We all love baking cupcakes, but now we can extend our hobby to reading about them as well with the release of the new book Hot Cakes: A Novel With Recipes by Kim Newman-Wood. When Bex Mason-Smythe’s husband gets made redundant, she decides to go back to her passion for baking to save her designer lifestyle. However her use of the treasured family recipe means war and it is icing bags at dawn as the battle of the cupcakes begins…
Not only is the novel extremely entertaining, but it includes some delicious recipes too. Here we have an exclusive extract from the book for you, plus a recipe for strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. If you enjoy the book and want to read the rest, you can buy at it Amazon for just £8.09.
Prologue – January 2009
Somewhere in Birmingham…
It had never been a beautiful store, but then this particular Birmingham suburb was never going to make it in to the UK’s prettiest town contest. The ravages of the last few days had left it looking like the survivor of a major hurricane. Empty shelves, litter on the floor and a random scatter of pick ‘n’ mix as far as the eye could see. It was carnage.
A few forlorn customers were wandering around, poking at the remnants and trying to find a final bargain, but there was an overwhelming sense of sadness in the air. Walworth’s had been a major player on the British High Street for nearly a hundred years; reliable, cheap and homely, you could always count on finding the item you were looking for on a shelf somewhere. The bankrupting of Walworth’s had the feeling of a national disaster on a grand scale; it was a bit like when Concorde had crashed or when Diana had died – for some strange reason it felt personal.
Enid, supervisor of the homeware area and known to her friends as “Bunny”, had just returned from a quick cigarette break.
‘Look what those buggers have done to my novelty fruit candles!’
Indeed, some kids had been in and arranged the banana and apple shapes into a colourful penis arrangement.
‘Does it matter, Bunny?’ her long-time best friend and colleague, Diana, sighed.
‘It’s all over now, isn’t it? What are we going to do?’
Bunny was not one to dwell on the nostalgia.
‘We’re going to go to the boozer early and get rat arsed; that’s what we’re going to do, lady.’
She was interrupted by the dulcet tones of Marie, the store manager’s personal assistant, over the intercom system.
‘The store will be closing at 12 o’ clock lunchtime today for the final time… And God bless you all!’
Marie’s voice wobbled precariously at the end of the announcement and loud audible sobs could be heard as, with the emotion of the situation, she had clearly forgotten to take the intercom off the air when she had finished.
‘Oh, Mr Taylor, what am I going to do? Will I ever find another job?’
‘Don’t worry, little cuddle kitten. I’ll look after you.’ The deep tones of the store manager responded along with some loud rustling noises and rather worrying grunting.
The employees on the shop floor were enthralled. All these years of suspecting and now they knew it was true. Old Man Taylor really was bonking his assistant!
Blissfully unaware of their audience below, upstairs in the office, the store manager and Marie, his faithful personal assistant of 10 years standing, had opened a bottle of sweet sherry. They wanted to mark the occasion of the final closing down and to lament the possible end of their long liaison with one last tryst.
‘But Fluffy, will we ever get to see each other? You know how I love to play with your joy stick… Hold on, someone’s knocking at the door!’
‘Go away, I’m in a conference!’ Robin Taylor intoned manfully.
‘It’s Irene, Mr Taylor,’ called a muffled voice. ‘I really think you should let me in.’
The seventy-five shop floor employees were enjoying possibly the most entertaining moment of their working careers at Walworth’s and were calling out general encouragement
‘Don’t let her in!’
‘Have a last shag!’
The sound of loud rustling and then the door opening came across clearly on the intercom and everyone booed loudly.
‘What’s going on, Irene? I told you I wasn’t to be disturbed.’
‘But Mr Taylor…’
‘What’s that noise? What are all those layabouts doing down there?’
The clapping and shouting from the shop floor had increased to crescendo levels heard even from the first floor.
‘Who are you calling a bloody layabout?’ called a loud voice.
‘Mr Taylor!’ Irene’s voice could be heard getting more insistent. ‘You haven’t turned off the…’
‘Oh, fuck. Quick, Marie!’
And the show was over.
Bunny and Diana were hugging each other, with tears of laughter running down their faces.
‘The old bugger, who’d have known it?’
The boys in electrical were doing an energetic conga, and the pick ‘n’ mix girls were throwing cola twists at them.
It was chaos.
A red-faced Robin Taylor emerged onto the shop floor to loud clapping and cheering from the entire staff.
‘Now stop that!’ he shouted.
There was an immediate silence. Despite his newly-confirmed dalliance, he had been a good manager, fair and supportive to all of them but with a wicked temper when things had gone wrong. They all needed a good reference at a time like this if they were to stand any hope of getting a decent job.
Robin looked around them all, going slowly from face to face.
They were terrified.
‘I just want to say… Marie, bring that bloody sherry down here, boys go and buy some beer and wine, get everyone a drink… You’ve been the best bloody workers in the world and I love you all.’
‘What, even me?’ Evan, the 17-year-old tearaway from the DVD section, constantly late and in trouble with the police piped up.
‘Yes, even you, you bugger,’ Robin said. ‘Now let’s have a few drinks and see the old place out in style – now – get rid of the customers!’
With a whoop of delight, any non-employees were unceremoniously ushered out of the main doors, which Robin locked behind them with a flourish.
‘One hour to go!’ he said, waving a can of beer and making a few rather uncalled for “V” signs to the passing shoppers who were looking inquisitively through the windows.
‘Sir, won’t we get in to trouble drinking at 11 in the morning inside the shop?’ asked Irene worriedly.
Robin laughed; he was 58 and knew he would never work again.
‘What are they going to do, sack us?’
Diana and Bunny ensconced themselves on some unsold lime-green scatter cushions, with a bottle of white wine, in front of the last remaining television set in the shop, watching one of the morning TV shows.
‘Seriously, Bun – how are we going to manage?’
‘Don’t know, Di.’ In an effort to avoid the conversation that was definitely going to get uncomfortably emotional, she looked more closely at the screen. ‘Blimey, he’s still really fit – I’d definitely give the Silver Fox one, wouldn’t you?’
‘Oh yes, him and that nice Eamonn – a bit podgy but definitely worth a round or two; I do wish I had a chest like that lovely Polly. Shame about Fern getting so thin, though, isn’t it, she didn’t make feel nearly as bad about my boobs?’
Her gamble had paid off; Diana was easily distracted and Bunny let her rattle on whilst her mind was working overtime.
What was she going to do? The family relied on her wages and staff discount to help them survive. Thank God, they had bought their council house when it had been offered to them some years back and her Clive had still been in work, many of them on the estate hadn’t done it and now lived to regret it. It was a different situation now, she had a husband who had been laid off from Rover after 30 years, one daughter who was a single mum and lived at home with her baby, another daughter who was god-knows-where, and a no-good son who seemed determined to avoid working at all costs. This was not the fruition of her childhood dreams.
‘Oooh, look at those, Bunny. They look nice.’
The Silver Fox and Polly were admiring some rather fancy-looking cakes on the television.
Bunny took a deep slug of her white wine to help her forget the stress that was lurking, and then sat bolt upright.
‘Turn it up, Di!’
‘The volume, do you mean?’
Yes, you dozy cow – turn it up, now!’
On screen, a beautifully turned out brunette in cashmere and pearls was speaking earnestly to the two presenters whilst holding out a plate of exotically decorated cupcakes.
‘You see, Polly, at the Eco Conscious Cupcake Company we believe in the finest of organic materials; we even have an optional vegan and gluten-free range. After all, we only want the best for our children, don’t we?’
Holly, who clearly hadn’t been able to resist, had a mouth full of cupcake and her co-presenter took over smoothly.
‘Well, Bex, they certainly are delicious; but what makes this a cupcake and not a fairy cake? ‘
Bex smiled sweetly at him, clearly prepared for the question.
‘It goes back to the recipe’s American roots, when women abandoned measuring – like us busy women of today, they didn’t have time for that, and so they started using cups instead. They’re a sort of symbol of our liberation – and, of course, theirs are bigger than ours’
The Silver Fox couldn’t resist this.
‘So, cup size really matters?’
Bex looked snooty and ignored him.
‘And, of course, at my local Women’s Association in Shoreditch, we uphold those principles…’
Looking naughtily at his co-presenter’s chest, the Silver Fox could not resist one final quip.
‘..and I think Polly can attest to that.’
Polly interrupted as her co-presenter was incapable of speech for laughing.
‘Well, thank you, Bex – and good luck. These are certainly the most fashionable things to have for your party in London at the moment and, of course, the WA is becoming so fashionable again, not all Jam and Jerusalem?’
‘We are the new face of the WA, Polly.’
‘And the recipe, Bex, is that on our website?’
‘Certainly not! It’s my great grandmother’s secret recipe; I don’t even share that with my WA Sisters!’
‘Yes, Bex – a bit like the Colonel with KFC, maybe?’
The Silver Fox choked audibly on his cupcake again.
Polly continued as he chortled helplessly in the background.
‘Anyway, viewers, contact details of how to order these delicious cupcakes are on our website and, I must say, they’re certainly very popular with us. Thanks to you again, Bex Mason-Smythe.’
And the interview was over.
Bunny was momentarily speechless. She felt like she had been hit with a truck full of ice, as countless emotions washed over her, leaving her numb with shock.
‘Bex Mason bloody Smythe my arse!’
‘Wasn’t that your Becky?’ Di said in wonder.
Quite a crowd had gathered now.
‘Blimey, I remember her when she was a nice bottle blonde,’ called out one of the boys from electrical.
‘That’s enough of that,’ said Robin, who also remembered the young Becky very well, when she’d regularly shoplifted from the Pick ‘n’ Mix.
‘When did she get that posh, Bunny? And that thin?’ asked Di.
Bunny didn’t answer straight away. So that’s where the la-di-dah ungrateful little bitch had ended up, and what’s more she was making money out of Nana’s old recipe. Well if bloody Becky Mason or whatever she called herself these days could do it then she, Bunny, was going to do it too.
Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes
For the cakes
6 ozs/180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
6ozs/180g caster sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Half teaspoon vanilla extract
6ozs/115g self-raising flour
2 strawberries chopped very small
Optional: 2 teaspoons red food colouring
For the topping
200g/7oz cream cheese or mascarpone
Small carton double cream
65g/2oz caster sugar
12-16 fresh strawberries
2 crushed digestive biscuits
Optional: edible pink glitter
1 muffin tray and paper cases
For the cakes:
- Pre-heat oven to gas Mark 3, 170oC or 150oC for a fan oven
- By hand or in a food processor, or using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until it is white and fluffy
- Add the eggs, vanilla, food colouring (if you want to use it) and flour
- Stir chopped strawberries in to the mixture
- Divide the mixture between either 24 small or 12 large paper cases
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until each cake is golden and springy to touch
- Allow to cool.
For the icing:
- By hand, in a food processor or with a hand beater whip the cream until stiff
- Beat in the cream cheese and the caster sugar – you can add a little food colouring if you wish
- Either using an icing bag or just with a teaspoon, pile the mixture on top of the cooled cakes
- Dust with a small amount of crushed digestive biscuits
- Top with sliced strawberries and dust with edible glitter if you wish.
These cakes are best eaten on the same day as the fresh strawberries won’t last and go a bit soggy, but they are so lovely that they won’t last long anyway!
You can substitute strawberries for raspberries or any other soft fruit – I used blue colouring and put blueberries and blue edible glitter once and they looked amazing if a little surreal!