The Flamboyantly Fabulous Fanny Cradock in the cookery theatre at Ely’s Food and Drink Festival

Fanny Cradock in the person of Dr Sue Bailey was invited to appear as part of Ely’s Food and Drink Festival last year. I was delighted to dress up to the nines to perform as Flamboyant Fanny. In the Festival’s cookery theatre over the festival weekend, sponsored by Cambridge Commodities, there was an exciting line-up to entertain and inspire.

The fun of acting as Fanny Cradock

Although I am a food scientist and food historian, every now and again I have to exercise my very quirky alter ego. I love to appear as the Grande Dame of TV cookery. The Flamboyantly Fabulous Fanny Cradock who is remembered as the eccentric post-war first female celebrity chef. 

Fanny Cradock Ely Eel festival
Fanny preparing for the demonstration at Ely Eel festival

As Fanny, I made an eel-shaped cake in honour of Ely’s eels and talked about Fanny and about eels past history.

Fanny Cradock demonstration
Now get ready to make your fabulous Swiss roll eel cake darlings!

Then everyone queued up to taste a slice of Ely’s history in cake form and not a crumb was left.

As the festival organiser kindly said ” Thank you so much for your fabulous performance in our Cookery Theatre at the weekend. You truly went down a storm, you were brilliant!”

Just in case you would like the recipe for Fanny’s fabulous no-crack Swiss roll that provided the basis for the eel, here it is:


4 free range medium eggs, fresh as a button

125g (4oz) caster sugar, sifted – and heated to warm to give extra volume

125g (4oz) self-raising  flour, sifted

1 tblsp /15 ml hot water

Extra caster sugar for dusting

Filling of your choice – half a jar of apricot jam or butter cream to make the roll a real treat

125g/5 oz unsalted butter

250g/10 oz sifted icing sugar


  1. Line a Swiss roll tin 25.5 cm x 38 cm (10×15”) with parchment paper
  2. Preheat temperature to 180 /200 C or gas Mark 4/5
  3. Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk until you reach the ribbon stage. This will take up to 5 minutes with a clever electric whisk and until it looks like a pale lemon cloud. (The mixture will leave a trail when you lift the whisk). I wrote Johnnie’s initial in the top, so it’s quite firm.
  4. Make sure you have sieved the self-raising flour, as ideally there should be some raising agent otherwise you need to beat twice as long. Then there will not be enough air in to ‘lift a single hair on poor old pussy’s tail’. Gently, and with a light hand, add the flour and fold in a figure of eight motion. Or as I did with a large silver spoon cut around the side and down the middle.   Check all the flour is incorporated and do not overmix as this will make the sponge heavy with a dense texture.
  5. Pour the mixture evenly into the lined Swiss roll tin holding the tray up to let the mixture run into the corners completely. To make sure it is nice and even give a firm tap of the tray on the working surface. This will remove any large bubbles and even it out.
  6. Then bake for 6-8 minutes on the middle shelf. It should be springy to the touch, look like a golden feather bed and gently wrinkly like my husband Johnny.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare a piece of parchment (on a clean slightly damp tea towel) sprinkled with caster sugar to roll the sponge up in.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Whilst still warm, turn the sponge out upside-down onto the parchment. Make sure the lining paper is uppermost and the sponge is laying on the caster sugar.   Gently peel off the lining paper.
  9. Fill with jam, rolling as you go, using the paper underneath to guide you, or roll up with the lining paper still in it whilst you beat the sieved icing sugar, butter and vanilla extract together to make lovely light buttercream. Unroll, spread jam on first, the buttercream and roll-up.
  10. Et voila – a perfect, no crack Swiss roll!
Swiss roll cake in the shape of an eel
Esmeralda the Ely eel getting ready to swim onto the stage

When I am not staring as Fanny, I write a regular feature on food history for Cambridge Edition magazine and a food column for The Lady magazine. Do read the Cambridge Edition article for in-depth information about the history of eels and Ely plus the Eel Festival.

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