Best contribution for the tea tent
If you have to make a cake for a tea stall at a fête or a show, then Coffee Cake is your best bet. In my experience, it is the most popular cake to offer and it’s straightforward to make. You only need buttercream icing for the top and middle and then finish it off with walnuts or pecans (as I have here). An advantage for those serving the cake is that the nuts divide the cake nicely so that it’s easy to cut into even portions. Oh, and it tastes great. Really, it’s the ideal cake for the tea tent – or for any afternoon tea.
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Last week it was the annual village show where my mother lives. It’s a lovely English country show full of locally grown flowers, fruit and veg as well as cakes, jams, and all sorts of arts and crafts. There’s even a largest pumpkin category – just as I remember it from my childhood! And of course, all the people who visit want a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Mum and I had volunteered to do a shift in the refreshment tent and to make a cake each.
I decided on a coffee cake but, typically, I’d left the baking until the last minute so I made my cake the night before I was travelling to Mum’s, intending to ice it there. In fact, I decided to make two coffee cakes and cook them differently – one in two shallow tins and one in a deep tin – to see if both worked. I duly did that, but made them so late that the deep one wasn’t cool by the time I went to bed. I left it with the paper still on the bottom on the wire cooling tray with a box over the cake so that the air could circulate. Fortunately, it was fine. A good tip for another day!
I decided to take both cakes with me and decide which to use on the day. That was a fortuitous decision, as Mum hadn’t made a cake. She moved house last year and has had her kitchen remodelled. Somewhere in the process, she had lost a cake tin – oops! Time for a shopping trip, but no time before the show. So we ended up using my two coffee cakes and I have to say that both were very good, according to the comments I overheard.
I wouldn’t recommend cooking a sponge like this in one tin, though, if you have the option not to. I’ll have to have a few more attempts to understand the cooking time before I could definitively say what it should be – basically I cooked it for 40 minutes at 170°C then reduced the temperature to 150°C for a while.
Anyway, our cakes tasted great and were the first ones to disappear (but not before I’d snaffled a piece to try). The sun shone and the show was a great success. My mother’s friends took home prizes for cakes, jams and soft toys. One of their grandsons won a prize for his painting (voted for by the public and submitted anonymously), awarded in memory of his grandfather. Even the curate won a prize – for his home-brewed beer (well done Sid!). Next year’s date is in my diary with a note to make two coffee cakes. Happy days.
For the cake:
- 250 g butter at room temperature
- 250 g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 250 g self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (5ml)
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules, heaped tsp (20ml)
- Very hot water
For the buttercream:
- 125 g butter at room temperature
- 250 g icing sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules, heaped tsp (10ml)
- Very hot water
For the decoration:
- 12-16 pecan or walnut halves
- Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 170°C fan/ gas mark 5/ 375°F
- Line the tins with a paper liner. Grease the tins (if they need it) with butter paper (or a little butter on kitchen paper)
For the coffee cake:
- Mix the instant coffee with as little hot water as you need to dissolve the granules/powder
- Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly(Butter, caster sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, coffee liquid)
- Evenly divide the mixture between the tins. Smooth the top with a palette knife and make a slight dip in the centre
- Cook for about 25 minutes until the cake surface springs back when you touch it lightly with your fingertip
- Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Leave the paper in place if you don't intend to ice them immediately.
For the coffee buttercream:
- Dissolve the coffee granules in the water as above
- Put the butter into a medium-sized bowl and beat until it is soft. This is best done with a hand-mixer
- Add the coffee liquid. If you aren't sure about the strength, only add half now
- Add about a quarter of the icing sugar and beat, slowly at first to avoid the icing sugar going everywhere (see note)
- Add the rest of the icing sugar in installments, beating thoroughly each time. Taste to make sure the flavour is right. Add more coffee liquid if you prefer
- Remove the baking parchment from the cake if you haven't already done so
- If the cakes have a pronounced peak, just cut it off with a large, sharp knife. The cakes don't need to be totally flat
- Put one cake on the serving dish and use half the buttercream to cover. Spread it evenly. Put the second cake on top and cover with the remaining buttercream
- Arrange the nuts on the top of the cake. 12 gives you a good sized portion but if you want smaller slices use 16 nuts.
- Use a splatter guard over your mixing bowl, especially for the icing, to keep the mixture in the bowl
- The cakes keep well for up to a week in an airtight box - preferably in the fridge.
- The un-iced cakes can be frozen for up to a month