“Anyone can make a cake. All that’s needed is a simple set of explanations coupled with recipes that have to be followed to the letter.”
So reads the the blurb of one of my most thumbed-through cookbooks, Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes. Delia is another firm favourite of mine, as is Jamie Oliver: her approach to cooking is straightforward and practical, and with her recipes, you can’t go wrong.
But I did have a little qualm with this blurb. When I cook, I don’t aim to have everything exactly measured out and very specific, even down to the last pinch of salt. In my opinion, when you adjust things a little, you make the bake or the dish more of your own, using your own creativity and ideas. On the other hand, though, with baking, a slight alteration to proportions of ingredients can make a big difference to the overall result.
From this gem of a book, I had a go at making the ‘Chunky Apple Cake’, with a number of deviations from Delia’s recipe, both intentional and accidental. It was definitely not followed ‘to the letter’, but I still produced a cake – and a fairly decent one at that.
To make this, you’ll need:
- 75g butter or margarine (at room temperature)
- 175g soft brown sugar, sieved
- 110g plain white flour
- 110g wholemeal flour
- 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 size 1 eggs, beaten
- a little milk
- 2 level tsps baking powder
- 1 tbsp chopped mixed peel
- grated rind of 1 orange
- 3 cooking apples (about 550g)
I suppose there’s a difference between changing a recipe for a reason, and with making genuine errors – the latter is more of my style. To start with, I had a jar of brown sugar I think was demerera; being the careful cook I am, I hadn’t labelled it. It simply wouldn’t go through a sieve, but I can see why Delia wanted that done – brown sugar clumps. Instead, I used my hands to work the lumps out of it as best as I could before I added it to the butter.
Secondly, I used 220g plain flour, in the absence of wholemeal. I have no idea what size eggs I used, but they were small – that counts as size 1, in my book. I didn’t have chopped mixed peel, nor cooking apples, so I used 5 standard red apples instead, which weighed out as 550g.
So, to the method. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 350 Fahrenheit / 180 degrees Celsius.
Start by greasing an 8 1/2-inch (21.5cm) tin with ‘melted fat’, lining it with baking paper, and greasing that too. (I used the only tin I had.) The best way to line the tin is to draw round it on a sheet of baking paper, cut it out, and press the circle inside.
Sift the flours, spices, and baking powder into a bowl. Peel, core, and dice the apples into little cubes, and toss them with a tablespoon of the flour mixture.
In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter using an electric hand mixer (although this book was published in 1977, apparently these gadgets were invented. Who knew?) Beat in the eggs a little at a time. (I forgot to beat mine beforehand, so cracked the white in first, then the yolk. Silly me.)
Fold in gradually the flour mixture and the grated orange rind, mixed peel, and apple pieces. Add a dash of milk if the mixture’s looking dry.
Spoon the cake mix into the tin, smooth it evenly with the back of a spoon, and bake in the centre of the oven for one hour. It’s done when ‘springy in the centre when lightly pressed with a fingertip and just shows signs of shrinking away from the edge of the tin’.
Cool for ten minutes. Dust with icing sugar if you wish!
I really, really liked this cake. The apple was soft and sweet, and the orange, mixed spice and cinnamon gave it a lovely, spicy taste. It’s best served warm, with cream or natural yoghurt. Perhaps it would have been better if I’d followed the method precisely – who knows!
This book proves that the best of recipes stand the test of time. A lot of cookbooks people buy today are full of attractive pictures and restaurant-style recipes, but they often end up gathering dust on bookshelves, because they’re just not very practical. On the other hand, Delia’s book is as fresh today as it was when it was published.