Four festive cakes to bake for celebrating at home

Baked cheesecake, blueberry-lemon yoghurt cake, strawberry gateau and raspberry sablé

With birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions being celebrated at home, and baking the new national pastime, a good cake recipe is a very useful thing to have. The recipe has to be reliable, even a bit forgiving, if need be. And the cake has to look spectacular, and taste great, of course.

Here are some suggestions for four festive cakes that fit the bill and can be whipped up in your kitchen at home, without stress. One of them is gluten-free, to mark Coeliac Awareness Week (May 11th-17th), and the others make great use of the summer berries that are starting to arrive in shops now.

Tara Gartlan, who is originally from New York and moved to Monaghan as a teenager, is pastry chef at Michelin two-star restaurant The Greenhouse, in Dublin. The DIT Culinary Arts graduate was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2014, and enjoys the challenge of making gluten-free cakes, bread and pastry.

“I often test recipes out on my boyfriend, family and colleagues. I send whatever I bake to my boyfriend’s work, or I bring treats into The Greenhouse. The best feedback is when they say, ‘Are you sure that was gluten-free?’”


Gartlan says her New York cheesecake is her go-to cake for celebrations because it is light, but still indulgent. Here she dresses it up with Irish raspberries in a lime marmalade glaze.

If you want to bake a cake, but don't want to be bothered buying all the separate ingredients and measuring them out, a cake mix might be the answer. Kasha Connolly, creative director and co-owner of Hazel Mountain Chocolate in the Burren, has sold more than 20,000 slices of cake at the chocolate company's sister enterprise, Burren Bakery, and for the past four years she has been making them with non-wheat flours. You can now buy her cake mixes at branches of Avoca.

“I come from a family of bakers: my grandfather worked as a baker all his life, as did my mother. My interest in non-wheat flours came about organically as I wanted to start using the flours my family baked with in Poland, such as buckwheat, hazelnut, potato and almond,” she says.

“At first I didn’t tell my customers the cakes were gluten-free because I didn’t want to discourage them from tasting. I knew that choosing the right flour for the cake is the key to creating a light cake.”

Connolly’s recently launched Burren Wild Baker gluten-free cake mixes (€7.95), are now available in all Avoca stores. The varieties are carrot cake, lemon drizzle and chocolate brownie, and Connolly encouraged adaptations. “The carrot cake mix is my favourite; it is moist and fluffy and it happens to be dairy free as well. You can adapt the recipe to your liking by adding chopped dates instead of raisins or even chunks of orange.”

The showstopper summer berry cakes also featured below would also be perfect for a celebration, and have been created by Galway chef Jess Murphy, pastry chef Shane Smith and cookery tutor and Irish Times Magazine columnist Vanessa Greenwood.


Serves eight
You will need a 20cm springform tin

250g gluten-free digestive biscuits
40g honey
60g butter

700g full-fat cream cheese (I use Philadelphia)
225g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
350g cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
40g gluten-free plain flour (I use Dove's Farm)

100g mascarpone
150g crème fraîche
45g icing sugar, sifted
½ lemon, zest and juice

250g raspberries
3 tbsp lime marmalade (I use Roe's)
½ lemon, zest and juice

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius, or gas mark 2. Break up the biscuits to a fine crumb in food processor or with a rolling pin.

2 Melt together the honey and butter, and mix into the biscuit crumb. Pack down the biscuits into the base of cake tin using the back of a spoon and set in the freezer for 20 minutes.

3 Blend the cream cheese and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add the eggs, egg yolk, cream, vanilla and scrape down the bowl and blend/mix at least twice to ensure that the eggs are evenly dispersed.

4 Sift in the flour, then fold it in with a spatula or metal spoon.

5 Pour the mixture onto the biscuit base and bake for one hour and 10 minutes or until puffy and golden around the edges. It should still have a slight wobble in the centre.

6 Chill overnight, or for a minimum of six hours.

7 The next day, go around the edge of the tin with a knife to loosen it, then release the cake from the tin.

8 Whisk together the mascarpone, crème fraiche, icing sugar, lemon zest and juice until firm peaks.

9 Bring 100g of the raspberries to the boil with the marmalade and lemon juice and zest. Cook out for five minutes until sauce becomes thick and glossy.

10 Pass raspberries through a sieve to get the sauce and leave this to cool in the fridge for 10 minutes. Discard the remaining pulp. Once the sauce is cool, use this to coat the 150g remaining raspberries.

11 Spread the mascarpone mix across the top of the cheesecake.

12 Spoon the coated raspberries on top of mascarpone and serve.


Serves 10
We have smothered our tart in raspberries, but feel free to use what you like - any of the summer berries or stone fruit. Any leftover curd can be stored in jars and it will keep for a week. Use it on French toast, pancakes and waffles, or to fill tart shells and top with meringue for that old classic, lemon meringue pie. To make the curd, you will need a cooking thermometer.

For the sablé:
140g granulated sugar
135g diced, salted butter (room temperature)
3 egg yolks
195g plain flour
7g (1½tsp) baking powder

For the lemon curd:
5 lemons, juiced
2 lemons, zested
9 egg yolks
300g double cream
250g golden caster sugar
100g butter, diced

To decorate:
2 punnets of fresh raspberries

For the sablé,whisk together the sugar and butter in a bowl and add the egg yolks, one by one. Whisk vigorously until you obtain a smooth mixture.

2 Add the flour sifted with the baking powder, stirring until you obtain a dough texture. Press the pastry into a tart tin and leave to chill in the fridge for half an hour. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius, or gas mark 4, for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin.

3 Add all of the curd ingredients except the butter to a mixing bowl set over a bain-marie (a bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water) on a low heat. Cook it until the mixture reaches 75 degrees Celsius, stirring from time to time.

4 At this stage stir in the butter, mixing until it reaches 85 degrees Celsius. Remove from the heat and put aside to cool.

5 Once everything is cold, spread the lemon curd generously over the sablé base and arrange the raspberries on top.


Serves 10
This zesty summer cake is one of my favourites to make and indeed eat. Minimal effort is required and the medley of juicy sweet blueberries, tangy lemon and creamy yoghurt go together perfectly. This is the perfect celebration cake to kickstart the summer.

450g fresh blueberries
1 tbsp plain flour
250g caster sugar
250g natural yoghurt
2 medium eggs
160ml rapeseed / veg oil
Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
330g plain flour
4 level tsp baking powder
Pinch salt

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius or gas mark 4. Line the base of a 9-inch round spring-form tin with parchment paper and grease the base and sides.

2 Wash the blueberries and drain them but don't pat dry. Remove 150g of the blueberries and set aside for the top of the cake. With the remaining berries, spoon on the tablespoon of plain flour and toss to cover the berries. This will stop the berries sinking to the bottom of the tin during baking.

3 In a medium bowl, whisk the caster sugar, eggs, yoghurt, oil, lemon zest and juice. Set aside.

4 Sieve the plain flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl with wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the flour-dusted blueberries and any remaining flour in the bowl. Scrape this batter into the prepared cake tin and sprinkle the reserved blueberries on top.

5 Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 50/60 minutes until golden brown, and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6 Once baked, remove the spring- form tin, leaving the base on until the cake is completely cold. Dust with icing sugar, slice and serve with a spoon of natural yoghurt or lightly whipped cream.


Serves six
For a birthday, or large party, this is a great make-ahead dessert cake. The sponge can be made in advance and the quantities doubled or tripled for additional layers. For a cheat's version, you could always buy a flan base and still create a beautiful strawberry flan with the mascarpone cream filling.


For the sponge:
6 eggs at room temperature
175g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g self-raising flour, sieved

For the filling:
200ml full-fat cream
75g icing sugar, sieved
200g mascarpone cheese, lightly whisked
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g jam (raspberry or strawberry)
500g fresh strawberries (also for decoration)

2 tbsp icing sugar
50g white chocolate, shavings

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius or gas mark 4. Grease and line a 35cm x 25cm rectangular baking tin with baking parchment.

2 In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and thick. Stir in the vanilla extract. The mixture should form a ribbon trail when the whisk is removed.

3 In two batches, fold the sieved flour evenly through the batter with a metal spoon until no flour pockets remain (take care not to overwork it, or your sponge will become tough).

4 Transfer the batter into the lined tin, guiding the mixture into the corners. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes until the sponge is firm to the touch, risen and light golden in colour. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool fully.

5 For the cream filling: In a bowl whisk together to the cream and icing sugar until slightly thickened, then whisk in the mascarpone and vanilla, to a thickened whipped cream consistency, until smooth and spreadable.

6 To prepare the strawberries: Lightly brush the strawberries to clean them (avoid rinsing them in water or they will retain too much moisture). Reserve a third of the strawberries for decorating the top of the cake and slice the remainder into small dice (for the centre filling).

7  To assemble: Carefully upturn the tray containing the cooled sponge onto a clean sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and gently peel back and discard the lining paper. Slice the cooled sponge horizontally to give two 35cm x 25cm sponges. Cut each sponge in half, so that you have four equal-sized layers of sponge. Set aside one of the golden crusted layers (this will be the top layer).

Lay the first sponge on a flat serving plate and spread lightly with jam. Next spread one third of the cream filling over the jam. Scatter with a third of the diced strawberries. Cover with a layer of sponge and repeat, finishing with the reserved golden sponge on top.

8 To decorate: Lightly dust with icing sugar and decorate with white chocolate shavings and strawberries. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours. Once ready to serve, remove from the fridge and slice into portions with a sharp, serrated knife.