I see lots of posts in groups on Facebook, etc. asking other mums for advice on baking cakes, birthday cakes in particular of course, and there are always masses of comments in reply with a vast array of different recipes, tips, advice, suggestions, photos, links to webpages, etc. etc. I sometimes wonder whether the person who wrote the post in the first place actually feels more confused over which and what to do and how to do it than they were before they asked!
So, here is my pretty much fail safe recipe. I use it almost every time I make a cake; which is a lot, usually several times a week ;-)
Using a mixer for your birthday cake
- Weigh your eggs (this is a great method if you’re using home produced eggs of variable sizes)
- Weigh out the same amount of each of butter (or whatever butter substitute you prefer) and caster sugar and self-raising flour
- For vanilla I add 1 teaspoon of good quality vanilla essence, but this is optional, it still tastes good without it
- For chocolate, I substitute 1/4 of the flour with cocoa powder – so 1/4 cocoa powder and 3/4 self-raising flour. That’s it.
You can just bung all of this in a food processor in one go and whizz it up until it’s all mixed, pop it into your tins and whack it in the oven. That makes it nice and easy :-)
Adding ingredients separately to make your cakes
I do always find it rises more in the middle this way, so here’s how to do the traditional way of mixing the ingredients separately, which makes a slightly more level cake, though still rounded, and technically a fluffier one ;-) I usually need a flat top to my cakes, so I get to slice a bit off the top and eat it while it’s still warm… cook’s privilege! ;-)
- Mix the butter and sugar together until “light and fluffy”. It clearly doesn’t actually turn fluffy, but it does look paler. (This is called creaming the mixture)
- Break the eggs into a jug, mug or whatever, taking out any stray pieces of eggshell, and break the yolks with a fork. You don’t have to beat them before you add them, but breaking the yolks is a good idea. (Did you know that you can tell if an egg is off or not by placing it in a jug of cold water – if it sinks it’s fine, if it floats it’s off – smelly gasses and all that!)
- Add the eggs to your butter and sugar mixture gradually. If it “curdles”, don’t worry, just add a little bit of your weighed out flour. It’ll all be fine in the end ;-)
- Sieve your flour/cocoa – this gets rid of any lumps and also adds air into the flour, which makes your cakes nice and light and fluffy and even more delicious :-)
- Add the flour/cocoa a spoonful at a time until everything’s mixed together.
- Scrape down the sides of your bowl to make sure there’re no individual ingredients lingering on the side. If adding vanilla essence, do this now too, then mix again.
Do remember to grease your tins, otherwise the cakes will stick. I use the age-old method of greasing with the inside of a butter packet. Some people like the cake release spray (which is great for fiddly moulded tins), some like using melted butter, some brush oil over, some add thin coating of flour after greasing. Whichever method you prefer is fine :-) It’s usually a good idea to put some baking paper on the bottom of the tin – it’ll stick nicely to whatever you’ve greased it with and stay in place.
Every oven is different, so start with the temperature at about 170-180 degrees C, about 160 degrees C for a fan oven and keep an eye on it. Turn it up or down if you think it’s cooking a bit too slowly or quickly.
The time it needs will depend on the size of the tin, how deep the cake is and, again, on your oven. Check it after 15-20 minutes and see how it’s going. The top should brown and when you press your finger lightly on the middle of the top of the cake, it should spring back without leaving a fingerprint. You can also slide a clean skewer or knife into the cake and if it has any wet mixture on it when it comes out, the cakes need a bit longer. Just keep testing until you’re happy. The bigger the cake, the longer it takes.
3 large eggs will happily do 2 x 7″ round cake tins, making you a perfectly adequate cake for tea. Yum.
If you want to do a different size cake, don’t get put off by this next bit, here’s how to work out how much mixture to do: work out the area of your tin (squares and rectangles: length x width; circles: half the diameter x half the diameter x 22 / 7); 1 large egg per 13 square inches, so divide the area of your tin (in inches) by 13, round up ( ;-) ) or down and that’s how many large eggs you need (large eggs are usually 60-70g each)
Butter icing (also called buttercream or frosting)
For a 7″ cake, use 2 oz of butter and 4 oz of sieved icing sugar. Basically twice as much icing sugar as butter. Add a little vanilla essence if you like. For chocolate I use 1/10 to 1/8 cocoa powder instead of the same amount of the icing sugar.
- Cream the butter until pale and gradually add in the icing sugar / cocoa
- Spread between the two layers of your cake and enjoy :-) You can also fill with cream, cream and jam, butter icing and jam, whatever you fancy.
Now you could test it out and review it! ;-)