By Ella Walker
Did you know it is possible to make meringue in a microwave? How about almost-instant ice cream with a freezer bag and some rock salt? Or a whole cake in the time it takes to boil an egg?
It sounds like chemistry-lab level alchemy, but these are just some of the miraculous-sounding baking tips Northern Irish food writer Sarah Rainey shares in her new cookbook, 6-minute Showstoppers.
“If you can make egg whites and sugar come together and puff up in the microwave,” she explains, “you’re halfway there to making an entire pavlova.” Her coconut berry pavlova genuinely takes six minutes to make, and probably even fewer to scoff.
“If we ever needed cake, this is the time,” says Rainey, and the treats in 6-minute Showstoppers aim to hit the sweet spot between swift, simple and delicious. There are red velvet mug cakes, rum pineapple skewers, sloe gin jellies, Welsh cakes, Nutella ravioli and a ridiculously good-looking molten Mars Bar spoon cake. Throughout, Rainey utilises clever hacks so your sugar hit is on the table before anyone in your household has time to moan a second time that they just need a biscuit.
There are a few savoury recipes to be found amongst the pages too – halloumi fritters, a frying pan pizza, a microwavable shakshuka – but most are unabashedly sugary “because that’s where my real indulgence is, I have a hugely sweet tooth,” says Rainey. “Most of them are terribly bad for you, but terribly delicious.”
And eating cakes “makes people happy,” says Rainey. “We’re going back to traditional, old-school hobbies and activities, and baking is the ultimate example. You put a little bit of yourself into baking. To give someone a cake or a biscuit or a dessert that you’ve made, it’s really baked with love – even if you do it in six minutes, that doesn’t mean you put any less effort in. You probably put more in to try and get it done in the time.”
Frozen Nutella Loaf
1 x 400g tub Nutella
50g unsalted butter
200g Hobnobs (13-14 biscuits)
400g cream cheese
80g icing sugar, sifted
50g chopped roasted hazelnuts
Line a standard loaf tin (approx litre) with cling film, completely covering the base and sides and making sure there’s plenty of excess overlapping the edges. Place a medium saucepan on the hob and turn the heat up high.
Put 150g Nutella and the butter in the pan and melt, stirring often so they don’t burn.
Meanwhile, blitz the biscuits in the food processor or bash with a rolling pin.
When the mixture in the pan has melted to a smooth chocolate paste, tip the biscuit crumbs into the pan and stir until combined. Pour this into the lined loaf tin and use the back of a spoon to press it down.
In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining Nutella with the cream cheese and sifted icing sugar until smooth. Tip this into the loaf tin and spread on top of the biscuit base.
Finish with the chopped hazelnuts, covering the surface right to the edges. Wrap the excess cling film over the top of the loaf to cover it and place in the freezer for three to four hours to set.
Remove from the freezer around 20 minutes before serving and slice with a sharp knife dipped in boiling water.
Makes 1 cake, serves 8-10
30g cocoa powder
3tsp (heaped) instant coffee
175g self-raising flour, sifted
175g caster sugar
60ml semi-skimmed milk
60ml sunflower oil
1tsp vanilla extract
For the icing:
1tsp (heaped) instant coffee
130g icing sugar, sifted
Grease a 20cm-round, microwave-proof cake dish with a little butter and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Mix the cocoa powder and three teaspoons of coffee together in a small bowl and add approximately 100ml boiling water. Stir vigorously until dissolved.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and sugar. Add the coffee mixture, followed by the milk, oil, egg and vanilla extract. Beat to combine.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake dish and microwave on high for four-and-a-half to five minutes, checking throughout. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s risen and spongey (not wet) on top.
While the cake bakes, make the icing. In a small bowl, add a splash of water to the remaining teaspoon of instant coffee and mix to make a paste.
Mix in the icing sugar, a little at a time, adding more water if you need to, until you have a smooth paste, roughly the texture of thick cream.
When the cake is done, carefully tip it out on to a cooling rack and immediately spread the icing over the top.
Sprinkle chopped walnuts, pecans or coffee beans around the edge of the cake for a pretty finish.
6-minute Showstoppers by Sarah Rainey is available now