Cuppa [ coffee | tea ] and cake
Flour is flying off the shelves and everyone seems to be baking up a storm at home. I mean, who doesn’t like the smell of cookies wafting through the house, curling up on the sofa with a warm beverage and sugary snack. I have always enjoyed baking and tend to do more of it when I am feeling stressed and life feels like it is spiralling out of control. There is something therapeutic about methodically measuring out the ingredients and watching your creation morph from a sloppy mixture into something doughy/cake-y and (hopefully) scrumptious in the end.
The Swedish have fika which is more than a tea/coffee break, but a time to take it slow and appreciate the good things in life. Whilst it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (curve flattening and post-COVID-19 life resuming), we can all take some time to learn from the swedes and enjoy some fika in our day.
You promised cake?
At the start of COVID-19 panic I was churning out the loaf tin bakes, needed the cake to calm the nervous energy in the air… turns out our waist lines were not too happy about all the extra carbs and sugar so we have had to pull it back a few notches. When you are feeling lazy but want cake fast and hassle free, my go to is making a loaf cake of sorts. Why? because there is no multi layer assembly required all you need to do is pop out the loaf, slap on some icing/syrup and voilà!
I’m pretty sure you can turn every cake recipe into a loaf tin one (as long as you know how to adjust the cooking time), the carrot cake recipe - curtesy of my aunt, was a cupcake recipe originally but I could not be asked to pour into a muffin tin so went for a loaf instead and it turned out fab. I have a non-stick loaf tin but still butter and flour coat it or line with baking parchment - the last thing you want is for your cake to not release from the tin and going in with a knife to scrape it out. No one wants an ugly loaf.
Tip: butterDon't try cream butter that has not been softened - that just leads to tired arms. Leave your butter out at room temp for a few hours, if you forget (like me most of the time) leave it in a warm spot to expedite the softening.
We recently invested in a stand mixer, Foo loves to make piadinas and pizza and it’s often easier to get a robot to knead the dough for you. Whilst often I still combine wet and dry ingredients by hand, if I need to cream butter and sugar or make an icing, the stand mixer is my go to - especially with any butter based icing as stand mixers get more air into the mixture, making it fluffy and light to eat. If your icing is on the sweet side, reduce the sugar in the cake itself, cakes can handle cutting sugar quantities stated in the recipe. I hate it when everything is too sweet. Cookies however don’t cope well with adjusting the sugar levels so be careful when experimenting with quantities there.
Get to know your oven: the front of my oven and I are not friends as he likes to form a heat spot at the front and burn my cakes. Regular rotation is key for me to get an even-ish bake on anything. My oven is on the hot end of the spectrum over all so I need to adjust cooking temp and the poke test becomes my best fried. Jab a wooden chopstick in the deepest part of the loaf and if it comes out clean you are all good. They sell oven thermometers so you can see what the actual temp of your oven is - I probably should buy one of those…
Tip: lumpy soft cheese icingLeave any soft cheese out at room temp before whipping into icing, otherwise you end up with a lumpy consistency. If you do need to rectify some lumpiness, use a baine-marie (icing in a bowl over simmering water), stir vigorously until lumps disappear.
With baking you do need to be precise and measure out your ingredients accurately but you also need to evaluate whether the mixture in front of you looks ‘correct’ - is it too dry or wet? Does it need to be cooked for longer? Is my environment hot/cold - do I need to leave the darn thing to proof for longer? Ask yourself these questions when baking and don’t just blindly follow the recipe.
Get a bit crazy and add your own twists on things - sure it won’t always taste good, but make sure you have human dustbin(s) close at hand to feed and nothing will go to waste. Chuck some chocolate chunks into your banana bread, add some marsala to your icing, switch up the lemon zest for yuzu (bear the damage on your wallet at £5+ a pop in London) or add sprinkles and luster dust on everything. Use your loaf as a canvas to express your creative side and don’t worry too much about the end result - I’m sure it will taste great, ample amounts of butter and sugar never hurt anyone right 🙈