Back to the basics of cakes ,
The Tribute to Madeira
Everybody is baking these days. Sugar butter flour everywhere. With so much of baking I am sure each homes is filled with a fragrance which is delightful. Not only are people baking but they are creating artistic cakes. So artistic that it amazes everyone.
Now I will completely express my personal views. It is the truth and absolute truth but is nonetheless just my personal view . Let me begin with a rhetoric question. Why this fuss over cakes in the shape of shoes, cakes in the shape of bags and any object found on the surface of this wide wide wide world. While the work makes me have the greatest of respect for artists who spend hours creating them there is some mixed feeling. This excessive demand for over the top decorations is destroying our taste buds through and through. It is as if we actually are eating with our eyes. Have our taste buds become so challenged that we cannot appreciate so many cakes in this world? I stirred the hornet's nest on a particular social media and clearly there were two groups, a) the ones who make such cakes and b) the majority who eat them. Now here is my question. Try searching a little bit and you shall find billions of unexplored desserts . Are they not delectable enough? Some argued for unnatural decorations with the metaphor of dressing up for parties. Why do the cakes not dress beautifully and classically and why need they put on layers and layers of make up is what I wonder. As with cosmetics the look you create is completely in your hands. You can look au natural and glamorous and a true classic or slap on enough make up for you to look well artificially nice. Of course beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder but how is a cake in the shape of say a house or worse shoe more desirable than a Dobostorte , Sachertorte or a beautifully made butter cream frosting baffles me. Anyways moving on,
Well so I have challenged myself to explore research and find out about desserts from around the world and try making them one by one. That would be enough for a whole lifetime.
For my first dessert I picked up the most basic of cakes, the tea time accompaniments of course. The great Madeira cake from Great Britain with a light yet firm texture , the perfect accompaniment to tea . Why Britain you ask? Well, I am from Calcutta , believe me there is the connection .
Anyways everyone is baking but how are they baking. Why do we undervalue the basics of cake making so much , why should nonprofessionals use electronic whisks without first learning the old fashioned hand held whisk is beyond me. Well I'm amazed at how strongly opinionated I am but nevertheless I shall try and give as many tips as i can for making cakes right from scratch.
Here is what you need for a Madeira cake. I followed James martin's recipe and the result was a beautifully light firm perfect cake . The lemony taste was truly the "icing of this cake".
200gm of flour
175gm of unsalted butter
175gm of sugar
3 medium eggs
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoon of milk (adjust as per the batter) I ran out of milk but had a bowl of cream and used cream :)
Less than half a teaspoonful of baking powder. Practicing would make you realize exactly how much to be put it.
Candied lemon peels for decorations
Begin with the candied lemon peel a day ahead. Peel the lemon and then slice them real thin.
Wash them well and blanch then at least thrice. It is very important to blanch them thrice to remove all unwanted bitterness. Spread out and dry till bone dried.
Begin with 3 tablespoonful of water and 4 tablespoonful of castor sugar. Bring to a slow boil making sure it does not burn and add the dried peels. Cook them and well when working with sugar you cannot juggle other things. Let it get reduced to the point where each strand is coated well and then dry for 2 hours and spread out each peel.
When you start with a cake there are some rules which be followed thoroughly if you want your cake to be perfect
Before beginning sift your flour well with less than half a teaspoonful of baking power. Remember that too much baking powder renders your cake bitter and too less prevents the cake from rising.
These are :
- Begin with creaming the butter. It is especially important that you cream fresh , as fresh as you can get in the market fresh unsalted butter. Do not use a bowl too big or too small. You can use a whisk or a big spoon though I personally have never tried the spoon method.
- Slowly add your sugar bit by bit mixing real well , if sifted it would be fluffy to an extend which makes you cry in joy. While creaming butter you arms will pain and if you make cakes quite often there isn't a chance that you ever are stuck with chicken wings. Of course the other hand needs some extra exercise for making up.
- Now preheat you oven to 180C
- When properly creamed the butter should be of a fluffy creamed consistency without any visible grains of sugar. It should be a delight to even look at it. Add your eggs 1 by 1 and keep whisking for a smoothness which is a delight to watch . Now slowly add your sifted flour through a sieve. This twice sifting of flour makes the cake airy and light. Your final consistency should be such that it fall after a long time from a spoon.
- Fold in the lemon zest with a spatula . You should never whisk the lemon zest or over-mix cake batter. That disturbs the baking as well.
- Fold it in your already buttered and floured cake pan and bake for 1 hour. even though Mr.martin suggest 40 minutes the problem is with an Indian kitchen the conviction oven is the only option and baking temperature not only varies from oven to oven but form brand to brand as well. So I suggest to first bake it for 45 minutes and insert a toothpick in the center to check whether it is done and if not then add another 10 minutes. You shouldn't even open the oven door by mistake before the 45 minutes else your cake will fall faster before you can even close your eyes.
While it is baked observe the cake and you know it is going to be perfect if :
- The bubbles on the surface are not too big
- The middle does not puff up too soon before 30 minutes.
- It slowly and steadily rises
Once the toothpick is clean let it rest in the oven till the fan works itself and only after that do you get to take it out and cool the cake on the wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Do anything else and your cake will crumble.
Once cool decorate with candied lemon peels and serve with a cup of Darjeeling tea or any tea of your preference. I am no chef but these basic points make everything possible
Important tip :
Use a 6 inch to 7 inch cake pan