Gary’s cakes rise to the occasion

At York Against Cancer we pride ourselves on our cakes, and Gary Hooper’s are among the finest. Gary is one of our brilliant army of cake makers, whose talents make our events both memorable and successful.

Gary, from Stockton on Forest, has been baking since he retired from a career in decorating that included working for Hepple, Hunter and Smallpages in York. He’s helped with the icing by wife Pam, who used to work in catering, including silver-service waitressing at Castle Howard.

Gary started baking cakes for us when he used our free minibus service while undergoing radiotherapy for prostate cancer at St James’s Hospital, Leeds.

He had baked cakes for his fellow passengers and for the drivers and they went down so well that after he completed his treatment, Gary began making them for our events.

“It’s good fun, and relaxing,” said Gary. “It’s great when someone says, ‘By, that’s nice’.”

Gary’s a big fan of Mary Berry and her recipes. “She’s absolutely superb,” he says. “She is so down to earth and her recipes are so easy to follow that you can adapt them and know that it will still work out.”

Gary bakes for everyone – friends, neighbours, and of course, for us. His popular bakes include lime and polenta cake, coffee and walnut and he’s also a dab hand at Bakewells, with a little help from Pam.

He’s shared a couple of his favourite Mary Berry recipes with us. We hope you enjoy them.

Coffee & walnut layer cake

Serves 8

For the sponge

50g walnut pieces

225g caster sugar

225g soft unsalted butter (plus extra for greasing)

220g plain flour

4 tsp instant espresso powder

Two and a half tsp baking powder

Half tsp bicarbonate of soda

Four large eggs

1-2tbsp milk

For the buttercream frosting

350g icing sugar

175g soft unsalted butter

Two and a half tsp instant espresso powder, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water

10 walnut halves, to decorate



  1. Preheat oven to 180c/gas 4/350F
  2. Butter two 20cm/8” sandwich tins and line base of each with baking parchment
  3. Put walnut pieces and sugar into food processor and blitz to a fine nutty powder
  4. Add the 225g butter, flour, 4 tsp espresso powder, baking powder, bicarb and eggs and process to a smooth batter
  5. Add milk, pouring it down the funnel with the motor still running, or just pulsing to loosen the cake mixture; it should be a soft, dropping consistency, so add more milk if you need to. (If you are making this by hand, bash the nuts into a rubbly powder with a rolling pin and mix with the dry ingredients, then cream the butter and sugar together and beat in some dry ingredients and eggs alternatively and finally, the milk)
  6. Divide mixture between the two lined tins and bake for 25min, or until sponge has risen and feels springy to the touch
  7. Cool cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 mins before turning them out onto the rack and peeling off parchment
  8.  When sponges are cool, make buttercream
  9. Pulse icing sugar in food processor until lump-free, then add butter and process to make smooth icing
  10. Dissolve instant espresso powder in 1 tbsp boiling water and add while still hot to processor, pulsing to blend into buttercream.
  11. If you are doing this by hand, sieve icing sugar and beat into butter with wooden spoon
  12. Then beat in the hot coffee liquid
  13. Place one sponge upside down on cake stand or plate
  14. Spread with about half the icing, then place it on the second sponge, right side up (ie so that the two flat sides of the sponge meet in the middle) and cover the top with the remaining icing in a ramshackle swirling pattern
  15. This cake is all about old-fashioned rustic charm, so don’t worry unduly: however the frosting goes on is fine; similarly, don’t fret about some buttercream oozing out around the middle; that’s what makes it look so inviting
  16. Gently press walnut halves into top of icing all around the edge of the circle, about 1cm apart.


Lime & polenta cake (gluten-free)

Serves 8

For the cake

300g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

300g caster sugar

Finely grated rind and juice of two limes

Four eggs, beaten

300g ground almonds

150g polenta

One tsp baking powder

For the glaze

Finely grated rind and juice of one lime

75g caster sugar

Icing sugar, for dusting


  1. You will need a 23cm, round, spring-form tin. Preheat oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3. Grease tin with butter and line base with baking paper.
  2. Put butter, sugar and lime rind into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk in eggs, then add ground almonds, polenta, lime juice and baking powder and carefully fold in until thoroughly combined.
  3. Spoon into prepared tin and level the surface. Bake in oven for about 1 hour 15 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean and the sponge is golden brown and springy to the touch. If the top of the cake is getting too brown before then, cover with foil. Set aside while you make the glaze.
  4. Heat lime rind and juice, sugar and two tbsp water in a small pan, stirring over low heat until sugar has dissolved, then simmering for 2-3 minutes until syrupy. Prick surface of cake with skewer, spoon hot syrup evenly over warm sponge and leave to cool completely in tin.
  5. Remove from tin, transfer to serving plate and dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold, sliced into wedges, with a dollop of crème fraiche.