Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: # 35, Delia Smith

Delia Smith is a British 
phenomenon and considered a national cooking treasure. But like so many of our Game Changers, she knew next to nothing about cooking when she was younger. She did a stint as a hairdresser, then a shop assistant, then a travel agent. But finally, at 21, she went to work at a restaurant called The Singing Chef. She was a dogsbody at first, then slowly was allowed to help with the cooking. She became interested in trying to revive an interest in British food, probably in reaction to Elizabeth David's championing of French and Mediterranean cuisine. Delia spent many hours at the library trying to figure out why French cooking was so good and British cooking so bad. She experimented in the kitchen and served her recipes to the family and friends she was living with.

She met literary agent Deborah Owen in 1969, to whom she gave tips on how to cook a nice poached egg for her husband and through her she got a job at the Daily Mirror. Her rise since then has been prodigious.  Her column led to her first cookbook in 1971: How to Cheat at Cooking. The cookbook is certainly true to its' name as it contains recipes for baked fish fingers with tinned mushrooms and tomatoes, or sponge cake (bought) with tinned cherry-pie filling. "Delia's masterstroke was to embark on a back-to-basics cookery course: how to boil an egg, how to make toast. People scoffed. But Smith's advice  was useful: toast is better if you let it stand for a short while before you butter it, eggs are better when they're fresh, etc."
What Delia is, is everywoman. And that's her appeal...she's teaching the basics.

I came across this amusing story about Gordon Ramsay and Delia:
Wearing prosthetic make-up, glasses and a hairpiece to make him appear years older, Ramsay posed as an amateur cooking enthusiast and signed up for one of her classes. The unsuspecting Smith was totally fooled and failed to spot that one of the nation's best known chefs was under her nose. There's no love lost between Ramsay and Smith, two of the country's foremost culinary figures. Smith has criticized her rival over his foul language. "That's not teaching. I like him when he does his recipes, but I'm not keen on his swearing," she has said.
In his turn, Ramsay was scathing about Smith's series, How To Cheat At Cooking, in which she extolled the virtues of frozen mash and tinned mince. "Here we are trying to establish a reputation across the world for this country's food and along comes Delia and tips it out of a can. That hurts," he said.

Delia's first television appearances came in the early 1970s. With education in mind, Smith approached BBC Further Education with an idea for their first televised cooking class. Her aim was to teach people how to cook: to take them back to basics and cover all the classic techniques. Accompanying books were needed to explain not only how, but why, things happen. Smith became famous by hosting a cookery television show Family Fare which ran between 1973-1975. This was followed in the late 70's by another series and her three Cookery Course books: Delia Smith’s Cookery Course: Part One was published in 1978 to accompany the series, followed, over the next two years, by Part Two and Part Three. The cookbooks were a smash hit. Her use of particular ingredients and utensils could lead to an overnight surge in commercial sales, something referred to as "The Delia Effect". Her status as Britain's best-loved cook was sealed.  

I'm not a cook," she says routinely, which I assume to mean she doesn't claim to be a Cordon Bleu level cook. But that appeals to her audience, because they're not cooks either. Delia's aim was, and is, to do precisely what the Joneses are doing.

I read an interesting, rather snarky article about her in which the author described her television personality as follows: "
Still, you can tell she doesn't like to get her hands dirty: even if this is not in fact the case, the impression you get from her movements in the kitchen is very much one of a woman who would prefer to avoid sensuous contact with the ingredients."
I immediately thought of Julia Child with those chickens. :)
Never having seen a Delia TV show, I went to YouTube to watch and he was exactly right. There's no passion in her delivery and she appears to keep her hands well clear of the ingredients. At any rate he sums things up by saying:
"Is there anyone who appears duller than Delia Smith? Maybe not; but I would suspect that there are millions of people who are precisely as dull as her: us."
Delia returned to television in 1990, this time to make a series about Christmas. Delia Smith’s Christmas has sold 1,500,000 copies and the series is repeated each year. 
One cookbook success followed another. She would retire for a while, and then return to television with another special or series. Her most recent was in 2010: Delia through the Decades. Her biggest selling book is Delia Smith's The Winter Collection (1995) which sold 2 million copies in hardback. In March 2001 Delia fulfilled a long-term dream to be directly in touch with her readers and launched Delia Online.
You can't argue with success.

Outside of cooking, Delia is very religious; she converted to Catholicism in 
her twenties and has published four spiritual books.
Another of Delia's great passions is football. She has been a supporter of Norwich City Football Club for over 25 years and, in November 1996, became a Director of the club. 

Delia received an OBE in the Queen's 1995 New Year's Honours List and an MBE in the Queen's 2009 Birthday Honours List. 
In 1996, she was awarded an Honorary degree by Nottingham University, a Fellowship from St Mary’s College and a Fellowship from the Royal Television Society. 
In 1999 she received an Honorary degree from the University of East Anglia and in 2000, a Fellowship from John Moores University in Liverpool. 
See all her cookbooks HERE 
Delia's website


Some of our  Game Changers don't have large recipe sources. Believe me, Delia Smith was NOT one of them. Narrowing it down was the problem! Not being overly fond of walnuts, when I have a choice between walnuts and pecans, I almost always choose pecans. I love walnuts in salads, but prefer pecans in cakes and cookies. On the other hand, my mother LOVED walnuts, so in her honor, I chose to feature Delia's walnut sponge. I don't have the size baking tins Delia suggests so I made this cake in a smallish springform pan and then split it in half. Worked fine as you can see. This is one cake you can make with a hand tied behind your back; the texture is light, the flavor excellent. And we really liked the coffee-flavored mascarpone frosting.

All-in-one Walnut Sponge with Coffee Cream

From Delia Smith's Cookery Course

 110g / 4oz self-raising flour, sifted 
 1 teaspoon baking powder 
 110g margarine, at room temperature  
 110g / 4oz golden caster sugar 
 2 large eggs 
 1 tablespoon instant espresso dissolved in 1 ½ tablespoons of boiling water 
 50g / 2oz finely chopped walnuts  
For the filling and topping  
 250g / 9oz Mascarpone cheese 
 1 dessertspoon instant espresso powder 
 1 rounded dessertspoon golden caster sugar 
 8 walnut halves 

Two 18cm / 7 inch sponge tins, no less than 2.5cm / 1 inch deep, lightly greased and lined with baking parchment (also greased) 

Pre-heat the oven to 170ºC, 325ºF, gas mark 3  
Take a very large mixing bowl, put the flour and baking powder in a sieve and sift it into the bowl, holding the sieve high to give it a good airing as it goes down. Now all you do is simply add all the other cake ingredients (except the walnuts and coffee) to the bowl and, provided the margarine is really soft, just go in with an electric hand whisk and whisk everything together until you have a smooth, well-combined mixture. This will take about 1 minute but, if you don't have an electric hand whisk, you can use a wooden spoon and a little bit more effort. What you should end up with is a soft mixture that drops off the spoon easily when you give it a sharp tap. Then add the coffee mixture and the chopped walnuts and whisk them together. 

Divide the mixture between the prepared sandwich tins, spreading the mixture around evenly. Then give each tin a sharp tap to even the mixture out and place the tins on the centre shelf of the oven and bake them for 30 minutes. 

While the cakes are cooking you can make up the filling and topping, and all you do here is place all the ingredients, except the walnut halves, in a bowl and whisk them together till thoroughly blended. Then cover the bowl with clingfilm and chill till needed. 

When the cakes are cooked, i.e. feel springy in the centre, leave them in their tins for about 30 seconds then loosen the edges by sliding a palette knife all round and turn them out on to a wire cooling rack. Peel off the base papers carefully and, when cool sandwich the cakes together with half of the coffee cream, then carefully on top and spread the other half over. 

Finally, arrange the reserved walnut halves in a circle all around. It's a good idea to chill the cake if you're not going to serve it immediately.

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Katie - Making Michael Pollan Proud
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Kathleen Van Bruinisse - Bake Away with Me 
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Lines from Linderhof
Amy - Beloved Green

 Ciao Chow Linda


  1. This looks dreamy Barbara. What I wouldn't give for a nice thick slice right now!

  2. Call me dull and boring but I LOVE Delia.
    I have every book except the latest, which I don't need because I have all the others!
    Delia's Yorkshire pudding recipe is the BEST! Foolproof every time and so easy to do. My family say I make the best Yorkshires but it's Delia's recipe.
    Can't stand Ramsey!

  3. I'm in awe of this post, Barbara---you did such a beautiful profile of Delia, and then such a gorgeous cake complete with mouth watering photos...the cake is right up my ally, I will definitely try it.

  4. Love the idea of this cake in one springform pan--I don't know what "sandwich tins" are anyway. Beautiful post. Happy day from Minnesota!

  5. Barbara, you did well by Delia. I don't think you have a mean bone in your body and should get a job with the state department! The cake does look good... espresso marscarpone frosting is a great idea, must say.

    I have never seen Delia in action, but you have piqued my interest. I have never had the patience to watch too many of the cooking shows... and there are too many. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for Gordon's stint at the cooking school... did he pull off his disguise at the end? was there a hidden camera? That would have been a gas.

    Her books are everywhere in the UK but have never really noticed them here (although, golly, I'm trying to remember the last time I was in a bookstore... horrors!).

  6. oh, I love this cake! Yours looks stunning and absolutely divine.



  7. Now THAT was a write-up! I've never actually watched her cooking, so I suppose I should go check it out. I've really enjoyed all of her books, though. Not everybody can have charisma, I suppose. This cake, however, looks like it would totally light up a room - it's beautiful.

  8. I've learned a lot about some game changers I knew nothing about before. I have to say the combination of walnuts and coffee cream has really intrigued me.

  9. Bravo, bravo!! I know her as a spiritual author, so this is fascinating for me, and you've posted yet another recipe I hope to make soon...

  10. So interesting, I'll have to check out her cooking show. Meanwhile, this cake looks decadent, especially the frosting!

  11. my gosh does this look delicious!

  12. I've heard the name but didn't know anything about Delia Smith so I am enjoying the informative post. I like the game changer posts, I learn something new each time. And the cake looks fantastic. Especially that frosting, makes me want to just dig right in.

  13. great cake and I grew up watching her her recipes are good though and easy

  14. Really loving this group of posts! The cake looks so good.

  15. That cake looks delicious! I'm copying it and giving it to The Baker. Loved the story about Gordon and Delia. I wouldn't have liked him very much either.


  16. That Gordon Ramsey is such a sneak! They are on different levesl and they take a different approach to cooking. There is audience to go around. Great profile on Delia.

  17. I've never heard of her, but will definitely do a little research. My grandmother was British and was an excellent cook, although I never remember eating a piece of meat that wasn't cooked to death in her kitchen.

    She make wonderful cakes and pies, and this cake looks like something she would have made!

  18. You really connected to Delia. Love the article. I've liked all the recipes - love this cake and certainly don't mind the ease. Would you continue to cook from her? I haven't decided. But if I do - I'm making this cake.

  19. It's a beautiful looking cake!

  20. That's a great write-up on Delia, Barbara. Reading and watching her Youtube videos reminded me of myself. I don't handle my ingredients sensuously either, it's all about the process and getting things in the pot/pan. It's a different story once the dish is ready, though :) I guess that's the reason she got widely popular in Britain, so many people relate.
    Your walnut cake looks absolutely delicious!

  21. I love how this recipe calls for a dessert spoon as a measure. :) the flavors in it are so interesting. It's not often you see walnut, espresso, and mascarpone paired. But....why not? Looks delicious!

  22. Simply heavenly, Barbara. Expresso and walnuts are such a wonderful combination.

    Thanks so much for sharing...

  23. I DO love a beautiful cake ... this one looks to be a winner! Delia really is a solid presense on the Brit cooking scene isn't she? I'd never heard of her until this week (except in reading a few passing name-dropper comments on my Brit blogging friends' blogs). This week has been an education!

  24. The cake is really lovely and your backstory was so very nicely done, Barbabra. I love to visit here. You are one of my 3 "L" bloggers. I come here to learn, laugh and love. I'm so glad you joined the group. I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

  25. Hi Barbara,

    I do like Delia, she always is such a perfectionist in all she cooks. I remember seeing the incident with Gordon Ramsay dressed up as an old man wanting to take one of her classes.
    The cake looks so good and is making me feel hungry.

    Happy weekend

  26. Delia had a lot of great sounding recipes and this one sounds and looks delightful! Love when I can have my coffee in baked goods - gives me an excuse to call it breakfast!

  27. that's a great cake, and an even better frosting! she sounds like a feisty lady. :)

  28. Oh my gawd, look at that ooey gooey cream! Ooooooooh.

    Dogsbody. Ha! Interesting term.

  29. I have Delia Smith's Vegetarian Collection, which is very nice. I think it's fascinating that you write about Smith's research into the differences between French (good) and British (bad) cooking and later go on to describe her as not sensuous with her cooking. Isn't that cultural, too? The Brit stereotype is the "stiff upper lip" variety and the Frenchie, the adventurous, preferably red-wine-drinking romantic. At any rate, it sure sounds like she knows her audience.



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