Bake, battle and bowl: Sarah Nealon bakes a cake with the expert help of Sue Fleischl.
TV Guide reporter Sarah Nealon writes about teaming up with chef and The Great Kiwi Bake Off judge Sue Fleischl for a lesson in cake making.
The last time I made a cake was in the 80s as a teenager. Decades later my baking skills are basic. Very basic. Despite having two primary-school-aged children I still can’t get excited about cakes.
I don’t eat a lot of them and am in awe of mothers and fathers who stay up until the wee small hours creating colourful, multi-layered sugary masterpieces for their children’s birthday parties.
When it comes to celebrations for my kids, I visit the supermarket or cake shop. My excuse (and I’m sticking to it) is I’m time poor.
But for the purposes of this story, I’m back in the kitchen. Mercifully, it’s not my own tired and cluttered one but the clean and spacious one of The Great Kiwi Bake Off judge Sue Fleischl.
It turns out that if you’re going to whip up a cake, it’s a good idea to make it under heavy supervision, preferably in somebody else’s kitchen using their fancy gadgets.
Fleischl, who has her own catering company, has decided we are making a gin and lemon syrup cake.
It looks complicated but I don’t say that out loud.
On one side of Fleischl’s bench are the eggs, flour, caster sugar, baking powder, and butter which she left out overnight to soften.
The butter and caster sugar are creamed via a shiny black electric cake mixer. Next we sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl before heading to the other end of the bench to crack six eggs.
I feel like Fleischl is about to judge my egg-cracking technique.
Nerves get the better of me and I drop a piece of eggshell into the bowl. She tells me to fish it out using an eggshell. Like magic, the offending piece gravitates to the shell.
Using a manual, handheld beater I beat the eggs until Fleischl tells me to stop.
Next she grabs two lemons from a fruit bowl and produces a long thin implement designed to remove citrus zest. I’ve never used one of these.
Fleischl gracefully and neatly scrapes the outer skin of one lemon.
I’m in charge of the remaining lemon and after some fumbling, manage to remove most of its zest. Fleischl kindly scrapes off the rest.
Then it’s back to the cake mixer to add the flour, baking powder and eggs.
Fleischl is big on being tidy, organised, and favours the clean-as-you-go approach.
I’m fairly sure if I was left to my own devices, my kitchen would be a giant floury, sticky mess by now.
The tips and tricks keep coming and Fleischl says it’s important to be in the right mood when baking.
“There is more chance of error if you’re in a bad mood,” she cautions.
Seemingly out of nowhere she produces a perfectly lined, round cake tin.
Once the cake mixer has been turned off, I scoop the mixture out and pat it into the tin before popping it in the oven.
The second part of our exercise is making the syrup using gin, water and caster sugar plus the juice from our zest-free lemons.
Fleischl then brings out a lemon squeezer. Overly enthusiastic I fire juice on to the bench and my notepad. By now, I’m desperate to make a good impression and when I overpour the gin, Fleischl, with a twinkle in her eye, assures me that’s fine. I place the syrup ingredients in a bowl and gently stir them on a hot element for a few minutes. Apparently you never want to pour hot syrup on a hot cake and vice versa. Since our cake is still in the oven and we are pushed for time, Sue provides a stunt cake she baked before my arrival. Using a soup ladle, I pour the syrup over the cake. Then I sprinkle icing sugar on top. Fleischl recommends serving the cake with curd. She has pre-made most of it because it needs time to cool but asks me to fold in some creme fraiche. For colour, she decorates the cake with catnip picked from her garden. Finally it’s time to cut the cake. Hopefully my actual cake tastes as good as the “here’s one I prepared earlier” one. Fleischl asks if I’d make it again but at home on my own. Instinctively I say yes but I wonder ... does she do housecalls?
Sarah Nealon and Sue Fleischl