“I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t eat cake,” says London-based chef Liberty Mendez. When preparing her book, I’ll Bake!, she was making around five cakes a day. “I was bombarding my flatmates and people living locally,” she says. “I think they got a bit sick of it.” Surely there’s no such thing as too much cake? “I agree!” Liberty concurs.
Liberty knew she wanted to be a chef when she was a teenager. “When everyone was going off to do their A levels, I told my parents I wanted to go to catering college,” she says. Her family were expecting her to go down an academic route, instead. Food wasn’t a big thing for them, but Liberty was surrounded by a lot of traditional Austrian cakes growing up. Her grandfather was from Austria, and his wife learnt to make cakes from her mother-in-law. “There were a lot of apricot dumplings, and we had Gugelhupf for every birthday – until we found out about Costco cakes!”
At 16, she studied for a three-year diploma at the Westminster Kingsway College, specialising in pastry, (“I loved how beautiful everything could be – and to not be sweating over a deep fat fryer!”) before working as a pastry chef at The House of Commons (“Some people just wanted rice pudding or a steamed sponge rather than the finer things!”) Following this, she became a recipe developer and content creator for BBC Good Food, writing recipes, food styling and presenting shows.
While at the House of Commons, Liberty learnt a methodical approach to baking. “You waste a lot less time doing something slowly and carefully, rather than having to do something all over again and waste ingredients.” She has a horror story of splitting a ten kilo frangipane mix. “I couldn’t get it back! Myself and the head chef stood there for half an hour trying to recover it, and it just wouldn’t come back.” Initially, she approached publishers to write an exposé on life as a young woman in kitchens, inspired by Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt. “Because it wasn’t quite as dramatic as working in a hospital, we did a swift change and focused on what I actually enjoy doing, which is baking. But one day I’ll reveal my stories!”
Liberty has a playful nature that shines through her recipes, which champion simplicity and often incorporate bright, fresh fruit. “I think, what's the point unless you're having fun? I don't want baking to seem stressful,” she says. “Over the years there has become this thinking that you have to be really precise, it’s an exact science and it’s all about the ratios. In some recipes a few grams does matter, but I don’t want that to stop people from baking. If you’re 5 grams out, your cake is still going to rise. I think some of the more technical books are fascinating and have their place, but can make baking seem daunting.”
To tackle this, all of the recipes in I’ll Bake! are written in five steps, meaning they are naturally simple to execute. “They’ve also been tested in a a variety of ovens,” Liberty says. “I’ve lived in flats with the worst ovens, yet I’ve still been able to churn out birthday cakes. All of my friends have tested these recipes – I wanted to make sure that they’ll work with whatever you have.” The chapters are organised by occasion. “I love turning up to events with a cake when no one expects you to bake, such as a house warming or someone getting a job,” she says. “The other week I turned up to my friend’s podcast launch party with a cake.” It must be the case that by now, her friends are expecting a cake at any opportunity? “I’ve probably dug a hole for myself!”
These light and fluffy almond and raspberry mini cakes make a lovely sweet snack to enjoy with a cup of tea. The almond extract gives a nostalgic sweet cherry-like flavour to the friands, and combined with the tart raspberries and toasty flaked almonds, makes these irresistible.
20 mins preparation, plus cooling
25 mins to cook
150g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
45g plain flour
150g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
1½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp fine sea salt
4 egg whites
150g fresh raspberries
3 tbsp flaked almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6 and grease a non-stick 12-hole muffin tin with butter. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat for 4 minutes, stirring until it’s starting to turn brown and smell nutty. Transfer into a large heatproof bowl to cool completely. Once cool, mix in the flour, icing sugar, ground almonds, almond extract and salt.
2. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl using an electric whisk or in a stand mixer (or by hand using a balloon whisk if you’re feeling strong) until thick and frothy. Gently fold the egg whites into the flour mixture until you have a thin, frothy batter.
3. Pour the batter into your buttered moulds, filling each about three quarters full. Put 2 large or 3 small raspberries into each mould, then sprinkle over the flaked almonds. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
4. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (I find it easiest to remove them using a teaspoon or a blunt knife). To finish, dust a little icing sugar over the tops. Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
Interview by Alice Simkins Vyce.
Photographs by Safia Shakarchi.
Liberty wears our Maeve Sea Kelp Organic Cotton Dress.
Recipe from I’ll Bake!: Something delicious for every occasion by Liberty Mendez (Pavilion Books).