In this weekly series, Rebecca Shearer talks to Jeni Hardie from Bad Girl Bakery about the most memorable dishes that marked the milestones in her life…
You may have heard of award-winning Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord of late as it’s been making headlines.
Owner Jeni Hardie, 49, and her husband Douglas reopened part of the bakery as a shop to sell baking equipment after lockdown began easing.
They opened for takeaway in the middle of June but prior to that Jeni was writing regular blog posts on which she shared some of the bakery’s recipes and top tips.
Though there’s been a lot of buzz around the bakery recently, Jeni took a few minutes out to travel back down memory lane and tell us about the meals that have evoked the most memories for her throughout the decades.
Childhood – ‘crushed chicken’
Born and raised in Tayside, food was a big part of Jeni’s childhood and took on an Italian influence thanks to her grandfather.
“I grew up in a working class family and there was six of us – my mum, dad, twin brother, and my two big sisters. Food was always a big part of our family life and it was very 70s style.
“My mum did all the cooking and we would eat together as a family. My paternal grandfather was Italian, so there’s a lot of Italian influence in my food.
“The memorable meal from here is actually called ‘crushed pineapple’. A real 70s concoction, it consisted of crushed pineapples, some chopped marshmallows and cream.
“It would be a massive treat in our house and we didn’t eat like that very often. But when we were little we once asked my mum what was for lunch and she replied with ‘crushed chickens and pineapple soup’, obviously meaning chicken soup and crushed pineapples. When you’re four or five, that’s hysterical. So now that’s just what it’s called in our house – crushed chickens.
“If we ever asked what we wanted for lunch we’d always ask for that but we’d very seldom get it – it was a massive treat.”
Teens – spaghetti bolognese
“Spaghetti bolognese was something we had a lot when I was younger but back in the 70s it wasn’t something people cooked a lot. My Italian grandfather taught my very Scottish mum how to make it. We’d always ask for something else when we knew we were having it, not realising it wasn’t a common dish back then, though we would have it at least once a week.
“I remember really enjoying the leftovers being heated up the next day. We didn’t have a microwave so we would heat it up in butter or in the oven. I always thought it was so much nicer the next day – not really appreciating that what we were eating was quite exotic for the time.
“I remember very vividly the smell of it, and having it at my grandfather’s house as well as on a regular basis from my mum. It was as common to us as mince and tatties so I feel a bit bad now, looking back, that we just took it for granted.
“At school I was terrible at home economics – my abiding memory is messing up crispy cakes which is hysterical considering I’m now a baker. I certainly didn’t develop my talent for baking until much later in my life.
“I went to uni straight after high school and studied English literature and worked in the arts, so I didn’t come to food until much later on. I then went on to get a second degree in marketing while working at the BBC.”
20s – lasagne
Despite beginning to pursue a path in marketing both at uni and after it, Jeni’s love of baking began in her 20s as she would assist her sister with catering for family dinners.
“My big sister is a fantastic cook but hates baking. She’s one of these people who can throw together a stunning meal without looking at a recipe and gets a lot of joy from it. My favourite thing she makes is her lasagne. If I ever broke up with a boyfriend she’d make it for me and if I ever go to visit her in Dundee she will make it for me.
“She just loves savoury cooking and does everything so beautifully. She’s partly the reason I became a baker as whenever we’d have big family dinners she didn’t like to bake so I’d be the one making the birthday cake or the dessert. That’s probably what got me interested.
“She’s made it the same way for decades and when I get to see them for the first time since before lockdown, in August, it’s on my bucketlist that she makes this lasagne.”
30s – Nigella’s Easter nest cake
In her early 30s, Jeni claims to have developed a love-hate relationship with Nigella Lawson, which is what led her to ‘fall in love with baking’.
“I absolutely adored her recipes but I think I was a little bit jealous that she got to spend her life cooking and back then it didn’t seem like something I would ever do.
“I loved her cookbooks and her programmes and I remember baking something called an Easter nest cake – basically a flourless chocolate cake. We do a version of it now that I guess is inspired by that. I remember making Nigella’s one and I remember really falling in love with baking at that point.
“I really like everything to do with flavour and I like things to look how they’re supposed to taste. In the bakery we don’t decorate any cakes unless it’s with the ingredients that are already in them, such as caramel or bits of fudge. We don’t add things just to look pretty.
“I remember watching Nigella and, not being so aware of it then, thinking everything looked so tasty. Then I baked this chocolate cloud cake, which is quite an ugly chocolate cake and gets a crater in it once it’s cooled as it’s flourless. The crater is usually filled with this lovely chocolatey whipped cream and in her version there were chocolate mini eggs on it for Easter – though I would often use berries.
“But I remember around that time, in my early 30s, absolutely falling in love with baking and fantasising about having my own food business. It just seemed like a ridiculous notion at that stage. I baked a lot of Nigella’s cakes and ate a lot of her food and liked the generosity of it and the flavours. I also liked that none of it was fancy or overstyled – just really generous family cooking.”
Now – lime and pistachio layer cake
Eventually, deciding to pursue baking as a career came about organically in her 40s, over the last few years, as one door opened another and Muir of Ord’s Bad Girl Bakery was born.
“I was mostly baking at home and baking for friends and not making any money from it. Then randomly I saw an ad on Gumtree from someone looking to bake for their cafe in St Andrews and so I applied for it and the owner gave me the job. Then about a month later she said she wanted to open a chain of cupcake bakeries and asked me if I would help run it. I did that for three years and then met my now husband Douglas.
“I’d never baked for anyone professionally but I took cakes to the interview and we got chatting and she took such a risk hiring me but I’m so glad she did because I don’t think I would be here, doing this, if it wasn’t for her.
“Then I moved up to the Highlands to be with Douglas and his son, Felix, who is now my son too and is just amazing. But instead of me finding a job in the Highlands we decided I would bake cakes from home and get to know Felix better and help look after him. This was in 2014/15.
“Back then I was making a cake every other day which was very exciting, but nothing to write home about. We then opened Bad Girl Bakery in 2017. We’d been asked to do the Black Isle show in 2015 and that was the start of it, that changed everything.
“My absolute favourite thing to make for the bakery is a brownie because there’s a point where you’re melting the butter and chocolate together and it just looks like a bunch of fatty, ugly mess until you stir it. Then when you stir it, it comes together and makes a beautiful, shiny, lovely thing – almost like a magic trick.
“We do baking classes and when we’re showing people how to make brownies I always tell them to hold their nerve when mixing the butter and chocolate because it looks like it’s all gone horribly wrong but then, all of a sudden, it just comes together and becomes this lovely, silky smooth mixture.”
“Ultimately, I wanted to bake cakes that I knew other people weren’t baking. I think partly it’s because I didn’t want to step on people’s toes, but also wanting to have my own distinct style.
“Nobody was baking three layer cakes at that time we’d opened the bakery and I had just started writing my own recipes. So our signature cake, way back when we first opened, was a pistachio and lime layer cake. It was the one people were asking for the most and we baked it for every event we catered for and it became my very favourite bake.
“It’s a lime cake that has chopped pistachios baked into it. It also has a lime buttercream, lime curd and is decorated on the top with chopped pistachios and candied lime peel. It’s gorgeous and will always be the cake that I think of as marking the start of my career.
“We bake hundreds of layer cakes now and hardly ever make the pistachio and lime one but we have been talking about getting it back on the menu, so watch this space!”
Jeni’s Pistachio and Lime Layer Cake
Jeni says: “This recipe was the happy result of playing around with a basic vanilla sponge recipe by adding nuts and lime zest!”
For the cake
- 375g unsalted butter or baking margarine (we prefer baking margarine, it gives a much better texture),
- 375g caster sugar,
- 6 medium eggs,
- 375g self-raising flour,
- Zest of two limes (keep the juice),
- Teaspoon of good vanilla extract,
- 75g pistachio nuts really finely chopped (we use a processor)
For the buttercream: (This is more than enough to fill and fully ice your layer cake. As well as pipe swirls on it. To create the naked cake style as pictured, you can reduce the amount of icing needed, as you will only use 2/3).
- 3 x 250g unsalted butter
- 1050g icing sugar
- Zesy of a lime and some juice if needed
- Teaspoon good vanilla extract.
For the filling and decoration:
- A few whole and some roughly chopped pistachios
- Some lime zest (we use candied peel, but some grated peel will give a lovely splash of colour too!)
- Lime Curd (you will use about half a jar)
To make the cake:
- Before you start, get all your ingredients our and weigh them out, zest your limes and break the eggs into a jug. Grease and line your tins.
- Beat the butter, sugar and lime zest together until the colour is lighter and it looks fluffy. This will take about 3 to 5 mins depending on the mixer. Add the vanilla.
- Add in the eggs one at a time with a spoon of the flour and remember not to add the next egg till the last one is all mixed in. Don’t panic if it splits, just add more flour!)
- Add in the flour and mix till smooth, then fold in the pistachio nuts and divide the mixture between two tins and smooth it out.
- Bake for 20-25 mins or until a skewer comes out clean (this might take longer or slightly less time depending on your oven).
- Let it cool and then remove from the baking tray.
To make the buttercream:
- Soften the butter in short bursts in the microwave until really, really soft.
- Beat the butter and vanilla and zest till really smooth then add in the icing sugar (don’t mix until the guard is down!) and mix till it is lovely and fluffy.
- Have a taste and if it needs a little more lime, add a touch of the lime juice. (be careful not to add too much or your buttercream will be too runny!)
To make the filling:
- When the cake is cool, take the first layer and place it flat side down and pipe a dam of buttercream round the edge.
- Pipe more in the centre, but just enough for a thin layer. Top the layer of buttercream with a thin layer of lime curd (don’t cover the whole surface with lime curd, leave a ½ inch border round the don’t be too generous or your next layer will slide off! )
- Repeat with the next layer the top with the final cake (flat side up) and then pipe a ring of buttercream round the outside edge of the cake and then fill in the centre and smooth.
- Scatter the pistachios round the edge and then do the same with the lime zest. We sometimes add some freeze dried rasberries round the edge for a splash of colour too.
Read more in this series…