A Cake To Build Upon - Pt.1

Something I'm trying to do more is edge away from pulling out a recipe book each time I fancy baking and flicking through to something new. The variety is of course lovely but should I ever be without the stack of books in the kitchen would leave me at a loss for what to do. My solution has been to repeatedly do something simple, gradually learning the recipe as I do. Then I'll start playing with things, swapping bits out to see what happens to the flavour or consistency to create something new. This simple, zested loaf cake is our starting point. 

Zested Loaf Cake

150g Unsalted Butter (softened)

150g Caster Sugar

Zest of 2 Oranges

Zest of 1/2 Lemon

2 Large Eggs (lightly beaten)

225g Plain Flour

1 1/2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1/4 Teaspoon of Salt

75ml of Milk

One of two cakes that I started with (the other a fruit cake, that'll appear soon), this is a simple loaf cake from Ruby Tandoh's book Crumb with a few bits removed to get it to it's most basic. This cake aside, Crumb is also sort of my learning to bake book; the way Ruby sets out her recipes feels more like teaching than instructing and it most certainly improved my cakes straight away. 

There are some handy general tips right at the front too, one of which has proved to be gold dust, getting an oven thermometer. Knowing the temperature of the oven, accurately, makes everything easier. They are cheap, reliable and I really can't recommend grabbing one enough.

Onto our cake then. By the book, this is an empty version of an Orange and White Chocolate Loaf Cake. I use this when I want to fill the cake with something that has a fairly powerful flavour; recently often rhubarb which is everywhere during spring and is kinda helped by more mellow flavours.

I wanted to start with the basic cake though as from here you can do an awful lot. Toss chocolate chips, blueberries or dried fruit in a little flour then mix them into the batter. Slice some fruit and layer is halfway through the cake or on top. Mix up a syrup of juice from the lemon and oranges and sugar then drizzle it over the baked cake. There are so many options to easily take the cake in a new direction.

Start off with preheating the oven, 180C or 160C in a fan oven and line a loaf tin with parchment paper. I've found lately that in the fan oven it'll want a little longer than the suggested 50-60 minutes but don't be tempted to up the temperature, it only leads to an overly crunchy crust around the cake.

Pop the butter and sugar into one bowl and flour, baking powder and salt into another; the eggs, milk and zest can each be prepped separately too. I'm a big fan of getting all the elements laid out first, it just helps with sorting the process in my mind and I am less likely to miss something.

Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. A food processor will speed through this but with a bit of effort and the back of a wooden spoon it's perfectly fine to do it by hand. Into this beat the zests then slowly add in the eggs.

Gently fold in the dry ingredients next, this will give you something almost like a dough, that's nothing to worry about. Stirring in the milk will bring it back to a batter and we are ready for the oven.

Spoon the batter into your loaf tin, smoothing it down a little once it's all in and pop it into the oven. Take a look at around 50 minutes, slide a knife or skewer into the centre of the cake; if when you pull it only has the odd crumb on then the cake is ready, if not, give it a little longer. Oven can vary quite a bit in how they go about getting things cooked. I find mine takes 65-70 minutes but repeat the knife test every 5 minutes or so first time out until the cake is ready. You'll quickly get an idea for how your oven behaves.

Turn the cake out onto a cooling rack and let it cool before slicing and devouring. This is a deliberately unadorned cake, we'll revisit it soon looking at specific ways to add to it then start experimenting with it. This time out I popped some slices of rhubarb on before baking for a bit of pop in colour and flavour. In the mean time though, a dollop of clotted cream never goes unwanted.

Thinking of giving the bake a go? If so, it'd be all sorts of lovely to hear how it went or see your cake. Pop a comment down below or drop me an email with a picture. If you're on instagram and take a snap, tag your image with #myteapotmoment