It began with my neighbour inviting me round for coffee, where she served up the most delicious lemon drizzle cake. “It’s just a simple madeira sponge” she said, the assumption being I would have some idea as to what that meant. The trouble is, I had no idea – a shocking confession for a woman of my age: I cannot bake a cake!
I am old enough to have had cookery lessons at school before they morphed through “home economics” to “food technology”. If any of my schoolfriends remember what I was supposed to have learnt feel free to enlighten me. I think I stopped paying attention on “scones” and managed to achieve acceptable grades by judicious choice of seating such that I could copy the actions of one of the more competent cooks in the class – did you never wonder why my dishes were always last out of the oven? I was always exactly one step behind you.
After 2 slices of the simple-madeira-sponge I was drugged into the possibly delusional state that I might be able to make one myself. So, “Lemon Drizzle Cake” became my next project.
How hard can it be?
Plan 1 entailed just 3 steps – find recipe, buy ingredients, bake cake.
After reading more than a dozen different recipes I had reached the answer – too hard.
Extreme disparities and ingredients I have never heard of (polenta?) relegated the project to the “oh, well, it was a thought” category. Nothing here met the criterion “simple”.
The next day my neighbour gave me her recipe:
- 175g caster sugar
- 125g butter
- 175g self raising flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 lemons
Mentally I wasn’t planning on doing anything with this, but the discovery of a food mixer in the corner kitchen cupboard kindled my Masterchef genes. If it sounds odd that I didn’t know I had a food mixer, it really isn’t – the landlord has kindly left us all sorts of extras for our use, but I had classed the corner cupboard contents as “really-nice-but-I’m-no cook” along the same lines as the garden tools.
So, having added the ingredients to my trolley I was all set. Except I had no cake tin. I may regret my decision to keep-it-cheap with a $10 tin (range $10-$35) – from dipping into the fora on BBC’s Good Food website I now understand that thicker heavier tins result in more even heat distribution and thus are more likely to produce a competition standard cake.
If you are observant you will have noticed 2 words that give away an element of my character – Masterchef and competition: I am very competitive! This may be in part due to academic schooling but is more likely my innate character. I once took an evening class in English literature twice (obviously not a grammar course as how can you once do something twice?) but I declined to sit the exams at the end because I was not sure I would get an A grade. On another occasion I turned the London to Brighton bike “ride” not an almost “race” because I so much wanted to get ahead of my co-riding friend. Due to unforeseen fitness differences I failed.
Anyway, back to the cake. Somewhere along the line my competitive nature had been triggered. My children are all excellent cooks and I was by now imagining a women’s-institute-quality lemon drizzle cake that would outclass their creations.
But my excitement was short-lived, falling at the next hurdle “line the tin”. “Greaseproof paper” doesn’t seem to exist on Bermuda, nor is “waxed paper” a suitable alternative; two supermarkets later I found “Reynolds Genuine Parchment Paper” an upmarket version of English greaseproof.
On the shelf beside the baking ingredients were some plastic boxes, but none fitting the dimensions of my project. I love buying boxes and storage containers, even more sorting things to put in them. Was it Winnie-the-Pooh who gave Eeyore a “Useful Pot to keep Things in” – my idea of a perfect birthday present. So I enjoyed my trip to Masters to buy a cake container and was mightily distracted into buying several others to keep Things in. But as I browsed the aisles I discovered several other necessary cake-making tools: kitchen scales, spatula, testing skewer, sieve, cooling rack. This was becoming an expensive cake.
I arrived home laden with exciting purchases and cleared the kitchen surfaces for my baking.
I shan’t be entering my first cake into any county shows. Do they have those on Bermuda? Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a disaster, in fact it hasn’t lasted very long in the cake container, but it wouldn’t be grade A.
I have learned a few things –
- grating lemons with a basic cheese grater is not a good substitute for a fine mesh grating surface (did you know the cheese grater was invented in 1540?)
- squeezing lemons by hand is hard
- my oven is calibrated in Fahrenheit, 180F is not hot enough to bake a cake
- every celebrity chef has their own recipe for lemon drizzle cake
Adding the costs, I reached an approximate total of $88 for this project, about $8.80 per slice. At first glance home baking does not look to be cost-effective. Waitrose (UK) sell a whole lemon cake for £2.69, which would translate into $8 Bermuda prices once duties have been added on. But look at their list of ingredients:
Sugar, FORTIFIED WHEAT FLOUR (wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin, thiamin), pasteurised free range egg, rapeseed oil, lemon juice, full cream milk, humectant vegetable glycerol, unsalted butter (milk), cornflour, lemon zest, maize glucose syrup, lemon comminute, raising agents diphosphates and sodium carbonate, lemon oil,emulsifier mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, salt, preservative potassium sorbate, citric acid
Mine has just 6 ingredients, none sound so gross as “humectant vegetable glycerol”.
I have been told I need to make more cake for this project to achieve economic viability.
Therefore I need to eat more cake.
This, I have decided, is a good thing.