12 September 2011

cake: the origin of the species

[ev-uh-loo-shuhn] noun. change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation

I have this cake recipe, no in fact, I'd go so far as to say I have the cake recipe. I expect most home cooks have one. It symbolises the purest essence of the art form. It needs no introduction. It's not Orange Cassava Cake, or Simnel Cake, or Lemon Drizzle Cake, or Date and Walnut Cake...

It's just cake.

It was provided by my Granny as the first recipe for my first cook book. It was the recipe my Mum used to teach me the basic principles of baking. It was the cake delivered by emotional parents for my eighth birthday, a month after I started boarding school. It was every birthday cake we ever had before or since. It was the cake that turned my older brother on to baking. It was the recipe that he was looking for on the shelf when he yelled at me for daring to taking my cook book away to university with me. I suspect it's the cake he uses to teach his new wife how to bake.

It's the cake that always welcomes us home from wherever we have been. It's the cake I've made over and over with my wee brother whenever we've run out of other ideas. It's the cake I make for my husband when he just needs cake. It's the cake I've learnt to expect when any of my close family says "I made a cake!". It's the cake I teach my daughter how to bake.

I must have made it a hundred times or more. Every motion is precious and memorable for me. But it does evolve through the generations. Slowly and in the most minute ways; but that's evolution for you. For example, where the recipe instructs 6 tbsp of boiling water, I've always opted not to stop the trickle of water from the kettle between spoonfuls - the inaccurate addition of "a bit extra" water making the cake moister.

While baking this cake together today, The Boss added another intangible detail to the recipe. When I was showing her how to test whether the cake was ready with a skewer, she said "it's like the cake is sick and you're taking it's temperature to see if it's better". I'll never be able to bake this cake again without thinking of that metaphor, and I suspect (and hope) that the image will stay with her forever.

When I was growing up, I had a penchant for coffee-flavoured buttercream icing, and it had to be smoothed on with a spatula and then run over with the tines of a fork in wavy lines. But my daughter prefers to go with Granny's original chocolate icing. With one small modification: in her eyes, real cakes MUST have sprinkles.

It's evolved.

If you don't have a good basic cake recipe, one that defines the very essence of the word cake, please be my guest. It's not big and it's not clever, it's just cake.

no apologies for the imperial measures - that's part of the charm for me. If it matters, please feel free to do the conversion yourself
  • 2oz cocoa
  • 6tbsp boiling water
  • 6oz butter
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 6oz self-raising flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  1. line a 7" round cake tin with parchment
  2. preheat your oven to 325F
  3. mix the cocoa and the water together into a paste in a small bowl
  4. cream the butter and the sugar in a mixing bowl
  5. sift in the flour and baking powder
  6. add the eggs and the cocoa
  7. blend
  8. bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean
icing - beat the following together until blended
  • 1oz melted plain chocolate
  • 6oz icing sugar
  • 2oz butter
  • 1tbsp milk
  • 1tbsp cocoa 



  1. Mmmm, cake :) We will eat it here in any shape or form. I love sprinkles and agree it makes the cake perfect!!

  2. Looks delicious! I really need to bake more - problem is then I just eat more. But this? Heaven. I'm writing down the recipe now xx

  3. Aww Tai Tai, if there's ever a time in life when you're allowed, nay deserve, multiple slices of chocolate cake, then you're well and truly IN IT girl!

  4. With the weather feeling cooler here these days, it would be the perfect thing to do, bake a cake!!!

  5. Yuuuuum to chocolate cake! (I'm so glad this isn't in metric units! I realize I've just spoken like a true American :/.)


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