Baking 101

Another request for today my lovely followers! A request for a cake suitable for the table of an Easter feast!

This is my Easter feast. And yes, it’s all chocolate. (I’m a new Android user going crazy for Instagram, i’m just too cool with my over-saturated photographs with hipster frames).

I will get to it I promise but first i’ll cover a few basics of baking. I probably should of done this a while ago really, it’s very useful information for a beginner baker, and helps to you decide and understand the chemistry of bakery a little more. I won’t ramble too much but i’ll cover the basic techniques you can use when making your cakes, and it can be applied to most flavours, chocolate, fruit cakes etc. You get the picture, it’s useful to know.

Method 1: The Rubbing in Method.
This is quite a traditional method, and more often used in pastry-making, but can still very much be used in making cakes. This is the method where the fat is rubbed into the flour with the fingertips, much like when you make a crumble topping. This often makes for quite a delicate, crumbly textured cake. This method suits lighter vanilla sponges really well, but can be used for most types, it’s quite versatile.

Method 2: The Heating Method.
This is where you usually heat the fat in a pan with other liquids (such as golden syrup or milk), cooled and then added to the dry ingredients. It’s usually use for quite dense cakes, such as ginger and spiced cakes, but it can technically be used for most cakes. It makes for quite a heavy cake so avoid for lighter sponges. Method 3: The Creaming Method.
This is the most popular of the methods, it’s used in most modern recipes, partly because it’s the quickest, partly because it’s the easiest list of instructions to follow, and partly because it’s the most versatile, I find at least. In this one you cream the fats and the sugars together to form a light and fluffy mix, usually then followed by the eggs one at a time and then the flour. This is usually used when making rich, springy sponges like Victoria Sponge, fruit cakes or Genoise. Method 4: The Sponge Method.
This method is for short-lived cakes. you beat the egg yolks and sugar together until frothy, add in the other ingredients and then fold in whipped egg whites. This method is used for the lightest sponges, such a Swiss roll-style cakes. Although they are beautiful, delicate and airy sponges, they don’t keep very well, often going stale a day or so after. 

So there’s a basic summary of the techniques of sponges! I suppose you can choose your form of technique with how you like your cake and your level of baking skills. If you aren’t a confident baker, Method 3 might suit you well, if you’re baking with children, Method 1 could get them involved with the ingredients and help them to learn about food. 

Although most recipes can be adapted to your choice of method, it’s worth thinking about the properties of the ingredients you’re using. For instance, if you’re making a cake with bicarbonate of soda or baking powder and you use Method 2, you’ll have to work fast so you’re cake mixture doesn’t start reacting too soon, and helping you end up with a nice floaty cake, instead of a flat, rubbish one.

For the purpose of this particular baking 101 post – and the fact it’s Easter, a time for the traditional – i’m going to include a recipe for a classic fruitcake which has been a good faithful companion of mine for many years. It actually hasn’t been that many years, I’ve just made it quite a few times and it’s always been lovely. If you’ve ever tried Dundee cake, it’s very similar, minus the almonds – unless you like almonds, then go nuts!… – oh, that really was an unintentional awful pun, I apologise. It’s a Delia special, altered a little for my tastes.

Delia’s Lightly Spiced Totally-Not Dundee Cake
Serves a good group of lucky people.
150g butter
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
250g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
350g raisins/sultanas (not currants – they are the work of evil!…unless you like them)
50g fresh/dried cherries, stoned and halved. 
Finely grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon. 
NB – before you start, I experimented with this once where I soaked the raisins and sultanas in hot water that i’d stewed fresh grated ginger in. It tasted so lovely I do this every time, but it is entirely optional. If you want to take the extra time, it’ll definitely be worth it! Soak them for about an hour (or overnight if you can) 

Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan oven/Gas mark 3

– Line a 20cm (ish) tin with greasproof paper, and wrap the outside of the tin with foil, making sure that the foil goes above where the tin finishes by about two inches (tie it with string if you need to), this will help to stop the outside of the cake browning too quickly.
– This cake uses the creaming method so it’s pretty simple, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, and add the eggs in one by one, mixing in between each as you go. 
– Sift the flour, baking powder and spices together until they’re evenly mixed and fold them into the mixture gently. GENTLY! You have got to stir in the fruit as well, so don’t knock all the lovely air out. At this stage, it needs to be at a soft dropping consistency. I’ve always thought this is a ridiculous term, what is soft dropping consistency? It’s basically, where you can pick up a dollop of mixture on a spoon, it keeps it shape roughly and when you tip the spoon to the side, it ‘drops’ off and makes a really satisfying(/awesomely childish rude) sounding slop. It will keep it’s shape if you drop it, but it’ll easily mix back in.
– Fold in the sultanas and raisins carefully again and spoon into the tin. 
– If you want to make it look like a Dundee cake, you can arrange some almonds on the top of the cake if you want to in pretty circles, otherwise just leave it uncovered and bake for 2 hours – 2 and a half hours. If it’s browning too quickly, cut a circle of grease-proof paper and pop it on the top of the cake and it should be fine!
– Leave it to cool completely in the tin and to make it taste extra sexy, leave it overnight to let all the flavours mingle.

And that’s it, it does take a little time, but it doesn’t take a great amount of skill and tastes awesome, It’s also a nice change from regular sponges and chocolate eggs at this time of year. Everything is quite subtle, the spices not too OTT and the raisins are just awesome by themselves. Personally, I don’t think it needs any adornment to make it look pretty, but feel free to arrange edible flowers or marzipan/royal icing on top. You can make it look like a simnel cake if you really want to, it won’t taste like one, but it’ll look pretty with the crimped marzipan.

The crust looks all dark and scary, but it’s actually lovely and light on the inside!

I might make a series of ‘Baking 101’ posts, if the response to this is okay. Hmm, we shall see. Enjoy your Easter days off my little chickens and I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the basics of baking.