It was my daughter’s 6th birthday this weekend, and as with many birthdays, “comes the ‘birthday cake'”. As a chocolate cake lover, I was surprised she chose a sponge cake this year. Luckily, the weather was beautiful on the day and her friends loved the garden activities organised.
I’ve worked my way through a fair share of cakes in my search to find the perfect one. I still haven’t found ‘The One’ yet and that’s been a long list of cakes such as: Madeira cake, sponge cake, mud cake, fudge cake, chocolate cake, carrot cake, genoise sponge, jaconde sponge, almond cake, coconut cake and a many other healthier ones. For a safe option I always rely on either Madeira or sponge cake to please all the other children around, and as for the sugar and all the frosting, a cake shared with more than 20 people shouldn’t be the end of the world. One of my favourite cakes is geniose, due to its lightness, however it is difficult to shape sometimes. Almond cake, made entirely out of almond flour (gluten free), was potentially another option, but due to so many nut allergies around, it would be safer to stay clear of this for a big birthday gathering.
Another request was decorating the cake with the Disney Pixar animated movie Brave – about a Scottish princess called ‘Merida’, wanting to find her own fate and destiny against the royal cultural traditions imposed upon her. She would then have to rely on her bravery and archery skills to restore peace to the chaos she creates due to her justified rebellion. The lines below narrated by Kelly McDonald (with her beautiful Scottish accent) really stuck in my head the first time I heard it:
“Some say, our destiny is tied to the land, as much a part of us as we are of it. Others say, fate is woven together like a cloth, so that one’s destiny intertwines with many others.
It’s the One Thing we search for, or fight to change. Some never find it, but there are some, who are led.
There are those who say that fate is beyond our command, that destiny is not our own, but I know better! Our fate lives within us, you only have to be Brave enough to see it.”
With the ever expanding world of the internet and the ‘global village’ that has become our world, it is really confusing to really know where you belong, ideologically as well as physically, or where you will end up landing? Our fate is like a written scripture, floating around somewhere for us to discover as we go along. Whether it will be a good or a bad destiny, depends on how hard we are willing to work to strive a precious existence.
Putting philosophy to one side (I always get carried away), I set off to create a picture I saw online featuring Merida and her family – The Queen, The King and her 3 ‘wee devil’ triplet brothers, the princes. I tell you, piping butter-cream to draw an intricate drawing was a ‘Brave’ move by me. The smile on my daughter’s face when she saw it really made all my efforts worth it, even though I would like to call my drawing attempt an ‘Abstract Child Art’.
So here is one of the simplest recipes you can find for a quick reliable cake. It won’t collapse and it retains its shape well. I have tried it with spelt flour and gluten-free flour with great success. The only experiment remaining would be replacing sugar with maple syrup or coconut sugar. More of that will follow in the future.
Note: A basic sponge cake has roughly equal amounts (weight-wise) of butter, sugar and self-raising flour. The number of eggs used depend on how big the cake is, and so the ratio of eggs to the other ingredients change accordingly. For example 1 egg would use about 60 g each of butter, sugar and flour. 2 eggs would use about 125 g each of butter, sugar and flour. 3 eggs, 175 g butter, sugar, flour. 4 eggs would need about 230 g butter, sugar and flour. The last one should be enough to make two 20 cm round cakes, ready to be sandwiched together with any filling of your choice.
Basic Sponge Cake – used for a 30cm * 20cm baking tray
- 400 g unsalted butter, room temperature
- 400 g unrefined golden caster sugar or unrefined light muscovado sugar (I used 350 g sugar and that turned out OK)
- 6 medium free-range eggs at room temperature
- 400 g unbleached self-raising flour, or 400 g spelt flour with 4 teaspoons baking powder, or self-raising gluten-free flour
- Flavouring of your choice, e.g. 1 teaspoon vanilla, or zest of 1 lemon, or ground cardamom, etc.
Preheat oven to 160° C or 150°C fan assisted. Butter your baking tray and line with baking parchment.
Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, so the mixture becomes a few shades lighter in colour. This is best done using a free-standing mixture attached with a paddle attachment. Alternatively you can use a hand mixture. If you don’t have an electrical mixing device, use the old-fashioned way of mixing everything with a wooden spoon, but be prepared for a good arm workout.
Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition until they are completely incorporated. You should get a smooth, shiny mixture. If the mixture is curdled, don’t worry, it will be OK after the flour is added.
Sift the flour, and gradually add the mixture, incorporating everything together using a spatula this time. Add the flavouring, if using, mix until the batter has a smooth dropping consistency. If you feel the mixture is too thick add a splash of milk to loosen it up slightly. Do not over-beat the batter after adding the flour, as this will result in a tough chewy cake.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your cake. A skewer inserted should come out clean, and the edges of the cake would have come off the sides slightly. If the cake is still not ready bake for another 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to open the oven door too often as the loss of heat may cause the cake to collapse in the middle. Also, do not over bake the cake as this will result in a dry one!
Leave the cake in the tin for about 10 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Whipped cream and raspberry jam
- Butter-cream made of 150 g butter, 300 g unrefined icing sugar, 1-2 tablespoons of milk and flavouring of your choice – beaten very well together until light and fluffy
- Whipped cream and lemon curd
- Whipped cream and mascarpone cheese with a splash of really strong coffee
- and many more