My daughter’s school is trying to raise money for a fairly ambitious project. So ambitious that we even had a fundraising meeting to discuss various wild and crazy ideas to generate income--only to fall back, as our first attempt, on possibly the oldest fundraising idea there is: we ran a cake stall. (That’s “bake sale” in Australian.) I don’t think I’d ever participated in one before (which doesn’t seem possible somehow, but there you are). I learned a few lessons from this one; whether or not they translate elsewhere, I leave it to others to confirm until I get a little more cake stall experience.
1. Some people take them very, very seriously. I’m talking professional-level presentation, preprinted ingredients labels, and production in industrial quantities.
2. Everyone likes cupcakes. Age is not a factor.
3. There were a number of sweets that I had not encountered before but which evoked cries of nostalgic delight from older customers. Some, like chocolate crackles, turned out to be familiar but merely masquerading under an Australian name (in this case, chocolate Rice Krispies bars). Others, like honey joys and melting moments, I had to ask about, or look up later.
4. All baking chocolates are not created equal. There’s a reason I lug boxes of Baker's Chocolate squares across oceans, beg for them to be included in care packages, and cuss when they run out. They may not have the cachet of Scharffen Berger or Valrhona, but they provide the necessary chocolate bang for my buck. (Plus, they're originally from my hometown.) As I have discovered, Nestlé’s Melts are not an adequate substitute, especially for the frosting; the melted chocolate seized up into thousands of tiny chocolate flecks throughout the buttercream, as you can see from the picture above. It was still pretty good; just not at all what I had previously produced using the same recipe.
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, circa 1950
This is a one-bowl recipe, and I’m transcribing the instructions, which include the ingredients, exactly as I wrote them down in my recipe notebook a long, long time ago. I’ve made this cake dozens of times, and my mother has made it hundreds. Multiply ingredients by 1.5 to get enough for a two-layer cake made in 8-inch (20-cm?) pans.
1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
2. Grease and flour baking pan(s).
3. In a large bowl, sift together:
- 2¼ cups cake flour*
-1¾ cups sugar
- 1/3 tsp baking powder
- 1¾ tsp baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
4. Melt and add:
- 2 oz/50 g chocolate**
- 2/3 cup shortening***
6. Pour in a little over half of:
- 1 cup water
- 1 tsp vanilla
7. Beat 2 minutes. Then add remaining water and:
- 3 eggs****
8. Beat another 2 minutes. Pour into prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean: start checking layers after 20 minutes.
9. Cool and frost with:
Chocolate buttercream frosting
2 oz/50 g chocolate**
4 oz/100 g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
16 oz/400 g confectioner’s/icing sugar
¼ cup milk (more or less as needed)
Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Meanwhile, combine butter, salt, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl; add chocolate when ready. Mix in sugar and beat until you have a smooth frosting (I use a hand mixer for this); add milk as necessary to achieve your preferred fluffy or creamy texture.
Makes enough to fill and frost one two-layer cake, or at least two dozen cupcakes.
* If substituting all-purpose/plain flour, use only 2 cups.
** For best results, use a chocolate that you know works well in baking. The Nestle’s Melts I used were advertised as a baking chocolate, but behaved very oddly when used in this cake.
*** You can substitute the same amount of softened butter for this.
**** If multiplying the recipe by 1.5 as suggested, use 5 eggs here.