Baking a cake is really satisfying. The act of mixing the batter, pouring it in a tray and having it transformed into a crumbly and soft cake gives me a wonderfully content feeling. I mean, the baking smell alone has to be enough to lift anyone’s spirit.
I have a basic recipe that I use for baking a simple cake that is inspired by Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a domestic goddess” cake recipe. I’ve altered it slightly by replacing some flour with almond flour, some of the butter with oil, and by reducing the amount of lemon. Just my personal preference. What I love about Nigella’s cake recipe is that making the baking tray sugary and sprinkling sugar on top before baking, gives the crust gets an absolutely delicious texture.
Making a cake isn’t as difficult as it seems, as long as you stick to a few rules:
One: The basic proportions are fixed. So the ratio of fat, egg, sugar and flour has to be the right to make a good cake. You can play with the ingredients, as long as you stick to the ratio.
Two: Don’t open the oven during the baking. If you do, your cake will collapse. Don’t open the oven until you’re ready to check if the cake is done.
Three: It takes a long time to bake. It really does take over an hour for a cake to be done. Even cupcakes take about twice as long as cookies to bake.
Anyway, this is how I make a grandmother’s cake:
- 85 g sunflower oil or corn oil
- 140g butter
- 3 large eggs
- 210g self-raising flour
- 90g almond flour
- 200g sugar
- 8g vanilla sugar
- juice of one lemon
- extra butter and sugar to grease the tray
Preheat the oven at 170°C.
Grease the baking tray with butter and put a spoonful of sugar in the baking tray. Shake the tray until the whole inside is covered in a thin layer of sugar. Throw the rest of the sugar away.
Mix the butter and oil together in a bowl and add the sugar. Mix this really well until the mixture is airy and gets a slight white colour. Add the eggs one by one, and add a spoonful of flour in between eggs. Keep on mixing and add the rest of the flour. Finally add the lemon juice.
Pour the batter into the baking tray and sprinkle some sugar on top. Bake the cake in the middle of an oven for about 60-80 minutes (depending on your oven). I always use a BBQ skewer to check if the inside is done.
Different variations that I’ve tried:
- cacao powder and chocolate drops
- little pieces of apple
- coconut flakes
- cacao powder and coconut flakes
- roughly chopped cookies
- lemon zest
- half chocolate half vanilla
- Melted chocolate
I always just add without measuring until it looks about right. Just add as much as you feel is delicious. As you can see, I’m quite partial to chocolate cake 😉
What I’ve learned
1. Cakes get bigger when you bake ’em
Basically what I’m saying is: don’t put too much batter in the baking tray! I don’t have this problem as much when I’m making a whole cake (the recipe I gave is exactly right for a standard cake tray), but when I’m making cupcakes I always make them too full and I end up with crazy looking cupcakes. About 2/3 full is right.
2. Viscosity plays a role when you spice things up
Adding extra ingredients like apple, chopped up cookies or chocolate droplets is delicious. You can try whatever you like. But keep in mind, when the batter gets heated up by the oven, it becomes more liquid. That means that anything remotely heavy will sink to the bottom of the baking tray. I once made a stragiatella cake that ended up being a vanilla cake with a chocolate bottom. Still delicious, but not what I was aiming for.
3. The oven plays a big role
Making the exact same cake in a different oven, gives a different result. Doesn’t have to be a bad result, but the baking time and temperature will differ for every oven. Be aware and alert when baking in a new or different oven. You can play with the temperature: If you want a cake that has the crust broken on top, raise the temperature. When I set my oven at 170°C, the temperature is just right to not have the crust broken.
4. You can use any type of fat you like to make a cake.
Or rather, I’ve done it with oil, butter and margarine. In my experience if you use 100% oil, you get a really great, soft texture, but the flavour is a bit off. If you use 100% butter, the flavour is amazing, but the texture is too greasy. So I combine the two to get the best texture and the best flavour. Depending on your personal preference you can play with the ingredients. I’m not too fond of using margarine, because of the taste. If you want a dairy-free cake, I recommend combining margarine and oil for the best result.
5. Almond flour works really well in cakes.
By adding a little bit if almond flour, you really lift the flavour, the texture, the smell… I love almond flour in cakes. I also love it in cookies. I just love baking with almond flour.