Monday, 26 July 2010

Time for cake

It occurred to me that I've been a bit slack in posting recipes. I realised this today, staying at Mum and Dad's house. I wanted to bake soda bread and make butter with B and her cousins while Z was mountaineering with his dad. I couldn't remember the quantities so I googled my own blog on Mum and Dad's laptop to look it up (Baking For Beginners Part 2). Googling one's own blog might be the height of onanism, but I honestly was just after the recipe.

Anyway, I had a look at what else I'd posted so I could make some other bits and pieces and it struck me I ought to have some more things up here. So, here are the bookends of my baking career -

The First Cake I Baked
(insert fanfare)
When people ask me about how I got into baking as a career they ask if I'm professionally trained or if I've just always baked. I usually answer, "I didn't bake before I had kids." This is not strictly true. I baked every Sunday morning for about 3 years, and I always baked the same thing - a loaf of banana bread. I'd take slices of it into work with me when I was working in the Call Centre - godawful job and no place for a grown up - and on Wednesday, the last day it would be still nice to eat, I'd bring the rest of it in to share with the people I worked with. It's easy and it's fast to mix up. It is also the only recipe I know in ounces because that gives it a 2, 2, 4, 6, 8 rhythm that is easy to remember.

2 (eggs) 2 (bananas) 4 (ounces butter) 6 (ounces brown sugar) 8 (ounces self raising flour)

See? Easy peasy.

Beat the butter and sugar until light. Mash overripe bananas and tip them in, along with the eggs. Mix well. Sift in the flour and combine well. Pop it into a lined loaf tin and bake at 180 for about an hour (or until a skewer comes out clean). You may need to cover it loosely with foil for the last 15 minutes to stop it browning too much.

You can add nuts, chocolate chops, sultanas, anything you like. It's best left to cool totally before slicing; otherwise you risk breaking it. Lovely spread thinly with butter. Oh, and ace for picnics because it's fairly robust, a compact shape that won't get too bashed and it's easy to have whopping thick slices or thin delicate slices depending on how many picnickers you are trying to eek it out for.

My Most Recent Cake
(insert double fanfare)
Raspberry and Lemon Cake

Sift together
225g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Stir in
75g ground almonds
zest of a lemon
In a large jug, mix together
250g plain yoghurt
3 eggs
150ml vegetable or sunflower oil
and pour it into the dry mix. Stir until combined, then carefully fold in
150g frozen raspberries

Bake at 170 degrees for about 70 minutes - keep checking after 50 mins and cover as necessary. I like it in a 23 cm round springform tin but a 20cm square tin would also do.

When cooked, leave the cake to cool a moment while you make the glaze.
100g sugar
30-50ml water
juice of that lemon
Simmer in a saucepan until its volume has reduced by at least half. Poke holes in the cake and pour the glaze over it. Leave it to absorb before you remove it from the tin.

So there you go - where I started and where I'm at now. I hope you find something you like.

I'm off to bake with giggly small people. Wish me luck!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Taking Stock

Somehow these past few weeks have got away from me. There I was thinking the summer was months away, and it turns out the kids break up from school next week.

The glorious heat and sunshine of June gave me a bit of a break. Orders from the soft play centre dropped like a stone - who wouldn't rather be in the park in such weather - and the deli orders dwindled. Hot weather isn't cake weather. It's weather for ice creams, bowls of strawberries, long cool drinks with straws and parasols in.

As well as working in the garden and having some super days out with the kids, I used the time to take stock a little. I've done my accounts and have a clearer view of what is working and what isn't. I also know precisely how little money I've made, which sent me into rather a bad mood for a bit. It's one thing having a rough idea. It's another thing entirely to see exactly how much has come in and - more depressingly - gone out during the 18 months I've been Cake Boxing.

I need to keep looking for ways to make the business more profitable. If your target is to achieve minimum wage pretty steadily and you can't even manage that, there is something askew in the business model.

On the plus side, I've had loads of work from a variety of sources. The cake box scheme was enthusiastically received and people have asked that I tell them when it's starting up again. The birthday cake and cupcake orders are picking up from referrals and word of mouth. Now that the weather's less clement the play centre is heaving and they are selling stonking amounts of my cakes and cookies. My seasonal cakes and new ranges at the deli have been very successful too.

Speaking of seasonal, I've spent a week faffing about with raspberry and lemon cake ideas and I think I've got a winner now. It's not very sweet despite a fair whack of sugar; raspberries can be quite tart. I have to use frozen berries because fresh ones vary so much in price and in quality. That's rather a shame and if I were baking just for the family I'd stick to fresh. Still, it's a nice balance of flavours, a good moist texture and should also have a pretty good shelf life (important for the deli!) and I am rather proud of it.

On the home front our lives are going through some changes over the next couple of months. I'll be interested to see how they all pan out. The Big Lad, all 11 years of him (eek!) is off to Scotland camping with Scouts for a week and will be starting high school at the end of the summer. The Divine Miss B starts school and already wears her new uniform most days out of sheer excitement. Z's the only one whose life carries on as normal, moving up a year in school.

For the first time in 11 1/2 years I will be finished with toddler groups, NCT groups, CBeebies and daytime childcare. From 9:15 to 3:10 I will be left to my own devices - well, from October anyway, as B is part time for the first little while. I'd like to get all dreamy at the prospect of some free time but in fact I've already crammed my days with work until at least Christmas.

Hmm - a rather bitty blog post this time, isn't it? Sorry. I'd like to revise, rewrite and refine it to make it a better read. However, the number of half-finished blog posts I've got cluttering the place up ought to teach me to post this one now before it joins the others in the Land Of Unfinished Blather never destined to see light of day. So that's what I'll do and you'll have to tolerate my ill-formed ramblings as they stand.

Have a lovely summer,
J x