Posts Tagged ‘home baking’

A Plain Cake

October 28, 2013

photo-3It’s always fun to read a cookbook written by a friend. As the words lift off the page, I hear a familiar voice, see a face, remember a style—and I know what the result will be.

When Rory O’Connell’s excellent book, Master It, arrived from the UK a few days ago, I thought I heard him lecturing to a group of Cookery School students as I read his comments about how to test a roast chicken for doneness and sample the unique flavor of an Thai Nam Jim.

Then I saw the recipe for A Plain Cake In A Tin.
I doubted this cake recipe from the start. The list of ingredients seemed out of balance (that much liquid?), the method seemed strange (dumping all the butter and flour straight on the whipped eggs?), but given Rory’s perfectionism I had to give it a try.

I’d been searching for the perfect PLAIN cake for ages. I wanted a cake not too sweet, not too rich and one with a velvety texture. A cake simple enough in flavor to have with a cup of tea in the morning or a hot cocoa at night. No icing, no filling, no chocolate chips or cinnamon, just CAKE. And true to form from Ballymaloe, I found it. Here’s the recipe ever so slightly Americanized.

A Plain Cake

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz. or ½ cup)

3 large eggs

200 grams sugar (7 oz. or 1 cup)

grated rind 1 medium lemon

300 grams all purpose flour (10½ oz. or 2 scooped cups + 2 T.)

3 teaspoons baking powder

¼  teaspoon fine salt

100 ml cream (3½ oz. or ½ cup-1T.)

150 ml whole milk ( 5½ oz. or 2/3 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Before you begin: for the most accurate measurements use a gram scale and the milliliter side of a liquid measuring cup. Alternatively, use the ounces or cups specified. I like to make this cake in three small 6-by-3½-inch loaf tins (one for me, one to give away and one to freeze); or use a large 9-by-5½-inch tin with extended baking time. Butter and flour the tins or line them with baking parchment.

Eggs whip faster and higher if they are not cold. Before using eggs removed from the refrigerator, allow them to warm in the shell in a bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. Measure milk and cream, add vanilla and let stand at room temperature. Melt butter in small saucepan and cool to tepid. Sift flour with salt and baking powder. Preheat oven to 375º.

Break eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attached. Beat the eggs until foamy and gradually pour in the sugar. Whip on high speed for about 10 minutes, until light in color and the consistency of soft whipped cream.

Remove bowl from mixer, sprinkle over grated lemon rind, pour melted butter around the edge of the egg foam and gently shake sifted flour mixture over the top. Use a rubber spatula to fold all together gently and thoroughly. Add the milk mixture in four or five additions incorporating each with the folding motion. In a few minutes the mixture will come together into a smooth cake batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the tins. Rap them once or twice on the counter top to settle. Place in the preheated oven. Bake the small cakes 30-35 minutes or a larger cake 40-45 minutes or until well risen, golden, firm and tests done. (To test for doneness insert a cake-testing skewer or a toothpick into the center. If it emerges clean the cake is done; otherwise, return it to the oven for 5 minutes.)
Allow the cake to rest in the tins for 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. Enjoy while fresh (even warm) and when cool, store in an airtight tin or plastic box for a week.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon



Multigrain Bread

October 27, 2011

One goal of my Chicagoland mission to my family was to bake everyone’s bread. They’d have baguettes, sour dough boules, Irish brown soda, cinnamon rolls, currant scones and even soft sliced loaf bread for peanut butter sandwiches. I stocked the basement with 50-pound bags of flour, plugged in my 12-quart old horse of a Hobart, lined up big crockery bowls and set to work.

All was dandy for a few weeks or maybe even months, but then word seeped out that my granddaughters really didn’t like my bread for PBJs. They preferred the gummy, soft, store-bought stuff. I was devastated.

The next time I was alone in their kitchen, I took out the package of sliced bread, studied the contents and wrote down all the ingredients listed on the label. I checked out a stack of artisan baking books from the library and researched sandwich breads. After several weeks of experiments, I felt certain I had produced a soft, multigrain loaf that could rival any of the store shelf brands. But alas, the girls were not convinced. Although they are still delighted with the cinnamon rolls and pile butter onto thick slices of sourdough at Sunday dinners, when it comes to those sandwiches that go into their lunch boxes, they want bread like everyone else’s. At any rate, here’s a great multigrain loaf that keeps well, makes welcome toast or sandwiches and packs honest nutritional value.

Multigrain Bread

1 ½ oz. raisins (tight fist full)

4 oz. peeled, diced potato (1 scant cup)

2 cups water

¾ teaspoon dry yeast (plus pinch ginger powder)

1 ½ oz. rolled oats (½ cup)

8 oz. flour (half whole wheat, half white bread) (1 ½ cups)

¾ teaspoon dry yeast + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water

1 tablespoon ground flax seed

1 tablespoon wheat germ

1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, pure olive oil or canola oil

8-10 oz. flour (half whole wheat, half white bread)

1 ½ teaspoons salt

The night before, simmer the raisins, potato and 2 cups water in covered saucepan until potato is very tender. Cool slightly and puree in a blender. When lukewarm add yeast and ginger. When yeast has softened, add oats, then 8 oz. mixed flours. Beat well, cover and let stand at room temperature at least 2 hours. Refrigerate this pre-ferment overnight.

Next morning remove pre-ferment from fridge; let stand at room temperature an hour. Dissolve ¾ teaspoon yeast in 2 tablespoons water. In mixing bowl place pre-ferment, yeast, honey, flax, wheat germ, butter or oil and minimum amount flours. Mix with rubber spatula, sprinkle salt on top, cover and let stand half hour or more. Knead using dough hook or by hand adding little more flour as needed. Cover and let rise until light. If time allows, fold down dough and let rise again 30–45 minutes.

Divide dough into 2 equal lumps, shape in balls and place in a greased 9” by 5” loaf pan. Cover with plastic and let rise until double. Mist with water, dust with oatmeal or oat bran and bake in 400º oven for 30–35 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 if loaf browns too quickly. Bread is done if sounds hollow when knocked with fist. Makes one 2-lb. loaf.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at