I’ve spent the last few days wondering whether it is frivolous to give you a cake recipe at a time like this. But I’ve finally come to the conclusion that, actually, it’s probably more important than ever. Baking is a source of comfort and joy, both for those doing the baking, and for the recipients, and to willfully lose something like that when we face uncertainty and challenges, when many of our other sources of comfort and joy have been at least temporarily restricted, is sad. Having a simple cake recipe up your sleeve is reassuring – a taste of normality.
I’ve gone for a cake which relies on store cupboard staples, one which you might recognise from school dinners: raspberry and coconut traybake. It’s straightforward, and doesn’t require any fancy ingredients: it’s essentially a pound cake, made up of equal quantities butter, flour, eggs and sugar. It’s then decorated with simple long-life staples: jam and desiccated coconut. Thanks to the panic-buying that has happened, the butter, eggs and flour that we have taken for granted are harder to come by. So we might need to be a little more inventive. But I want you to feel confident that you can use what you have to engineer that succour and satisfaction that baking should bring.
Unlike with cooking, it can be tricky with baking to substitute ingredients here and there willy-nilly without affecting the overall success of the dish. In baking, the balance of ingredients matters; you can’t muck about with the science. Changes do make a difference: they affect the colour, the texture, the taste and the shape of the final cake. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t implement some of those changes and produce a competent and delightful cake. So please be reassured that you can switch up the butter for margarine or dairy-free spread; most sugars will work in place of the caster – light brown, dark brown, granulated, even demerara will work – and you can use an extra 3.5 teaspoons of baking powder to plain flour to create the same rising effect if you’re short of self-raising flour. In a pinch, a mashed banana or 3 tablespoons of apple sauce can replace an egg in a recipe. If you’re short on butter, you can just use half and make up the shortfall with peanut or almond butter (crunchy or smooth) or even nutella.
Some of these amendments will change the rise of the cake and, crucially, how long it takes to bake, so you can use my golden rules for ensuring a cake is baked properly: first, it shouldn’t smell eggy once baked; secondly, if you listen carefully, you shouldn’t be able to hear a high-pitched squealing (some call this the cake ‘singing) coming from the sponge; thirdly, if you press the sponge gently with a forefinger, it should spring back.
I’ve used raspberry jam here, but any jam or marmalade you have lurking will do the same job. If that’s out for you, you can use the syrup from a jar of stem ginger or maraschino cherries. For the topping, try diced dried fruits or chopped nuts or flaked almonds (give them a brief toast in a dry pan first for extra depth of flavour) – or finally find a use for those hundreds and thousands that have been gathering dust at the back of your cupboard for more years that you might care to mention.
Raspberry and coconut sponge recipe, The Vintage Chef. Credit: Samuel Pollen
Raspberry and coconut sponge
Makes: 12 squares
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 30 minutes
For the sponge
225g caster sugar
225g self raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
80g desiccated coconut (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
For the topping
3 tablespoons raspberry jam
3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, and lightly grease a rectangular baking pan approximately 18x30cm.
- Cream together the butter and caster sugar until fluffy and visibly lighter in colour than before. Weigh the flour, baking powder and salt out. Alternate adding the eggs and flour to the creamed butter mixture until you have added all the eggs and flour, and the mixture is smooth. Fold the coconut through the batter, if using.
- Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the sponge is golden and rises and, when pressed gently with a finger, springs back. Leave to cool.
- Stir the jam to loosen it, and spread it across the cooled sponge using the back of a spoon or a spatula. Sprinkle with the desiccated coconut.