How Not to Bake a Cake
People often express shock, or even disgust, when I tell them that I don’t watch The Great British Bake-Off. It’s not that I don’t like these sorts of programmes – I’m a sucker for The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throwdown – it’s just that the baking one is so far removed from my own experience that I find watching it rather distressing.
I’m not one of these people who can whip up a perfect sponge in 15 minutes. The beginning of my Baking Biennale usually sees me lying full-length on the kitchen floor peering into the gloom of a cupboard – but it’s too dark in there to so I have to get up, go to cupboard under the stairs, find torch, maybe even find battery for torch, and lie back down on kitchen floor to look for the tin. Finally I spot it lurking in the furthest recesses of the cupboard, where it has retreated to since our last meeting. It goes without saying that I have to remove several roasting tins, cake racks, a griddle and an unexplained number of fluted tart tins to get at it.
The recipe says the tin should be a 20cm loose-bottomed one. Is this one 20cm? How can I possibly know? It’s not marked on it (why not !?). Can I be arsed to go upstairs to my sewing basket to get a tape measure? No – it’s back to the cupboard under the stairs (CUTS) for a metre-long ruler. Result – it’s 20cm! Triumphantly, I turn to head back to CUTS to replace the ruler, but … nooooo! I’ve knocked a mug off the counter. Comedy gold in any other circumstances, but now I’ve got to clear up the mess. It would have been quicker to go upstairs after all.
I’d better follow the ‘line with greaseproof paper’ instructions: I’m not the sort of baker who can get away with taking short cuts. The disc on the bottom is no problem, but the strip round the side? I seem to remember you do it with a piece of string and then measure out a length of paper against the string. Pure faff that requires at least three hands. Once it’s lined, I reach for the paper to put it away, but manage to drop it and it unfurls across the floor…Pressing on, I discover I haven’t got enough caster sugar, so I have to haul out an ancient food processor to blitz some granulated sugar into smaller smithereens. Now comes the dodgy part: actually mixing the ingredients. Apparently my mother-in-law could add the weight of the eggs in flour and sugar without the used of scales and mix the lot with her hands (she could also whip egg whites on a plate with a knife, though I never actually saw her do this) – I am not she.
After 15 minutes I’ve creamed the butter and sugar laboriously with a wooden spoon. My wrist is in spasm and there are still the eggs and the flour to go. The eggs must be added very slowly or IT WILL CURDLE! I proceed cautiously, adding egg in microslurps. After five minutes of this, my patience is evaporating … perhaps a scant double microslurp? Whoah, it’s curdled. Oh well, I choose to follow the school of thought that says it doesn’t matter.
Now to the flour and baking powder – checking extremely carefully that it’s not past its sell-by date. Last time I cheerily ignored the fact that the baking powder was two years past it sell-by date and the result was more like a big rusk.
Finally, at 65 minutes and counting, the cake goes into the oven and I survey the fall-out around me. An hour later, it’s ready, risen and firm to the touch. Wahey! The excitement is intense.
After a respectful pause to let its innards become a little more cohesive, I stand the cake tin on a mug to release the loose bottom. Perhaps it needs a bit of help – I push the tin down harder. Nothing. I push very hard. Zilch. Then it dawns on me: it may have been 20cm, but this tin is the opposite of loose-bottomed. Tight-bottomed? Let’s not go there. This, dear reader, is why I don’t watch The Great British Bake-Off.