Don’t be afraid of cake. Making cake, that is.
Put that box down – I’m talking about scratch cake. Even if you don’t remember where you put the flour, or the difference between baking powder and baking soda, you can make cake. I swear.
As I have said many, many times, I am not the baker in this family. But, when I buckle down and follow directions – without getting distracted – things usually turn out of the pan well. And if they don’t, then I can scrape up the crumbs and make trifle.
It’s true, the first thing you have to put aside when starting a cake is fear. What if it doesn’t rise? Slice it, spread it with butter and toast it for breakfast. What if all the nuts or fruit fall to the bottom? Serve it upside down. (You can usually avoid this by dusting add-ins with flour before adding them to the batter.) What if it sticks to the pan? Well, icing is like bakers’ spackle and can hide a multitude of blemishes.
We baking impaired folks have learned some tricks – things natural bakers just know, like how to breathe. Here are a few things I’ve gleaned over the years:
If you’re using a hand mixer, don’t lift the beaters out of the bowl while the motor is still running. Seems obvious, but when my friend, Linda, and I tried to make our first cake, lo those many years ago, I pulled this trick. We spent an hour getting the batter off Mom’s walls, cabinets, and yes, ceiling. And the dog.
Use cake flour for traditional cakes that should be light and airy. Skip it for poundcake, which is prized for its density.
Don’t soften butter in the microwave. No matter how careful you are, parts of it will become liquid – no good for encasing sugar crystals, which create those delicious pockets.
You hear it over and over, but using a separate scoop to fill measuing cups with dry ingredients is imperative. If you just dip the cup in the flour or sugar, you’ll smash the ingredients in, and get a lopsided serving.
Don’t use eggs right out of the refrigerator. Let them come to room temperature. If you don’t have time, place them in a bowl of lukewarm water for five minutes.
No one likes to grease and flour pans. That’s why you have children. Make them do it – over the sink to catch the falling excess.
Get a cake tester. This really cheap gadget earns it keep. My mother used to break off a straw from our broom. I shudder to think of the times she probably used the working side of the straw. Tooth picks are too rough. Batter sticks to them, giving you the false impression that your cake needs more time in the oven.
There, that’s not really a scary list. And since I just found a huge jar of fig preserves from Ocracoke in the back of my cabinet, I’m going to share Ocracoke’s Island Inn’s recipe for fig preserves cake. Leave off the glaze if you want a great breakfast cake.
I’m also including a simple poundcake recipe that uses 7-Up. Of course, ’round here, you can use SunDrop. In fact, it’s expected…
Island Inn’s Fig Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a tube cake pan.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon, each, of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and salt
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in a little hot water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup fig preserves, chopped in necessary
1 cup nuts, chopped
Coat the nuts lightly with sifted flour and set aside. Beat the eggs until light yellow. Beat in sugar and oil. Sift the flour and spices and salt together. With beaters running, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, then add the dissolved baking soda and 1/3 of the buttermilk. Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients until everything is combined. Fold in vanilla, fig preserves and nuts. Pour into pan and bake about 45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges and invert onto a plate. After five minutes, drizzle with the glaze. (You can poke some holes in the cake with the cake tester before you add the glaze, if you’d like)
While cake is baking, make the glaze:
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Combine everything except the vanilla in a saucepan over medium low heat, and bring to boil while stirring slowly but constantly. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and let cool about 20 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Spoon over warm cake.
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
3/4 cup SunDrop
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a bundt or tube pan. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and kind of shiny. Beat in flour, one cup at a time. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Gently fold in the SunDrop, lemon juice and vanilla. Pour into pan, and bake for one hour. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing.