From Church of England Fundamentals, Eddie Izzard, mostly NSFW on account of he swears a lot:
“Cake or death?” That’s a pretty easy question. Anyone could answer that.
“Cake or death?”
“Eh, cake please.”
“Very well! Give him cake!”
“Oh, thanks very much. It’s very nice.”
“You! Cake or death?”
“Uh, cake for me, too, please.”
“Very well! Give him cake, too! We’re gonna run out of cake at this rate. You! Cake or death?”
“Uh, death, please. No, cake! Cake! Cake, sorry. Sorry…”
“You said death first, uh-uh, death first!”
“Well, I meant cake!”
“Oh, all right. You’re lucky I’m Church of England!”
So, cake or death?
Back when all cooks weighed out ingredients (if they weighed them at all) using a set of balance scales, the most basic way to make a cake was to put your eggs on one side of the scale, and use them (instead of the standard set of weights) to measure how much butter, sugar, and flour was wanted. You can still do that using a modern set of scales – just put the eggs (still in their shells – the weight of the shell doesn’t seem to make much difference) on the scales first of all, check what they weigh, and then use the same weight of butter and the same weight of sugar and the same weight of flour. Also, a pinch of salt, which is probably magic.
Or, if you find this process too nitpicking tedious, just use 2 ounces for each egg (or 55g – but I’ll be honest; though I cook in metric for most things, for cakes I still always think in pounds and ounces) of butter and of sugar and of flour.
If you don’t live somewhere you can buy self-raising flour, you will also need 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder for every four ounces of plain flour. The finer the flour, the lighter the cake will be: on the other hand, if you use a rough wholemeal flour, the cake will be very tasty and will also sop up lots more syrup and/or spirits, should you be planning to make a boozy, sticky dessert out of your cake.
Switch on the oven. Cakes are better baked in a pre-heated oven. If you don’t have a clear idea of how long your cake will take to bake, depending on size of cake and efficiency of oven heat, you should plan on staying in or near the kitchen until you can smell the cake is all but done.
Grease a baking tin. Sift flour over the greased tin and shake the tin gently till all the grease has a layer of flour clinging to it. If you do this thoroughly enough, and don’t burn the cake, when the cake is done you should simply be able to turn it out of the tin without any fuss. If you’ve made your cake right, it will more than double in height in the tin – so you need a tin or two that are twice the size of the quantity of mixture. Do not over-fill the tin: you can always make littler cakes in paper cases with the leftovers, and this is practically a public service as it means you will be able to taste-test the main cake without cutting into it.
Cream together the butter and sugar: beat the eggs, adding gradually to the butter/sugar: and gradually sift in the flour, mixing gently. You want what’s called a “dropping consistency”: if you take a spoonful of the mixture and hold the spoon edge-on above the bowl, the mixture should fall from the spoon without needing to be helped, and land in the bowl as a peak which will only gradually subside.
When you have achieved a dropping consistency, half-fill the greased cake tin and put it in the pre-heated oven.
Wait until the cake smells wonderful. Check whether it’s baked or not by gently pressing the top of the cake with the pad of one finger. If the cake springs back, it’s done. Take it out of the oven, wait five minutes for the tin to cool and take the cake out of the tin to cool it on a rack.
Do not under any circumstances attempt to ice the cake until it’s totally cold.
You can use margarine instead of butter for the cake, providing you check the packet to make sure the marge is listed as “suitable for baking”. (Unless you remembered to take the butter out of the fridge for several hours before starting, it’s also much easier to cream with the sugar. )
You can use oil instead of solid fat, and the result will be a cake that doesn’t taste of anything much but will never really go stale, either.
You can use applesauce (about 2 ounces) instead of an egg, if you want to make vegan cake. This topic deserves more attention next Tuesday.
Spice cake with chocolate-lime icing
4 ounces of margarine, 4 ounces of sugar, 4 ounces of wholemeal self-raising flour, 2 eggs. A large spoonful of powdered ginger, another of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of powdered cardamon. And a pinch of salt. Beat the spices and the salt with the sugar and margarine after creaming. Whip two eggs and add to mix. Sift in the flour.
Make the icing by mixing 4 large spoonfuls of icing sugar and 2 of cocoa with enough fresh lime juice to meld the powder into a semi-solid. Use as a filling and a frosting.