When I am stressed, I bake. It is one of those activities that has a calming effect on my mood. All that beating, sifting and folding is therapy for the soul. Who can deny that the smell of a cake baking in the oven is not one of the most inviting smells when you enter a home? I read once in an estate agent brochure that if you have a cake, biscuits or bread baking in the oven while people are viewing a house it is more likely to be sold quickly. I am not sure how true that is, but what I do know is that cake is the celebration of all things beautiful. Whatever the occasion – weddings, Eid, teatime – it is best celebrated with cake. Soft and spongy, chocolatey and chewy or nutty and creamy, chocolate and apple, the flavour and texture combinations for cake are endless.
On the other hand, I have a love-hate relationship with baking. While I love nothing better than a freshly baked, warm vanilla Swiss roll with homemade apricot jam between the folds, I hate the scientific nature of making the cake. When cooking, I can throw everything together without measuring a single item and still have a happy, satisfied family at the dinner table. In baking, I was taught that measurements have to be exact. Yes, some ingredients are interchangeable, but they should still be measured correctly. Baking to me is like tending to a garden. Give your garden tender loving care, with just the right amount of water and nutrients, and you will be rewarded abundantly.
My mother is the baker in our family. It has always been that way. She can make all manner of things, but my father was the savoury cook and my mother, the sweet. My mother loves recipes and she executes them precisely when it comes to baking. She is one of those old-fashioned bakers who believes that every weekend there needs to be something sweet in the home. Even though we owned a bakery, she still did all her baking at home. A week before Eid she would start baking biscuits. Over the next few days as I returned home from school you would notice the pile of biscuit tins growing as they were stacked up. Closer to the day of Eid she would start with the cakes. She would bake a few chocolate and a few vanilla cakes. On Eid morning she would whip up a huge batch of soft chantilly cream. These cakes were elaborately decorated with the cream, tinned fruit, chocolate shavings and cherries. Whomever we visited on Eid would be the happy recipients of her baking efforts.
Recently we have seen fashion trends in cakes as well. Red velvet, rainbow cakes and haute couture cupcakes were all the rage last year. Even cronut confectionery has reached South African shores. But the timeless classic, the chocolate cake, still remains the firm favourite of most. Everyone needs a chocolate cake in his or her repertoire. The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake. It was a recipe I found on the back of a Cadbury’s cocoa tin. It came out perfect and the delicate light crumb of the chocolate sponge was delicious with a buttery chocolate frosting. Everyone in the family went completely silent when they took their first bite and that is always a good sign. Nothing more needs to be said.
Most have their preferences when it comes to chocolate cake. Some like a dense, fudgy type of cake. Others prefer a feather light cake. When it comes to a topping, purists will tell you melted chocolate is all a good chocolate cake needs. I, on the other hand, top my cake with whatever I am in the mood for. The flavour of chocolate lends itself so well to other flavours like cream and strawberries, chocolate frosting with cherries and, if you’re brave, a silky smooth ganache with a hint of chilli. Sometimes just a gentle dusting of icing sugar will do. Whatever you fancy, contented happy sighs and deep embracing smiles are something you will most definitely witness at the sight of a chocolate cake in the home.
My Old Fashioned Dreamy Chocolate Cake recipe
This is my trial-and-error adaptation of the chocolate cake recipe originally found on the back of a Cadbury’s cocoa tin. I have an on-going love affair with this cake, as it is one that I make time and time again and never become bored with, just like true love. I love light cakes and this one is as light as a feather, not overly sweet and demands to be eaten!
¾ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
200 ml flour
Pinch of salt
5 heaped tbsp pure cocoa powder
100 ml boiling water
125 ml vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 25cm or 10 inch round cake tin. Dissolve cocoa in boiling water. Allow to cool.
2. Sift flour, baking powder and the pinch of salt into a bowl.
3. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add sugar slowly and continue beating the eggs and sugar until all the sugar has been added and the mixture is very pale in colour. The mixture should leave a trail on the surface that is visible for three seconds if you dip a spoon in and out.
4. Add vanilla essence. Fold half the sifted dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Fold in the cold cocoa mixture and then the remainder of the flour mixture, scraping the bottom of the mixing bowl to ensure that the ingredients are mixed properly.
5. Lastly, fold in the vegetable oil. The oil sinks to the bottom of the bowl and needs to be lifted and folded into the cake batter.
6. Spoon the cake mixture into the cake tin. Tap the tin lightly to remove air bubbles.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the cake shrinks away from the side and a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
8. Let the cake stand for 2-3 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool.
9. This cake lends itself well to all toppings so decorate as desired!
Fatima Bheekoo Shah is a wife, mother, food blogger, foodie and breastfeeding activist – finally answering her calling to be a writer.