As first loves go, I’ve had many. We all have. For 15-year-old me, it was the Backstreet Boys, whom I was going to meet one day, or so I told myself. I would marry Kevin Richardson, though not before all five of them battled to win my love. Even now, at 36, they still send my heart aflutter. Because out of all the bands a 15-year-old girl could have loved, they were my first.
Becoming an older sister when my brother was born — my first taste of a protective, maternal love — was another first love. My first pet, Hira the cat, loved me like tuna, and I loved her like I love chips. She makes the list as well. Becoming an aunt for the very first time was one, a rush of familial connection for someone who shared my DNA but whom I hadn’t had a hand in making. My first secondhand bike, which I shared with my sisters. Her name was Bluebird, and she was blue with white tires, rusty, and cost my dad 25 cents from a Sunday market. I loved that bike, but her unpadded seat did not love me. My first pair of roller skates. Yes, they were hand-me-downs, and I grew out of them quickly, but they rolled me to places beyond the parameters set by parental guidance.
And children: real people, growing inside me, waiting to be met. You would think the thrill of seeing your child would change or fade with each subsequent child, but no. It’s still there, fresh and new, every single time, with every single child.
And then of course there is cake. Yes, cake. But it didn’t happen until adulthood.
As a teenager, I baked a cake for my sister’s pre-wedding party. It was a simple cake, sandwiched together with sticky jam and groaning under the sheer weight of a thick white fondant and a hideous fondant groom, who was dressed to the nines in his fondant finery. But I didn’t feel the love then or later, when I did a GCSE in food studies and designed an entire Pokémon Cake, with marbled red-and-white layers, sandwiched with jam and covered in a colored fondant, shaped and cut carefully to create an actual “Poké Ball.” The teacher said, “You’re really good at baking. Ever considered going to catering college?” I thought, I’m also good at tying my shoelaces, but who cares? I just wanted an A in Food Studies.
Eventually I got married, and we got our own house and even our own oven. Still nothing. Until one day… “Can you bake?” my husband asked me. “Because I love cake.” I supposed I could bake, maybe just a little. I gave it a try.
First I made him a wonky cake, and he ate the whole thing. So I saved money for an oven thermometer to better regulate the oven temperature. The next cake was a bit less wonky. He ate it again! Then some strawberry-and-cream muffins. A whole dozen. A little chewy, not very cake-like. He ate them all. I tried again, and by then the babies had joined in too. They were eaten even faster than the first batch.
Baking was natural, it was normal. And it was loved.
Like everything on my list of first loves, baking came into my life at a particular moment. But unlike my memories of boy bands and Rollerblades, baking is still here. It’s become a massive part of who I am. I live it, I breathe it, I whisk, stir, measure, and bake it! For goodness’ sake, I dream about it. And not even the Backstreet Boys’ Kevin can claim that honor.
Nadiya Hussain’s Mango and Coconut Yogurt Cake with German Buttercream Recipe
Serves 8 –10; prep 35 minutes, plus chilling; cook 45 minutes.
For the cake batter:
- ½ cup/50g dried shredded coconut
- 1 mango, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 1⅓ cups + 1 tablespoon/400g Greek yogurt
- 1½ cups/300g granulated sugar
- 7 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3¼ cups/400g all-purpose flour
- 5¾ teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
For the German buttercream:
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons/150ml whole milk
- ½ cup/100g granulated sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1½ cups/350g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the decoration:
- ¾ cup/150g mango pulp
- ¼ cup/25g coconut flakes or dried shredded coconut, toasted
- Greek yogurt and any extra mango pulp
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms and grease two 8-inch/20cm round cake pans. Toast the coconut in a small pan until it is golden, and sprinkle into the bottoms of the cake pans, making sure to evenly distribute it. Toasting it will enhance the flavor (untoasted coconut is no different to the wood chip shavings I lay out for my rabbit). Add the mango in some sort of orderly fashion, straight on top of that coconut.
- The cake is an all-in-one method, so really easy. Pop the yogurt into a large mixing bowl along with the sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until you have a smooth, shiny cake batter.
- Pour the mixture into the pans and tap the pans a few times on the work surface to level off the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
- Take the cakes out and let cool in the tins for 15 minutes, then turn out and allow to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the buttercream by putting the milk in a saucepan with the sugar. As soon as it just comes to a boil, take off the heat and mix, making sure the sugar has melted.
- Now put the egg yolks in a bowl with the cornstarch and whisk. In a steady stream pour in the hot milk mixture, making sure to stir all of the time. Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat gently until it all thickens into a really thick custard that coats the back of the spoon. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool, then chill in the fridge.
- When chilled, beat the custard mix, then add a good tablespoon of butter at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla. Keep beating until you have a really stiff, pipeable buttercream. Pop into a piping bag.
- Take the first cake, with the fruit side facing upward, and arrange on a serving dish. Pipe swirls of the buttercream all around the edge and then in the center, covering the top of the cake. Pop the other cake on top and make the same swirls around the edge, avoiding the middle and leaving gaps between the swirls.
- Pour the mango pulp into the center, allowing it to drip down the sides. Sprinkle it with the toasted coconut and serve the cake with Greek yogurt and any extra mango pulp.
Adapted from Nadiya Bakes: Over 100 Must-Try Recipes for Breads, Cakes, Biscuits, Pies, and More by Nadiya Hussain. Copyright © 2020 by Nadiya Hussain. Photographs copyright © 2020 by Chris Terry. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.