I’ve been working in food publishing for more than 15 years, but I still don’t own two 20cm baking pans. I have one, and a slightly larger one. Yet despite this failing, I will, very occasionally, throw myself with abandon into the act of cake-making. Before I start, I am positively tipsy with anticipation – of the warm waft of spices and sugar filling the house, the seductive alchemy of raising agents, and the heady steam that fogs my glasses as I open the oven door too soon – always too soon.
So last Sunday I cranked up FBI on the radio and baked a cake – not, I hasten to add, merely as an excuse to regale you, step-by-floury-step, with the joys and perils of my culinary journey, aided by a series of very-close-up digital photographs. I baked it for a colleague’s birthday. A colleague’s birthday whose other colleagues are skilled culinary professionals who make cakes very frequently and very well. For one with such a highly developed capacity for projecting catastrophe onto any situation, my tendency to launch blithely off the edge of another precipice remains resolutely intact.
And, despite having read so many, many, many recipes over the course of my working life, surprisingly few have stuck (other than to the section underneath the kitchen bench you can’t reach without renovating). Thus, I do not have a signature cake that I can rustle up from memory; no cloud-light, family-heirloom sponge to fall back on when friends drop round in that unexpected way they so often do in women’s magazines. I don’t even have a signature scone. I just have a signature – and if I could actually use this damn WordPress technology, I would scan it in and add it to the end of my posts in an ironic Luddite flourish.
The cake turned out extremely well considering its handicaps – the wrong size pan, for one, and my still-tentative relationship with our one-year-old oven and its myriad settings. It took me the better part of the day, excluding cleaning the kitchen and myself afterwards. It was a Jamie Oliver coffee and walnut cake – a pukka balance of sugar, butter, coffee and walnut, plus a satisfactorily high ratio of filling. As usual, I licked the bowl, which is the only reason, as far as I’m concerned, for making a cake in the first place. I couldn’t get to sleep – so the balance was definitely weighted in the coffee’s favour.
At this point, if I were a genuine, passionate food blogger, I’d upload a photo of the cake, but that’s another technical conundrum I’m still grappling with. Be assured, though, that were all my geeky planets to miraculously align and I could find the key to unlock the mysteries of the WordPress universe, the image I would upload would be larger than life and poorly lit. Just as it should be.