My mother was a fastidious baker in the days of yore. Marble and sponge cake, coconut castles and macaroons, pineapple upside down, coconut cookies, coffee and walnut cake, nankhatais and what have you came our way every once in a while.
She took baking lessons on Saturday and would return home with her creations, which she repeated over the following weeks till she perfected it.
The actual cake making was somewhat of a NASA expedition. One of us was in charge of beating the eggs—this was the worst job, as she would strongly disapprove of any lingering pauses, or variable frequency of beating, claiming that the air bubbles that got in would hamper the rising of the cake. Once she was tipped off to beat the whites separately, and that’s when we went into hiding.
Another one would be summoned to sieve the flour, the baking powder, the cocoa, coffee, nutmeg or cinnamon powder (if any), or chop the candied peels, cherries or walnuts to the perfect sq mm. The lucky one got to grease-proof the cake tin (this was the most fun) or lick the remainder of the cake dough (if you haven’t done that, you haven’t lived)
And then the anticipation for the next 40 minutes. Will the cake rise? Or will it fall flat on its face? Will it be too hard? Or too soft to cut into slices? Will we be able to take it to school the next day? How long will it last? When will she bake again?
Anyway, after all that, I vowed never to bake in my life, and if I did, I would find a less ulcer-inducing way.
I did. Decades later. When I met Electra, my friend’s mom, who had just the nonchalance I needed for my baking plunge. “Cake is nothing men. Just butter, sugar, eggs and maida. Mix and shove it in the oven. Add whatever you want..”
She was right, even though I took the liberty of substituting the maida for whole wheat flour and butter for cream sometimes. Also, whenever I have to get rid of excess fruit, brownies, jam, marmalade, chocolate, nuts I just throw them into a cake, or layer them on. It always works.
I also have a little secret that I learnt from an ex-boyfriend. When you have run out of baking powder, don’t fret. Merely add a spoonful of milk to the baking mix and squeeze half a lemon into it just before you switch the oven on. The reaction within is enough to make any cake swell with pride.
Now I bake like a goddess, ala Nigella Lawson, effortlessly dunking things into the oven, unlike my mother who made it look really heavy duty. It’s come to a point when mom asks me, “How did you manage that?” I grin my famous grin. “Trade secret,” I say.
Banana and walnut loaf
1 cup butter (or cream)
1 cup sugar (brown or white)
1 cup flour (or maida)
2 overripe bananas, mashed into a pulp
½ spoon baking powder (sieved into the flour)
½ cup chopped walnuts
Mix butter and sugar. Add the eggs, mix well and then add the flour.
Now add the mashed banana puree and the chopped walnuts into the cake mix.
Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes
(note: this cake will not rise too much, and is best had within two days)
Electra's Chocolate cake
250 gms butter
250 gms sugar (brown, preferably)
250 gm flour (whole wheat or maida)
cocoa powder- 1 tbsp
instant coffee powder – 1 tsp
Milk (to mix)
Mix butter with sugar. Add eggs, beating into the mixture, one by one. Add flour, blend well.
Stir the cocoa powder into milk, and add the instant coffee powder, and just enough milk to mix it well.
Pour this mixture into the cake mix. Mix well. Bake at 180 degrees for 40 minutes.
(Tip: add a spoonful of curd or the juice of half a lemon to the cake dough just before baking. It makes the cake really fluffy)