt know!) just an American version of what we call Victoria sponge in UK. Oh … well, perhaps I can make a Victoria sponge. Hopefully this weekend a very good one!

A classic pound cake has equal quantities in weight of butter, sugar, flour and eggs. It was the Victorians who added baking powder to make it rise higher. Queen Victoria herself loved sweet things. Having been denied anything sweet as a child she gave into her sweet tooth once an adult and queen, and of course we tend to think of her as a rather rotund old lady.

In Barbara Maher’s version, she says you can make the cake by the quick all-in-one method but recommends a second method of beating the egg whites separately and adding sugar to make a meringue to give the cake even more lightness, saying it has a ‘finer taste’. I’m usually pretty lazy about cakes and would naturally opt for the quick method, but well, this was a very special birthday for a very special little boy … so, I not only made the more complicated version once … but twice! I made one quantity of the cake flavoured with vanilla and then a second batch with added chocolate.

Marble Pound Cake

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 250g butter
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (for chocolate half)

Vanilla version: Sift the flour with the baking powder 3 times. Cream the butter and half the sugar until pale and fluffy. Then beat in 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, one egg at a time, beating the mixture thoroughly. If the mixture starts to curdle add a little of the flour. Add the vanilla paste and lemon zest and beat in. Now lightly beat in the flour a little at a time. Don’t over-beat or the cake will be heavy. At this stage the mixture will be very thick.


Beat the 3 egg whites until they hold firm peaks. Add the remaining 125g caster sugar spoonfuls at a time, beating to get a glossy smooth texture.


Beat a couple of spoonfuls into the cake mixture to lighten it, then using a large metal spoon carefully fold the rest in.


For the chocolate half: if making just one quantity of the recipe for a small (20-22 cm cake tin), then divide the mixture in two and add 2 tablespoons cocoa powder to one half. If making a large 28cm cake as I did, I made one batch of the recipe with vanilla and then another batch as chocolate, adding the cocoa powder at the end and beating in. (I should have really doubled the quantity of cocoa for the full recipe and forgot but it worked fine, but for a stronger chocolate flavour you could add 4 tablespoons cocoa powder.)


Grease a 28cm cake tin and line with greaseproof paper. Now put alternate spoonfuls of vanilla mixture and then chocolate mixture into the tin.



Run a fork quickly through the mixture in a zig-zag to combine just a little and then smooth off the surface.


Put in a preheated oven at 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4 for 1½ hours. (If you’re making just one batch to fill a 20-22cm tin, then cook for just 1¼ hours.) Check it’s done right through by piercing with a small sharp knife to check it comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.


When completely cold, I iced mine with a lovely rich chocolate ganache (click here for recipe). I found some sweet little edible woodland creatures in Waitrose to decorate it with and piped on ‘Happy Birthday Freddie’ with a simple icing; mix some sieved icing sugar with a little warm water until you have a thick paste.


Freddie needed a little help blowing out the candle. Then the cake was cut into slices to be passed round the party.


It was a lovely, delicious cake enjoyed by all … especially the birthday boy! It has an excellent texture for a birthday cake that’s to be cut into smallish pieces as it holds together well. I love the combination of the vanilla flavour and the chocolate and it does look rather pretty too.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

7 thoughts on “The 1st Birthday Cake

  1. I bet the little birthday boy had a good time. I’m not really a baker either as my husband doesn’t care for sweets. Your cake looks good, I know I would like it.

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