It took a tough lesson that drove home to me the importance of following recipes while baking. That looking squint eyed at a 1 kg bag of flour and dumping in approximately a third of it before dousing it in the wet ingredients does not necessarily produce a good, or even vaguely edible, cookie. That forgetting to sieve the flour, then quickly losing patience while working the lumps out of batter, is a sure fire way to incite the wrath of the cake gods.
My first cake was born of the oven in the small, rented apartment that my family lived in as new immigrants to Australia. Indian kitchens, traditionally, do not have ovens. The only home-made cake I had tasted was the one that my mum used to make in the jaffle maker, the one she had excitedly purchased after attending a demonstration at a neighbour’s place. She would follow the eggless recipe in the instruction manual that was also a cookbook, brand new to baking herself. That cake was soft, sweet, and in hindsight, almost pancakey. It’s surface was ribbed from the jaffle maker cake fitting and it’s crumb was loose and yielding. It was, from memory, a good cake.
My mum’s jaffle maker cake was what I envisioned when I and my childhood best friend, flour dusting our faces and every surface of the tiny kitchen, slid our dubious batter into the hastily preheated oven. What emerged some forty nail-biting minutes later was more weapon than cake. More desert than dessert.
The Rock Cake haunts me to this day. It’s harsh surface hiding a dry, uncompromising crumb. The raisins that studded it a humiliated version of themselves. It’s alarming power to strain any knife that dared to challenge it.
It was a tough lesson but an effective one.
Thankfully these days I (mostly) follow recipes when it comes to baking, and I choose my sources wisely. Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen is one of my go to sources for fail-proof recipes, especially when it comes to baking. I came across this strawberry summer cake while browsing through her archives in search of a way to use the 2 half punnets of strawberries that had taken up residence in my fridge. What I pulled out of the oven was delectable, a far cry from my first cake as an eight year old. It was moist, dense and chewy with coconut (my only tweak), yet still somehow light and summery. The strawberries took on the jammy character that berries will in the oven, adding tartness to sweetness, red stains to fluffy pale yellow.
It’s a cake to celebrate the dregs of summer, and perhaps more importantly, my birthday.
Strawberry and Coconut Cake
Slightly modified from ‘Strawberry Summer Cake‘, Smitten Kitchen
85gm unsalted butter at room temperature, extra for greasing
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup plus extra granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
6-8 strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and flour a standard medium sized cake tin (I used a bundt tin).
Fold the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.
In another bowl, use electric beaters to beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. On low speed, mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined
Add dry ingredients gradually, using a spatula to fold in until just combined. Fold in the coconut gently.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and scatter the strawberry halves, cut end down, over the top. Sprinkle over with 1-2 tbsp sugar.
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10 mins, then reduce temperature to 170 degrees C and bake for 40-50 mins, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.