Forget the Recipe Book

In Britain we have established an enduring love of cake. Whether we eat it daily with a cup of tea, out having a coffee with friends, at birthdays, christenings, weddings and other occasions; cake is loved in all forms.


This year approximately nine million people tuned in to watch the final of BBC’s ‘Great British Bake-Off’ and sales in baking cookbooks have sky-rocketed. Everyone wants to know Mary Berry’s opinion of how to make the ultimate cake. Should you use the ‘all-in-one’ method or cream the sugar and butter together first for extra fluffiness? Is sifting worth the time of day or is flour so processed now that the concept of sifting is largely irrelevant? When do I know the cake done? All these questions fill amateur bakers’ minds, leaving one sitting by the oven door on the lookout for burning cake.

Cakes are an exact science and yet not as exact as other baking challenges. The basic Victoria Sandwich is one of Britain’s favourites for its simplicity and style yet few people feel confident making such a cake without a recipe in front of them. By no stretch of the imagination am I about to put recipe books out of business. There is a vast variety of cake baking techniques where a recipe book truly comes in handy. Yet should you, one day find yourself without access to a cookbook or the internet to search for a recipe online, you should always be able to bake a simple cake and here’s how.

The Ultimate Basic Cake


Makes one 20-cm sandwich cake or 12 cupcakes

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C for a fan-assisted oven.

2. Weigh three eggs in their shells. Weigh out the butter, sugar and flour to the same measurement. E.g. If the eggs weigh 250g, the butter, sugar and flour should weigh the same.

3. Cream the butter and sugar together using a wooden spoon or electric whisk.

4. Add the eggs in one at a time and continue to mix. (If you are using vanilla extract, now is the time, 1-2 teaspoons will do).

5. Gently fold in the flour. (If you want to make a chocolate cake, now is the time to add the cocoa powder. You can do this to taste). At this point, if the cake mixture is thick to stir, add a small dash of milk to loosen it up.

6. Divide the mixture equally into two 20-cm greased and lined baking trays, or amongst the cupcake cases.

7. Place in the oven and bake the 20-cm cakes for 25-30 minutes and the cupcakes for 12-15 minutes. (If baking a larger cake, avoid opening the oven for the first 20 minutes as this may cause the cakes to sink).

8. The cakes are done a) When a cake-baked aroma fills your kitchen b) When the top of the cakes are golden brown c) When you insert a skewer or sharp knife into the cake it comes out clean d) When you touch the top of the cake it springs back lightly e) When the cake is coming away from the edge of the tins.

9. Remove the 20-cm cakes and turn them out onto a drying rack. For the cupcakes, take them out the baking tin after a few minutes but leave them in their cases to cool.

Leave the cakes to cool completely before sandwiching together with jam or icing.