FROM AN OLD FAMILY FAVOURITE TO NEW CREATIONS, TAMSIN CARVAN SHARES RECIPES FOR SIMPLY DELICIOUS CAKES.
I HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR SIMPLE CAKES. They are the cakes of our childhoods, with those evocative names — the pound cake, the sponge cake, the butter cake. They are never too sweet. They don’t need icing. They are yummy with icing. They are classics; they never date. Simple cakes are elegant and resourceful. Few ingredients, in easily memorised proportions, a beautifully resolved solution to the problem of what to make when there isn’t much, or of how to use up what one has. Simple cakes are generous; they are about others, not ourselves. They don’t try to impress, their job is to nurture and nourish. They are not a grand announcement or a social media sensation, but a thoughtful gesture; a homely affiffirmation of love. These are the cakes I love to eat, but also the cakes I love to bake. Behind the modest ingredients are an almost improbable number of techniques for combining them, all yielding variations in texture, moistness and taste; from fifirst creaming butter and sugar until light and flfluffffy (butter cakes), to taking all the measurements for the dry ingredients from the weight of the eggs and using melted butter (one version of the French quatre-quarts or ‘four-quarters’ cake), to whipping egg yolks and whites separately to create lift and structure with no fats at all (sponges). For years I baked and baked in search of the perfect method — the one that would make the ‘best cake’. It took me far too long to realise that the secret to a good cake is not the method, but paying close attention to the purpose of each step. If you are creaming butter and sugar, make sure they are really creamed, and full of air and lightness, and that the sugar has almost completely dissolved. When using whipped eggwhites to create lift, use a light, stiffff spatula to fold them through your cake mix so you don’t knock the air out again. Ensure syrups are truly syrupy rather than watery. All ingredients should be at room temperature before using and err on the side of undercooking rather than overcooking. And when lining your pan, it’s worth taking the extra time to grease both under and on top of the baking paper, so you get a beautifully caramelised crust. It’s always my favourite part of any cake. And, yes, I will fifight you for it!