Monday, 10 August 2009

Cakes and Houses

As promised, the recipe for this Chocolate Orange Cake. It's not the world's most complicated recipe, but it was rather yummy. Apologies if you're a seasonsed baker - this may all seem a bit simple. But I thought I'd explain every step thoroughly, just in case baking newbies want to have a go. And if you wait 'til the bottom of today's post, you can see the joint effort of me and my housemate Mel... never has something aimed at children been compiled with such panache and skill.

I should warn you, before I start, that my baking is never an exact science. As long as you beat well, and have things more or less in ratio, it can't go far wrong. I've tried to make the recipe chatty, but following the bits in bold will work just as well...

Chocolate Orange Cake

- 250g margarine/butter
- 250g golden or normal/white caster sugar
- 230g self-raising flour (we don't really have cake flour in the UK...)
- 20g cocoa powder
- 3 eggs (medium or large)
- small amount of baking powder
- ditto vanilla essence
- an orange

For the icing:
- icing sugar, butter, cocoa powder... as needed

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5
(sorry, no 'degrees' key)

1) Cream together the margarine and the sugar. And mix it quite well. But don't wear yourself out at this stage. Exert a huge amount of will power not to eat the entire sugary-buttery mixture... seriously, I sometimes put 10g extra of each in, just to compensate for the amount I know that I'll eat at this stage.

As I said in an earlier post, I always use caster sugar. People more in the know than me assure me that granulated will work equally well but... I'm a sceptic. I use what Our Vicar's Wife always used.

2) Measure out the s-r flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Yes, technically you don't need baking powder if you're using self-raising flour - but I find popping a little baking powder in ensures that it's nice and fluffy. Put it this way, I've never had a cake come out overly solid.

A tip... I have put 230g flour and 20g cocoa powder above, but I recommend putting in as much as cocoa powder as looks right, then fill up with the flour until the scales reach 250g. Always better to have too much cocoa powder than too little...

3) Break an egg into a mug, whisk it, add it with a third of the flour/cocoa powder/baking powder mixture. Repeat three times. Doesn't have to be a mug. You can use one of those endless little glass bowls chefs have on TV, if you like. But doing them in three bouts - rather than all at once - makes it easier to get the additions into thirds. And to fish out bits of broken shell. In between each addition, beat well. But not so flour goes everywhere.

4) Beat it really well. I think this is what separates the fluffy cakes from the doorstops.

5) Add vanilla essence. And now the exciting part. Add the zest and juice of the orange. If, like me, you don't own a zester, a fine cheese grater works well. But make sure it's a fine one, not one which will leave chunks of peel in your mixture. Zest/grate all over the orange, straight into the bowl, until the outside of the orange is mostly white. You want to get as much of the zest in as possible. Then chop the orange in half and use a juicer, or just squeeze the orange over the bowl - being careful to remove the pips as they inevitably fall in...

6) Is it the right consistency? Recipe books assume nothing can go wrong... as a seasoned amateur baker, I definitely don't assume that. The juice of the orange might well have made the mixture too runny - if so, sift some more flour in. Consistencies are really difficult to describe... it should pour slowly into the baking tins. I.e. not liquidy but not stuck to the bowl... it should 'keep a peak', as they say of meringue mixtures. But it's not *so* important if it's not exactly the right consistency...

7) Put in circular tins. Which I'm sure you've already greased and lined with baking paper... Recipes always tell you to do this at the beginning, but I'm sure nobody does. Perhaps I'm just a baking rebel without a cause.

8) Bake for 35-45mins. Because this is quite a large cake, it needs a bit longer in the oven than most. I tend to take it out at about 30mins and poke a knife in it. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. Keep testing like this every five minutes until it is done. Use a fancy baking skewer if you've got one.

9) Let it cool, then ice it. I used butter icing for the centre (the rule of thumb is twice as much icing sugar as butter - I used 50g and 100g) and chocolate icing on the top. For that, use more icing sugar than you would have thought possible, sieve it - always sieve icing sugar, actually - and sieve in a tablespoon of cocoa powder. Again, better too much cocoa powder than too little. Nobody likes weak-tasting icing. Add tiny bits of water in increments, mixing well, until the icing is spreadable but not spillontothefloorable. This is usually a matter of trial and error - add some water, add some water, add some water - oh no, too much! - add some icing sugar, add some water...

If you don't have *that* sweet a tooth, just use the butter icing in the centre, and dust icing sugar over the top, using a sieve. That makes it look very attractive, and saves on dentist bills a tiny bit.

And then hopefully you're done! A fairly standard sponge cake, but with a few twists, and lots of little foibles which probably aren't set in stone, but are essential for a true Simon Thomas cake. Do let me know if you have a go - I want to see pictures!

Speaking of which, and destroying any baking credentials I might have had, here is the creation Mel and I made. It's a self-assembly baking kit, but a little old and thus the pre-made icing had gone a bit, er, funny... At least it's brought a *little* literature into today's post, by way of Hansel and Gretel.


  1. Thanks so much for your recipe Simon! I baked another sponge last night and it turned out much better - not so much of a doorstop.

  2. I love the gingerbread house! I did some literary related baking too yesterday...

    BTW - you can use a piece of spaghetti if you don't have a baking skewer!

  3. That sounds yummy Simon. I'll have to try it!

  4. Brilliant, thanks for the recipe Simon. I've just decided what I'm doing at the weekend...

  5. Oh I will definitely be making this. Maybe even tonight if I get time. There's nothing better than a huge slab of chocolate cake and a cup of tea after a hard day's work!

  6. oh dear, oh dear.... weights instead of volumes, caster sugar (which I might get at the bulk food store, because it is, after, NORMAL cs), ditto self-raising flour (why don't they call it self-rising?). And you'd need to define "small" for me since I generally add lots of both.

    I guess I'll just sit on this side of the Atlantic and look at the picture, which is what I do with most toothsome recipes anyway.

    On the other hand, your icing recipe is identical to mine, measurements and all.

  7. I am looking forward to seeing some chocolate orange cakes around the web! Do link to any pictures you put up...

    And Susan, sounds like you already know what you're doing with cakes (though didn't quite understand all your comment... are you pro self-raising flour and caster sugar, or agin them?)

  8. Simon, if I may say so, there is a parallel between your reading choices and baking. The sponge really being very emblematic of the feminine middlebrow, domestic,middleclass, etc. Theres potential for a whole book in this area I think, should you want to divert yourself from blogging and studying.

  9. Pro or agin Caster Sugar and Self-raising/rising flour? Neither. We just don't see them much in recipes in Canada, if at all, so I doubt I could easily find them.

  10. Simon, talking of cakes and literary references have you come across Jane Brocket's Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer? Full of recipes for what they ate in children's books... I keep meaning to make all sorts of things such as Just William's Coconut Ice.

  11. I actually bought it for my friend's birthday present earlier in the year, Verity - it was perfect, since she is an amazing baker, and loves children's books.

    Oh, and I went to Thame on your recommendation - came out of the Oxfam bookshop with a couple things (and if you haven't got Tove Jansson's The Summer Book you must go there and get it, it's on their fiction shelves). Only downer was that I took a wrong turning and ended up on the M40 for ages... doh!

  12. Hansel and Gretel and The Killer Snowman. The Brothers Grimm would be into that. Did they write Hansel and Gretel? Who knows, but they would have written one with a killer snowman if they'd thought of it.

  13. Made the chocolate orange cake last night, Simon - I did deviate slightly from your recipe because I couldn't be bothered to go to the shop again after getting home and realising I didn't have any caster sugar, or icing I just used granulated sugar...for everything. The cake worked out deliciously, but the icing is a tad gritty...nice to have a bit of texture in your cake though! I'm going to blog about it I bought a zester which CHANGED MY LIFE as no more messy stuck in grater zest to clear up...highly recommended! Thanks so much for the inspiration, chocolate orange cake just became my new favourite recipe!

  14. How exciting Rachel! I can't wait to read your blog on it. I should have warned that granulated sugar for icing doesn't really work... though having said that, one of the two cakes my Dad has made during my lifetime, he used granulated sugar for the icing and I (at the age of 5) thought it tasted delicious and wondered why Mum never did this(!)

    I must get a zester... I use one at my parents' house, but somehow haven't bought one yet. I do have a very fine grater, with is handy.

  15. I made this cake over the weekend and it was lovely. We had friends over today (unexpected) and the cake went down a treat. I'll post some photos on my blog and link it back here later tonight.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe


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