How to make a May Day Cake

If I was going to choose a theme for the blog this year, I think it would have to be “Traditions”.  This year is all about consolidating existing family traditions and hopefully creating some new ones.

Our time is spent building up to the next big life event – Christmas, a birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving (if appropriate).  Whatever it is, we work towards it.  But does that mean we are just wishing our lives away?  That the days in-between the big calendar events are less important or less interesting?

I want to try to fill the year with lots of days to look forward to.  I want every day to be a special occasion, when the family can come together and build memories and traditions that will hopefully stay with us for years to come.  Maybe they’ll even be passed onto future generations.


We’ve had a book sitting on a bookshelf, collecting dust for years.  It’s called “Festivals, Family and Food” and it is choc-full of ideas for activities that the family can share over the course of a year.  It ranges from Harvest, to Mid-Summer, to Halloween right up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The other day, I dusted the book off and a section on May Day caught my eye.  As well as various songs and games for May Day celebrations, there was also a recipe for a May Day cake – complete with Maypole!  I decided that it was time to make a new family tradition.

On Monday (which was May Bank Holiday in the UK but not actually May Day), I gathered my ingredients and prepared to bake our first (but hopefully not last) May Day cake.

To begin with, you need to make a very simple Victoria Sandwich cake.  The recipe in the book (which was written in 1982) wasn’t a particularly good one.  My cake didn’t rise very well (although it tasted absolutely fine).  If you wish to make this cake, I’d recommend you use this traditional Victoria Sponge recipe, which is what I’ll be doing next year.

For the cake you will need 100g(4oz) margarine, 100g(40z) caster sugar, 100g(4oz) self-raising flour and 2 medium eggs.  Preheat your oven to 180C and grease two 18cm(7inch) sandwich tins.

Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy.  If you’re old school you can do this by hand, but I use my pretty in pink “KitchenAid” mixer which is the most extravagant household item I’ve ever purchased.

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Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with each.  Then gently fold in the remaining flour.

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Place the batter in the two prepared tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.  You can usually check that the cake is done if you lightly press the top of the cake and it bounces back into shape.  Otherwise, you can gently slide a skewer into the cake and if it comes out clean, the cake is ready.  Just be careful not to open the oven too early! It might go flop!

While the cake is baking, you can begin to prepare the icing/decorations.  The recipe suggested a lemon buttercream in the centre of the cake, with royal icing over the top.  I’m not really a fan of royal icing.  I’m always a bit wary of using raw eggs in recipes, and I find royal icing very fiddly to decorate with.  To make things easier, I decided to use buttercream for the whole of the cake instead.

To make the buttercream I took 200g of butter (I always use block butter for my icing as if you use margarine it can be a bit too runny).  I creamed the butter in my mixer and then gradually added 400g of icing sugar, which I sifted into the mixing bowl a little at a time.

Once the icing was blended I added 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  I didn’t have any fresh lemons in the house, so I had to use bottled juice instead.  The finished buttercream really didn’t taste that lemon-y so the next time I make this cake I will use the juice and zest from at least one lemon, depending on taste.

I also added a tiny splash of yellow food colouring, just to give the icing a little pop of colour.

Once the cake had complete cooled, I put buttercream on the inside of one half and jam in the centre of the other and sandwiched the two together.  I then began covering the cake with the lemon buttercream.

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As the icing was quite thick, I applied it in thin coats and placed it in the fridge between each coat to help it to set.  This made it much easier to apply the icing in smooth layers.

Once the cake was completely covered, Bug insisted on being allowed to coat it in butterfly sprinkles.  The May Pole itself was made from a chopstick which I covered in pink and white ribbons.  The ribbons hanging from the top of the Maypole were then fixed into place using sugarcraft flowers that I just happened to have in my baking stores.

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I was really pleased with the finished result.  It was slightly shambolic, but that just gave it a little extra charm.  It was obviously a homemade cake and it was nice to know we’d worked on it together.  Hopefully as the girls get older they will be able to contribute more and more.

Later that evening (after a delicious homemade sausage casserole) we all tucked into the cake and were more than happy with how yummy it was.  I’m definitely putting that on the calendar for next year.

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