Saturday, 7 February 2015

Language matters & lemon cake

So despite my ever so slightly smug assertions that I would be signing up to Welsh lessons pretty much as soon as we moved, it took me nearly a year.

A year in which it quickly became clear that where we are living, a huge proportion of people choose to speak Welsh. All the time. Call me hopelessly naive (be kind - ignorant would probably be a better word), but I had no idea quite how extensively the language was used. Sure, the fact that most primary schools in the area were 'Welsh Medium' caused me to raise my eyebrows, and run to Mumsnet where I found stories of children being punished for speaking English in the playground (not at the specific school where Blue & Pink are now happily ensconsed, you understand, but generally) and began to panic, but I just assumed that most people - certainly of my generation and younger - spoke English outside educational establishments. I knew that road signs were bilingual, and was aware of a Welsh soap opera, Pobl y Cwm, the butt of many jokes, but I just assumed that was the end of it.

Well, the fact is that I hear Welsh spoken all the time - not just in school, but in the shops, in the street. The children have friends who come from Welsh speaking homes. The commercial radio station runs adverts in Welsh. There are Welsh speaking radio stations, TV. Welsh is the language of choice of a significant proportion of the community - not just the older generations.

So I signed up on an intensive beginners course. I'll let you know how it's going another time soon

Of course, I don't HAVE to learn Welsh, but the kids have absorbed it so thoroughly that it's becoming a problem (they can talk to each other in front of me and I have no idea what they are saying - you see what I mean?). Most of the business of the school is conducted in Welsh - letters come home in Welsh & English, and the teachers speak to English speaking parents in English, but the main language of the PTA for example, is Welsh.

My own view (still under construction) about learning myself is that having expected the children to learn the language of our adopted country, I should also make the effort. If I was in Germany, Greece, Azerbaijan (for example) I would try to learn at least some of the language. For me, it's a matter of courtesy. And yes, I know everyone speaks English, but this is an area where there is a lot of pride in the language, and if I'm living here, I'd like to try and get to grips with it. Plus I'd like to know if I'm really being talked about, either specifically, me, or generally as an English person - when I go into a shop and the conversation stops, then starts up again...

There is Welsh everywhere, and the opportunities for embarrassment are considerable. I haven't yet asked directions to a place I am already standing in - like the couple who mused that they hadn't been able to find 'Aberteifi' while standing in Cardigan - the 2 are the same place...

I did, however come a cropper a couple of weeks ago following some directions to pick up Pink from a playdate. I was directed to somewhere (as I thought) called 'Dadcu' (pronounced 'Dadkey'), and from there to follow the path to the right.

I arrived in the dark, no sign of a path and no house name in evidence, so I knocked on a door and asked an elderly gentleman if he knew where Dadcu was and if I was there. He looked at me confused, asked if I was looking for Alex, and directed me accordingly. It was while Alex (playdate's mother) was explaining that the girls had been decorating cakes with Dadcu that I realised the old man was Dadcu - it's Welsh for Grandad...

Anyway, embarrassment aside, it turns out that Dadcu is a bit of a whizz with cake decorating, and Pink was keen to show me a skill she'd picked up - feathered icing. We made a lemon sponge tray bake - made as lemony as possible with the addition of lemon extract as well as lemon zest, and used the lemon juice to make 2 bowls of water icing, one white, one coloured yellow, and Pink set to. thick stripes of icing, then a skewer tip dragged through. Of course, I expect practice would make perfect, but given that cake decorating isn't something I'm naturally gifted at, I think she did a pretty good job.

Lemon Cake with Lemon feathered icing
225g unsalted butter 
225g caster sugar
275g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 lemons
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons milk
1/2 tsp lemon extract

300g icing sugar
yellow gel paste colouring

Get the butter out of the fridge

Grease & line a traybake tray approx 30cm by 23 cm and 4-5 cm deep, and pre-heat the oven to 160C (conventional).

If the butter hasn't been out of the fridge long and isn't soft, boil a kettle and heat the bowl of your food mixer (if you have one) by pouring the water into the bowl then emptying it out and drying the bowl. Cut up the butter and add to the warm bowl.

Add the sugar, flour and baking powder to the bowl of the mixer with the butter, then finely grate the zest of the lemons and add that. Save the zested lemons to juice for the icing.
Whisk together the eggs, milk and lemon extract then tip into the dry ingredients and beat with the mixer for 2-3 minutes until everything is well combined.

Scrape the batter into the lined tin and bake for 30-40 minutes till the sponge is golden and springs back when gently pressed.

Turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely.

Once the cake is completely cold, make up the icing. Squeeze the lemons and divide the icing sugar into 2 bowls. Mix up each bowl of icing adding the lemon juice slowly. You'll need around 2 tablespoons for each bowl of 150g icing sugar, but take it steady - you don't want it to be too runny. Add the gel paste to one of the bowls to achieve the yellow colour you're after, Pink added about 1/4 tsp which may have been a bit much - it certainly gave us a very vivid yellow. Apply this in stripes. 

We used normal spoons. For more precision, you might want to use a piping bag. Once the cake is covered in stripes, get a cocktails stick or skewer etc, and drag it through the icing.



  1. Looks cute, I used to live in mid Wales (Newtown) where everyone spoke in English, so I was fortunate not to have to learn as not good learning languages :-) x

    1. Ah yes! It's a different matter over here on the West coast - lots of Welsh. I like it, I like the diversity, but it's a hard language to learn!

  2. Fascinating RJ, I applaud you for having a go. Good luck, I'll be interested to follow your progress. That I can't sufficiently speak any other languages is a source of annoyance for me, and I know what you mean, we're so reliant on English being the lingua Franca that we are pretty lazy. Great to hear that the children are right in there. In your defence it's SO much easier for children and their spongy little brains! Speaking of sponge, the cake's looking good too! Great tip x

    1. I come out of each class feeling like I can totally rock Welsh, then have a go and it all falls to pieces. Trouble is that I don't get enough chance to re-visit what I've learned from lesson to lesson (apart from frantic late night homework sessions), so I feel like it's all just sloshing around in my head. Still although I'm not confident to speak it, I'm finding it easier to understand written welsh, and can help the kids work things out with their homework a little more proficiently than I could before the lessons started.

  3. gorgeous cake, love the icing!... I have a welsh Facebook friend and I always love reading her friends comments as 80% of them are in Welsh and it's so brilliant and funny at the same time!... good luck!

    1. Diolch, Dom! (every now and again I fantasise about blogging bilingually... I think that's a long way off!)

  4. Well done on the language. It's tough when your kids speak the language way better than you isn't it!!

  5. love your icing - what a great colour!


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