Cakes & biscuits

Cakes & biscuits

Margaret Fulton
66 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Geoff Lung

Butter cakes, sponges, yeast cookery and continental cakes

There’s something about good home-made cakes and biscuits that just can’t be duplicated in shop-bought ones. Their freshness, good ingredients and the care that goes into their making give them a special quality.

A good recipe is essential, for this is one branch of cookery where indiscriminate inspiration does not work. The balance of ingredients is critical. Perhaps our grandmothers didn’t use a recipe, but they had a sure eye and an experienced hand. Until you have both, don’t experiment. Follow a recipe carefully and you’ll soon be turning out lovely treats like the best of them.

Butter cakes

A butter cake is one of the most popular of all cakes. Most common is the creamed method, where butter and sugar are beaten to a creamy consistency first, then the egg is beaten in, and lastly the flour is added. Then there is the melting method, which for many is easier, where the butter is melted and the remaining ingredients are folded in. Lastly, there is the rubbing-in method, where the butter is rubbed into the flour then the remaining ingredients are added. There are a few basic rules to observe in making a butter cake successfully. With these in mind, it is simple to turn out perfect cakes time after time, and to vary the basic mixture in many ways.

Ways to success

Prepare the tins before you start making your cake. Make sure they are the correct size and well greased. For some recipes, you will need to line the bases with baking paper cut to fit. The size of the tin is usually stated but, as a general rule, the mixture should fill the tin by no more than two-thirds. As it bakes, the mixture should rise to the rim or slightly above.

Set the oven shelf in position and preheat the oven to required temperature. Check the oven temperature guide and also check the chart that belongs to your stove for oven positions and temperatures, as these will vary with different types.

Have eggs, butter and milk at room temperature for easy mixing, and good results.

Maximum creaming of the butter and sugar is the first step to a good butter cake. When this mixture is light and fluffy, add the eggs. Caster sugar gives a fine texture. When using an electric mixer, add a little of the cake’s liquid when creaming butter and sugar as it helps dissolve the sugar.

Eggs are beaten lightly and added gradually. If using an electric mixer, it is not necessary to beat the eggs first, simply add them one at a time. The following recipes use 55 g eggs, unless specified otherwise.

When folding in the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the liquid, always begin and end with flour. Be careful not to beat and use a large metal spoon, drawing a figure eight through the mixture.

Learn to test when a cake is cooked. Lightly press the centre of the cake. If it springs back, it is safe to bring it out of the oven. If your finger leaves an impression, leave the cake in the oven a little longer. A well-cooked cake should also shrink just a little from the sides of the tin. There are fine cake testers, which can be inserted into the centre of cake and must come out clean.

Avoid a draught when taking the cake from the oven.

If a cake sticks or refuses to leave the tin, place the tin on a damp cloth for a few minutes to help the cake ease.

When creaming butter or beating in sugar, use a long lifting motion from the bottom of the bowl to trap as much air as possible into the cake mixture.

Whisk egg whites until stiff but not too dry.

Add a spoonful of whisked egg whites to the cake mixture and mix in thoroughly to soften the mixture.

Then finally, fold in the remaining egg whites with a large metal spoon, using large cut and fold motions to the bottom of the bowl and back to the top.

There’s more than one way to bake a cake

A freshly baked home-made cake has no rival when it comes to flavour. From close-textured butter cakes and delicate light-as-air sponge sandwiches to jam rolls and spicy gingerbreads warm and fragrant from the oven, the methods of making these cakes may vary, but the popular appeal does not.

Sponge cakes

The lightness of a good sponge depends on beating air into the eggs. Tins should have their bases lined with baking paper and the sides should be lightly greased with melted butter, then floured. All sponge cakes should be baked as soon as they are mixed. To test if a sponge is cooked, look for shrinkage around edge of the tin, and press the centre lightly with fingers. It will spring back when cooked.

Afternoon tea cakes

Cooking these treats may seem like a labour of love, but they are well worth the time and effort required.

Country cooking

Country cooking at its best is very simple. These recipes from farmhouse kitchens use the best of country produce; fresh eggs, good butter, strong flour, thick dairy cream and the best dried fruits and nuts. Enjoy the fragrance and aroma of good wholesome baking that has been developed over generations to satisfy the keenest appetites.

Continental and dessert cakes

These are the cakes for the times there’s something to celebrate, someone to impress or a family to spoil.

Traditional christmas cooking

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a rich spicy fruitcake or a pudding fairly bursting at the seams with plump fruits and presented with great pomp and ceremony.

Make the cake and pudding, as well as the mincemeat for the tarts, well ahead of time to allow them to mature and develop richness for Christmas day.

To store and mature cake

Remove the paper. Wrap in cling wrap and then foil. Keep in a cool place, or refrigerate, at least 1 month before using. Refrigerate for up to 6 months.

To ice cake

If the cake is to be iced, do not arrange the almonds on top. Brush the top of the cake with slightly beaten egg white. On a board dusted with icing sugar, roll out the almond paste and cut out to cover the top and sides of the cake neatly. Trim any excess. Put on the cake and press gently with a rolling pin. Leave several hours or overnight. Make fondant icing (or use commercial soft icing), and roll out to fit the top and sides of the cake. Brush the almond paste with the egg white and cover with the fondant icing on top. Trim any excess and decorate as liked.

Lining the tin

Cut a strip of brown paper 10 cm higher than the cake tin and fold a 2 cm hem. Nick the hem with scissors at 2.5 cm intervals and fit this strip around the sides of the tin, making sure the hem lies flat on the base.

Cut a square or circle to fit the base of the tin, using brown paper, and fit into the tin.

Cut a strip of double thickness baking or greaseproof paper 8 cm higher than the cake tin and make a hem, as for the brown paper, to fit around the sides of the tin. Fit into the tin, making sure the hem lies flat.

Cut another square or circle of paper to fit the base of the tin, using baking or greaseproof paper. Fit into tin neatly.

Steaming and serving pudding

On Christmas day, put the pudding into a saucepan of boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the bowl, and steam for 2 1/2 hours. Serve with Cumberland rum butter, custard or ice-cream. If you wish to flame the Christmas pudding, turn the hot pudding out on to a serving plate, heat a little brandy gently in a small saucepan, ignite, and pour over the pudding at the table. Darken the room and serve immediately.

Yeast breads

Any cook using yeast for the first time comes under its fascinating spell once the warm, spicy fragrance of freshly baked breads and buns scent the kitchen.

Fresh yeast, obtainable in compressed form, and sold by the weight, will keep in the refrigerator for 2–3 days. Dehydrated (dry) yeast, sold in packets, and readily available at most supermarkets, will keep for several months if stored in a cool, dry place. For most, dry yeast, is the easy option.

When the yeast becomes active it creates the gas that gives bread and buns their light, characteristic texture. The temperature of liquid used is most important; it must be lukewarm.

Dry yeast is added to the dry ingredients in a bowl and then the liquid ingredients are added. Compressed yeast is dissolved with a little sugar or liquid before remaining liquid is added.

Sift the dry ingredients into a warm bowl, make a well in centre, and pour in the liquids. Mix into a soft dough. Turn out on a lightly floured board and knead to a smooth, elastic ball, for at 5–10 minutes. Knead in as little extra flour as possible.

Put the ball of dough in a clean, greased bowl and turn the dough over, so that top is lightly greased. This keeps the top soft, allowing it to stretch easily as the dough rises. Cover with a clean tea towel.

‘Rising’ is the word used to describe the standing time necessary for the dough to double in bulk before it is shaped. The bowl of dough must stand in a warm place free from draughts while it is rising.

A warm place can be:

In a barely warm oven.

In a saucepan containing warm water that comes halfway up the sides of the bowl holding the dough.

On top of an internal hot water cylinder.

Rising the dough will take 1–2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. If you are not in a hurry, you can cover the bowl of dough with baking paper, then foil, place in a fridge, and leave overnight. Remember it is heat that kills yeast, not cold. To test, press two fingers lightly and quickly in the top of the dough. If the dent stays, the dough is ready. If it fills up, leave 15 minutes longer and test again.

When ready, knead the dough into its required shape, put into greased tins, and leave to rise again in a warm place for 1/2 –1 hour (this rising is called ‘proving’). For buns, allow 15–30 minutes, depending on size. The shaped ‘proved’ dough should be close to the final size, as it won’t rise a great deal more once it is put in the oven.

The shaped dough is always put into a hot oven 200°C for the first 15 minutes so that it kills the yeast and the dough won’t over prove. When cooked, the base of the bread or buns will make a hollow sound when tapped with knuckles.

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