Retro Baking: The New Nostalgia

The retro trend has enjoyed increasingly broad appeal in recent years, extending to fashion, music, home wares and of course, food. Australian Baking Business talks with the baking enthusiasts behind three internationally renowned recipe compilations that put a distinctly modern spin on old-fashioned favourites.

Classic recipes never really go out of fashion and, given time, even the most iconic dishes of an era make a comeback to please another generation of foodies. One only has to look to the cake category, where rosette cakes, layer cakes, bombe alaskas and even upside down pineapple cakes are all making a strong resurgence

However, what sets apart many of today’s retro bakers is a keenness to add something more; to adapt the recipes of their grandparents’ era and to incorporate flavours, textures and presentation adored in contemporary cuisine. Here are just a few examples of how the international baking community is looking back to move forwards.


Founder of Ms Cupcake Melissa Morgan works 16-hours-a-day, every day of the week, to deliver decadent baked goods to Londoners. Her products are indulgent versions of tried and true recipes. However, in an effort to cater to London’s burgeoning ‘special diet’ market, her entire line – which includes layer cakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts and savoury treats – is vegan and often wheat- and gluten-free.

While a kitchen devoid of butter and eggs may be enough to terrify most bakers, Melissa delights in being able to give vegan and gluten-free customers a truly authentic retro baking experience.

“Ms Cupcake should remind you of when you went to your granny’s house a long time ago. The smells, sounds and taste should catapult everyone back in time,” Melissa says.

And what better way to be nostalgically transported back to home baking’s golden age than with the classic Canadian dessert, the Nanaimo bar, reportedly invented by housewife Mable Jenkins in the 1950s.

“We’ve heard it pronounced a zillion ways at the shop by many a befuddled British customer demanding, ‘What the heck is a Nanaimo bar?’”, says Melissa, who originally hails from Canada.

“Well, at our shop we describe it to the uninitiated as a chocolatey-coconut biscuit base covered in a custard buttercream and topped with a layer of chocolate.

“We had you hooked when we said ‘chocolatey’, didn’t we? Thought so!”


Excerpt from Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town, by Melissa Morgan, published by Square Peg.

Makes 15-24 bars


For the biscuit base:

• 2 tbs ground flaxseed
• 3 tbs lukewarm water
• 230g dairy-free margarine
• 100g caster sugar
• 90g cocoa powder
• 250g rich tea or
• gluten-free digestive biscuits, crushed
• 200g desiccated coconut
• 100g chopped walnuts (optional)

For the custard cream filling:

• 180g dairy-free margarine
• 50g vegetable fat (shortening)
• 600g icing sugar
• 5 tbs custard powder
• 2 tbs soya or rice milk

For the chocolate layer:

• 300g dairy-free chocolate chips or chocolate bars
• dairy-free margarine


• Liberally grease, or line with parchment paper, a 33cm x 23cm cake tin;
• In a small bowl, whisk the flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Set aside for 10 minutes;
• Over a low heat, melt the margarine in a pan with the caster sugar and the cocoa powder. Remove from the heat and add the crushed biscuits, coconut, walnuts (if using) and flaxseed mixture. Stir until thoroughly combined. Press the mixture into the prepared cake tin and pop it into the fridge to chill for at least an hour;
• Meanwhile, prepare the custard cream filling. Using an electric hand-held mixer, mix together the margarine, vegetable fat, icing sugar, custard powder and soya milk. The custard will resemble a soft buttercream. Take the biscuit layer out of the fridge and spread the custard cream across it evenly; and
• Finally, for the chocolate layer, melt together the chocolate chips and margarine in a pan over a low heat. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the custard cream layer.
• Return the tray to the fridge. Allow the chocolate to firm up for about an hour before slicing into it. Hum the Canadian national anthem.

Tip: Canadians don’t always stick to the traditional custard version. Do as they do and switch the custard powder for dried coffee, mint extract or peanut butter while eating.



Adored throughout America’s south for its homespun, decadent desserts and rustic breads, Back in the Day Bakery has all the charm of a good old-fashioned Savannah kitchen.

From buttermilk biscones, bourbon pecan pie and sticky cinnamon buns to cherry pie bars, owners Cheryl and Griffith Day have mastered the art of transporting customers back to their childhood. More impressively however, the pair has made a great effort to employ creative flavour combinations and modern baking techniques. For example, they have jazzed up the humble apple pie with salted caramel – inspired by the caramel apples they enjoyed during Halloween festivities as children.

“We mix a variety of three apples; Granny Smiths, Pink Ladies and Honey Crisps, and drizzle them with caramel sauce. We then sprinkle on a bit of fleur de sel, a combination that satisfies those salty-sweet cravings,” Cheryl says.


Excerpt from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook, by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day, published by Artisan books. Photographs by Squire Fox.

Serves eight to 10.


For the caramel:

• 1 cup granulated sugar

• 1½ teaspoons fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt)

• 12 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature

• 2 tbs heavy creamFor the apple filling:• 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice

• 6 large apples, such as Granny Smith, Pink Lady or Honey Crisps (or a combination) cored, peeled, and thinly sliced

• ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

• ¼ teaspoon ground allspice

• ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

• ½ cup turbinado sugar, plus more for sprinkling

• 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash turbinado

• Fleur de sel for sprinkling

• Ice cream for serving (optional)


1 On a lightly floured piece of parchment, roll out the chilled dough into a 12-inch round. Roll the dough onto the rolling pin and place it in the pie dish. Carefully arrange the dough to slump inside the dish and press it into the edges. Trim the excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving about a 1-inch overhang. Wrap and place the pie dish in the refrigerator to chill the dough for at least 30 minutes;

2 Roll out the remaining disk of dough on parchment and transfer it to a baking sheet. Wrap in plastic wrap and return the dough to the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes;

3 When ready to bake, position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 200°C;

4 To make the caramel: Combine the granulated sugar, fleur de sel, and ½ cup of water in a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. Wash down any crystals from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Turn the heat down to medium and cook, without stirring, until the syrup becomes a medium-dark amber caramel, about 15 minutes; you can carefully swirl the pan around to check the color;

5 Carefully remove the pan from the heat and immediately stir in the butter and heavy cream;

6 Transfer the caramel to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low speed until the caramel cools and starts to come together. Set aside;

7 To make the filling: Put the lemon zest and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the apples and toss gently;

8 In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and turbinado sugar (brown or relatively unprocessed cane sugar). Gently toss the apples with this mixture;

9 To assemble the pie: Place the bottom piecrust in a 9-inch pie pan and prick the bottom of the crust gently all over with a fork. Layer the apple mixture in the crust, making sure there are no gaps between the apples. Pour ¼ cup of the caramel mixture on top of the apples. Reserve the remaining caramel for serving;

10 Place the top piecrust on a work surface and cut four to eight vent holes in the centre with a mini cookie cutter in whatever shape you like. Reserve the cutout pieces for decorating the crust. Brush the rim of the bottom piecrust with the egg wash to create a seal. Place the top crust over the pie filling and seal and crimp the edges, trimming the excess dough. Decorate with the cutout pieces, and brush the entire crust with the egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar and a pinch of fleur de sel;

11 Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 190°C and bake for an additional 45 to 60 minutes, until the caramel blossoms into big, thick, syrupy bubbles and the crust turns golden brown. Test the apples with a small paring knife to make sure they are tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least four hours before serving to allow the juices and caramel to thicken. The pie is best served the same day, but it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to three days.

12 To serve, slice the pie into wedges and top with a drizzle of the caramel sauce and, if desired, a scoop of ice cream.

Tip: For best results, make a tender, flaky crust.


The tirade of cookbooks published by the Australian Women’s Weekly (AWW) throughout the past 50 or so years have played an unprecedented part in the rise of Australian cuisine, particularly in baking.

For AWW’s food and editorial director Pamela Clark, the brands’ recipes were and continue to be revered by home and professional bakers alike, all of who delight in the fact all entries are tested time and time again. And Pamela should know – she’s been part of the AWW test kitchen for the past 40 years.

“The Weekly has held the hands of generations of cooks as they created culinary successes, some of whom have gone on to become successful chefs,” Pamela says.

“The recipes outline the basics and this is important because you learn to cook by mastering the basics and experimenting from there on.”

Anyone who has recently picked up a baking recipe compilation that is more than a decade old will know ingredients and the way food is presented has undergone a massive transformation. However, many of the recipes themselves have stood the test of time – albeit, with some contemporisation.

“Our cookbooks reflect our national history; the difference in terms of flavours and influences throughout the past 80 years is remarkable. For a start, we tend to use more ingredients, we use more tools and our recipes are a melting pot of cultural influences – whoopee pies are just one recent example,” Pamela says.

“However there is certainly continuity in terms of what we baked then and now. I was recently perusing a copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly circa 1941 and came across a recipe for a plum cobbler, a recipe that appears in our new baking compendium The Baking Collection

“Today, it’s really about striking a balance between recipes we love and recipes that reflect the way we eat now.”

The Baking Collection’s white chocolate lamington recipe is a perfect example of an iconic Australian teat with a modern twist.

“There is no reason why the home cook, or professional baker for that matter, couldn’t take this a step further and infuse the white chocolate with lemon grass or even revert to milk chocolate with an orange sponge and create jaffa lamingtons,” Pamela says.

“The same goes with whoopie pies. They originated among the Amish in Pennsylvania and the story goes when men went to work in the fields and opened their packs for lunch, they would shout ‘whoopie’ at the sight of these little cakes.

“But today we’re not Amish men in the field, so to give them a fresh and modern twist we’ve used ginger and lime; a common flavour combination in Asia cooking.”

The AWW have published a number of new recipe compilations in recent years that have reflected the resurgence of baking trends from bygone eras. The brand has also re-released retro titles like the revered Children’s Birthday Cake Book to inspire a new generation of home bakers.

“Our lives are busier than ever today and fewer people cook and bake for themselves from scratch. As such, there is certainly nostalgia for cakes and the like that are just like mum made,” Pamela says.


Excerpt from The Baking Collection, published by Australian Women’s Weekly, RRP $49.95, available where all good books are sold and online at

Makes 35

Prep + cook time 1 hour (+ refrigeration and standing)


• 6 eggs
• 150g caster (superfine) sugar
• 80g white eating chocolate, chopped finely
• 75g plain (all-purpose) flour
• 50g self-raising flour
• 50g cornflour (cornstarch)
• 150g desiccated coconut
• 100g white eating chocolate, finely grated


• 640g icing (confectioners’) sugar
• 180ml milk


1 Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 20cm x 30cm rectangular pan; line base and sides with baking paper, extending the paper 5cm over sides;

2 Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer for about 10 minutes or until thick and creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until sugar dissolves. Fold in chopped chocolate and triple-sifted flours. Spread mixture into pan.

3 Bake cake for about 35 minutes. Turn cake onto a baking-paper-covered wire rack to cool; refrigerate until required;

4 Make icing; and

5 Cut cold cake into 35 squares; dip each square in icing, drain off excess. Toss squares in combined coconut and grated chocolate; place on a wire rack to set.


Sift icing sugar into a medium heatproof bowl; stir in milk. Place over a medium saucepan of simmering water; stir until icing is of a coating consistency.

Tip: Lamingtons can be made one day ahead of serving. Keep them in an airtight container in the fridge. The uncut cake can be frozen for up to three months.

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