The fact that I love picnics so much must surely have something to do with my Mum, who would regularly slap some Marmite on a roll and take my sister and I out to Isabella Plantation to swing on the rhododendrons and race up and down the lawn. Once we were suitably shattered, we’d eat our sandwiches, with maybe a packet of Hula Hoops (one of the few childhood foods that Still tastes as good as it did then), a Penguin biscuit, perhaps or a Blue Ribbon, and orange juice in a box.
When it came to more formal picnics, Marks and Spencers was our friend. We’d sit in Claremont Gardens dressed up as Victorians, or characters from books, or people who would inhabit a Secret Garden, and nibble on Scotch eggs, mini pork pies, pre-prepared fruit salads and chocolate chip cookies, and wait for the fireworks to go up.
My bias, like my Mum’s, is towards savory. And though I want a sweet end to my picnic, I’m happy, more than happy, to find it in a slice of watermelon, a paper bag of cherries, a bowl of strawberries and cream, a Wagon Wheel. (If you’re American you won’t know what I’m talking about – though strangely, in the UK we all assumed Wagon Wheels were an American treat – it was a Wild Western thing, check them out).
But it’s not the same as baking, and, since I like to bake, I’m happy to consider cake And a fresh peach, a cookie And a bunch of grapes. It’s amazing how thrilled people are to be given homemade baked goods. Amazed in a way that’s massively disproportionate to the work involved. And though I would never recommend cooking for the sake of glory, you might as well have the glory if it’s bestowed upon you.
And so, for a triumphant finish to your picnic, here are some glorious deserts.
Spiced Apple Cake
This is my number 1 picnic desert. I bring it in the tin for ease of transportation, then slice it up in situ. Because it’s not too sweet, it’s great to eat while you’re still picking at the cheese.
White Chocolate Chip Brownies
Again, I bring these in the tin, for ease of transportation. Of all the things I bring to picnics, BBQs and roadtrips, these are the biggest hit with my friends. It’s probably a chocolate thing.
If you’re going for all out wicker basket Victorian picnic charm, this is the cake you’re going to want to display on the vintage porcelain cake stand that your husband cautiously carried on the pre-picnic 2 mile hike. I agree, it’s madness to carry a cake to a picnic in summer. I know from experience. I’ve transported flag cake to feed 30 people from New York to New Jersey in 98 degree heat. And yet, we do these things. My advice? Buy a cake carrier like this one. Sure, you only use it a few times a year, but every time you do, it pays for itself in stress relief. I store mine under my bed. Manhattan living.
Lemon Cupcakes (makes 12 fairy cakes, or 8 muffin-sized cakes)
Cupcakes are a different matter – much easier to carry about than a full on cake. But in hot weather, the frosting can melt and run and generally create stickiness and mess. So this lemony tangy cupcake abandons frosting in favor of lemon sugar icing.1 stick or 115g room temperature butter ½ cup or 115g sugar 2 eggs 1 cup or 115g flour ¼ tsp baking powder 1 tbsp milk 1 lemon 6 tbsp confectioners’ (icing) sugar
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 (180 C)
- Line the cake tin with paper cases
- Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy (takes about 5 mins – it’s better to use a mixer or with an electric whisk, but it’s a good work out for your arms if you do it by hand)
- Whisk the eggs then add to the mixture a bit at a time until incorporated
- Sift the flour and baking powder together then stir in in a few batches
- Grate in the zest of the lemon
- Mix in the milk so that the batter is smooth and easy to drop into the cases
- Spoon into the cake cases and bake for about 15 mins until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. If you have a dodgy oven (like me) turn the tray half way through cooking to try to get a more even temperature
- Transfer to a rack to cool
- Once the cakes are cool, they can be iced. Sift the confectioners’ sugar and mix with lemon juice until you get a thick paste. Use a tsp to drop the mixture onto the cakes, and smooth out