If you've been following me on Twitter this week, you'll know I've baked a couple of cakes. These were for the school summer fair for which the PTFA had asked for cake contributions for their "tea room". Mine went down extremely well - by the time I got there, the last piece of one of the cakes was disappearing off the table so I never even got to try them! However, it turned out that a lot of the other cakes were shop-bought, which is always disappointing as they just don't taste the same. It turned out there had been a very poor turnout of cakes this time.
It does seem to me that baking is a bit like maths. People like to say they are rubbish at it and it's cool to be that because it's perceived to be "hard". The thing is that, like maths, it often isn't as bad as people think it is and they really just need to have a go. It's easier to get someone else to do it for you, but ultimately, that's never as satisfying.
I bake cakes. I don't do it all the time or I'd be the size of the house. The cakes I make taste nice. I just can't make them look all that pretty. Don't ask me to make fancy sugarcraft or owt, it'll look a shocker. When I make a nice cake, people tell me "oh, you're so clever" but I always reply that the cakes I make are easy. And it's true. The two cakes I made this week are not technically challenging but they look impressive, even with a klutz like me icing them. I thought I'd share them with you, one at a time. I'm going to start with the easiest of recipes which is basically an all-in-one - otherwise known as "bung it all together and mix". ;)
Before I move onto the recipe, I'll share with you a few simple golden rules of baking. If you remember them, your baking will be more successful and, therefore, more rewarding.
1. Measure your ingredients fairly accurately. Baking is not "bung it in and hope for the best" cookery. It is relying on reactions for success that require reasonably strict proportions to be maintained. So use those scales, even if they are rubbish. At least they will be consistently bad. Cheap digital scales can be bought cheaply if you really want to invest.
2. Try and use the right size and shape of cake tin as specified in the recipe. This is particularly important when you're starting out. If your recipe says use a 9" diameter tin, use it. You can use a smaller tin but it will take longer to cook than stated in the recipe; a square one might take more or less time to cook. Cake tins can be bought fairly cheaply if you don't do a lot of baking - springform ones or those that have a loose base make for getting cakes out of tins far, far easier. And remember to prep your tins. Greasing and lining the tin as per the recipe also helps. A lot.
3. Get all the ingredients out before you start. This helps to get the mixing bit done as quickly as possible, rather than having to root through your cupboards. If you're using butter, it may need to be soft so get it out of the fridge in advance and if it specifies softened and it's midwinter, be prepared to zap in the microwave for a few seconds. It'll save hours of trying to mix in block butter.
4. Don't substitute too wildly. Use the right kind of flour as specified - tho you can convert plain to self-raising if you know how - and be careful with your sugar; there are so many different types. I often use caster sugar where they specify golden caster and that's OK. Using icing sugar or soft dark brown sugar isn't! I am the queen of substitutions normally, but even I try to stick to the right ingredients unless the recipe suggests it.
5. Finally, be a slave to the recipe. Follow it word for word. If something does go wrong, try and scribble on the recipe so you know for next time if it doesn't work properly for you. Ovens are variable, and sometimes recipes do contain errors. If you think it needs more of something, try that next time.
So, here is one of the cakes I made this week. It's a coconut cake. Coconut is a favourite flavour of mine but I know it's one of those things that people either love or hate. If you're the latter, sorry - I'll blog the other recipe soon.
I found this recipe in one of those little booklets you sometimes get with BBC Good Food magazine. It must be some years ago now and I can't find this exact recipe on their website. I have made this cake several times for NCT branch events and when people aren't drawn to the chocolate cake that I'll blog about next, they try this and love it, yet it is ridiculously simple. I even made this for Monkey's first birthday as he was enjoying the flavour of coconut at the time and then of course, he wouldn't touch a piece. Still, I was not unhappy - I was baking another baby already by then.
I have found over the years of making it that you get the best results by getting proper coconut cream. I used to make it with sachets of creamed coconut but the cake was slightly dry and the icing very stiff, which made it hard to ice. I discovered little cans of Waitrose Coconut Cream and it transformed the cake from "good" to "amazing" and the icing is much more easy to put as well as look pretty. Even I can do attractive swirls in it now.
(Serves 8 - 12)
For the cake:
175g/6oz self-raising flour
175g/6oz golden caster sugar (ordinary works fine)
175g/6oz butter, softened, plus some extra for greasing
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 eggs (I use free range but that's your decision), beaten (tho I never do beforehand)
50g/2oz desiccated coconut
2 tbsp coconut cream, or single cream (better with coconut cream)
For the filling and topping:
280g/10oz icing sugar
100g/4oz butter, softened
3 tbsp coconut cream or single cream (again, far better with coconut cream)
5 tbsp raspberry jam (seedless or no bit varieties best but not essential)
You will also need 2 20cm/8in sandwich tins and some greaseproof paper.
1. Heat the oven to 180C/fan160C/gas 4. Butter the two tins and line the bases with the greaseproof paper. Place the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs in a food processor and mix for 2-3 mins until smooth. Add the coconut and cream and mix again briefly. (If you don't have a food processor, a hand mixer will do. If you don't have that either, you could just mix all together with a fork or a hand whisk. Or you could mix the sugar and butter first, then add the eggs, then the flour and baking powder and finally, the coconut and coconut cream, mixing after each addition.)
2. Divide the mixture between the two lined tins and smooth the tops. Bake in the oven for 25 mins until evenly golden and firm (they will spring back when lightly pressed). Loosen the edges of the cakes and leave in their tins for 5 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Peel off the lining paper when cool.
Here are my cakes cooling on the rack:
3. Make the icing - beat together the icing sugar (I always sift it so you get fewer lumps), butter and coconut cream until smooth. Spread one of the cakes with the jam. Top it with just under half of the icing and place the other sponge on top. Swirl the remaining icing on top of the sponge. Try to resist eating the whole thing right there and then.
Here's my effort from yesterday:
Doesn't it look yum? I can't believe I didn't get to eat any of it, *sob*. It is blooming lovely. The coconut and raspberry are a great combination of flavours and the cake is lovely and moist. It makes your house smell heavenly whilst it is cooking, and I think you can really taste the butter in the cake so it's really worth using that over margarine. I find that I sometimes need a little more than 3 tbsp coconut cream in the icing to get a smooth and spreadable icing and if you use too much, you can always add a little more icing sugar.
So, now, you've not got any excuses - it's not only easy, it doesn't take up lots of time (another reason people give for not baking). This cake takes 5 minutes to mix and get in the oven. You can be doing something else whilst it cooks and cools. It takes another 5 minutes to make the icing, and then, as you can see, only a couple of minutes to "decorate" the cake (well, the way I do it. ;) ). It tastes miles better than anything you'd buy in a shop, you know what's in it and it's probably cheaper too. Cake may not be the healthiest of things but making your own with lovely ingredients has surely got to be the best way to indulge the occasional treat. Hasn't it?
Go on, you know you want to! And if you do, particularly if you are a first-time baker, I'd love you to comment on this post and let me know how you got on and how the cake (and baking) was for you.