Cake crazy

Chilli cherry chocolate cake by Anna Worthington
Chilli cherry chocolate cake by Anna Worthington

Anna Worthington doesn't make cakes you're afraid to touch or regret cutting in to. She makes cakes you want to eat with reckless abandon, possibly using your hands, definitely not sharing.

Being in her kitchen takes a lot of self- control. On one side, squares of mudcake are lined up, dripping with chocolate ganache and glistening cherries. On the other, bowls of uncooked date-and-apple cake mixture are sticky with promise. It's all I can do not to stick a finger in for a lick while she's not looking.

Cakes By Anna is very much a fledgling business, started only six months ago as a creative outlet for a creative person. Anna Worthington, 24, is baking night and day to keep up with the demand. "I'm just getting swamped with orders, it's been insane."

Move over marzipan: Anna Worthington is full of baking ideas that up-end staid fruit and fondant.
Move over marzipan: Anna Worthington is full of baking ideas that up-end staid fruit and fondant.

She started selling slices of cake at the Riccarton Market in August and it wasn't long before people were wanting whole cakes and specialty orders.

Realising her mum's kitchen wasn't going to be big enough, she moved to a commercial kitchen on Colombo St. Cakes By Anna is a far cry from the flowery monuments of yesteryear.

Her Saturday market table is stacked with cakes leaking caramel sauce and oozing raspberry coulis. Chunks of smashed Jaffas are scattered haphazardly over a chocolate and orange cake which captures the attention of a toddler with eyes like saucers. Unfortunately for him he is whisked away before he can plead his case for a slice.

I make short, and unseemly, work of a slice of old-fashioned ginger and plum cake. It oozes in all the right places, the dark ginger and spices complementing the tart, sticky plums - all my New Year resolutions are a distant, mocking afterthought as I scrape up the sauce with my plastic fork.

"I challenge everyone to eat this cake," the cake temptress says of a parsnip, beetroot and carrot creation. It must be good because it's gone by the time to pack up the stall comes.

"The market is a great place to challenge people's tastebuds a little and the flavours allow me to be a bit playful," Worthington says.

"The cakes have become my creative outlet really. I just love it when things drip. I think people are getting away from fruit cakes and marzipan icing."

She sells out of her wares every week at the market and her gluten-free, dairy- free and vegan recipes have been a huge hit. Ingredients sourced from Dad's vege patch have also added a special something.

"It's all a bit of fun. I love the market and the atmosphere there. Sometimes it's my only social interaction for the week, which is a bit sad really!"

With a fine-arts degree in her back pocket, Worthington is never short of ideas but her basic inspiration comes from bakers such as The Caker ( and Lily Vanilli (

"They're all about great ingredients and simple decorating. I wanted to do one thing and do it well, and it's grown faster than I ever predicted."

Worthington thinks her early success has a lot to do with Christchurch and its earthquake recovery. What might have once stayed a market treat is being nurtured by the city and is developing into a thriving small business.

The city, she says, is bursting with creativity. "There is actually nowhere I would rather be right now. Christchurch is changing." People are giving new things a go and supporting small businesses like never before.

This year's World Buskers Festival has been 10 days of non-stop stirring, slicing and icing for Worthington. She provided 40 cakes a day for the festival's corporate tables.

Her mudcakes in fishnet-stocking boxes have been wolfed down every night at the cabaret show Le Gateau Chocolat.

The next challenge will be Valentines Day, when sweet treats and cakes baked for two will be the order of the day.

"I think an aphrodisiac cake will be popular. Lots of things are aphrodisiacs when you think about it - chocolate, wine, spices, vanilla. I may do something for all the Valentines Day haters too, but I haven't decided what that will be yet."

In the meantime, there's no shortage of baking to be done and - taking a doggybag of mudcake with me that

no dog will ever get near - I leave her up to her elbows in flour and orders, already planning my next trip to the market for a slice. ?


By Anna

This is one of my favourite, most versatile chocolate cake recipes. It's a bonus that it's dairy- and egg-free (excluding ganache), people are shocked when I tell them this. Cherry and chocolate are a dreamy combination, and the addition of chilli makes for a memorable cake experience!

Makes a two-layer cake (halve the recipe for a smaller cake).

Ingredients Cake

3 cups of flour

5 Tbsp good quality cocoa

2 tsp salt

21/4 cups caster sugar

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 to 1 tsp chilli powder

1/2 cup oil

13/4 cup weak coffee (or water)

4 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup of pitted cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 170 C. Line two 26cm cake tins with baking paper.

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl.

In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients, except for the cherries.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix well. Things will start to fizz and foam, this is the baking soda reacting with the vinegar. Yay science!

Mix in the cherries, then pour into prepared tins. Bake for about 40 minutes, but check after 30 minutes as baking times always differ.

Cake should just spring back when lightly pressed, or you can test it with a skewer - if it comes out clean the cake is ready to roll!

Cool cakes before icing.

I like to layer and top the cakes with a chocolate ganache; make with equal quantities of cream and dark chocolate. Heat the cream till almost boiling, then pour over chopped chocolate. Leave for a minute or two, then stir to make a smooth velvety ganache. Cool a little before using. If you want an added chilli kick, add a pinch of chilli powder to the cream.

Finally top the cake with fresh cherries and marvel at your glorious creation.

The Press