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The Cake That Nearly Beat Me

August 20, 2009

I couple of months ago I bought the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and one of the first cakes I made (due to a fruit bowl full of lemons and a shiny new loaf tin – thank you Lakeland) was the Lemon Loaf. The recipe calls for whole milk which I didn’t have so I substituted with buttermilk – that’s allowed isn’t it?

The cake was an unmitigated disaster.

I can’t remember how long it actually took to bake but I know I had to reset the timer in five, then ten minute intervals several times before the skewer had any hope of testing clean. The cake was so heavy that a section of the top sheared off straight from the oven revealing a centre so stodgy that I just stood staring in disbelief.

After cooling it was obvious this was not fit to be dished up, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I donated it to a colleague under the guise of a potential trifle ingredient, but accept that it probably ended up in her bin rather than mine.

I really didn’t think that making such a minor substitution would’ve had such a disastrous effect, but in the end it was my novice baking status, rather than instinct, that let me down. There’s an error in the original recipe; 560g of flour should actually read 350g. I imagine this error would be a glaring one to someone with more experience but it passed me by, it was only a chance visit to their website and a click on the innocuous sounding link for ‘further tips and revisions’ (ahem!) lead me to a PDF document with a page of tips and revisions to three of their recipes. A proof reader is in trouble somewhere I fear.

So, a Sunday waking of 4am meant several hours of baking time and the Lemon Drizzle was in my sights.

I was tempted to try again with the buttermilk substitution just to see exactly where the blame for the original failing lay, but decided that the frustration of another cake fail would be too much to bare, especially at that ungodly hour.

The baking time is 1hour 15 minutes, which is a little on the long side for a loaf tin and should’ve made me think ahead a bit, but I’m not that good at seeing the bigger picture and so placed the tin into the oven, set the timer, and popped off to clean the bathroom, as you do. I came back downstairs about 40 minutes into baking to a concerning hint of ‘burnt’ in the air. The cake had risen way above the top of the tin and was touching the element at the top of the oven. A few minutes of panic later and I’d extracted the cake with only minor damage to it and myself (and it’s never a proper baking session without an injury of some sort). After picking the smoking debris off the element and repositioning the shelf the cake was returned to finish cooking. I couldn’t believe this bloody recipe had nearly beaten me again.

The end result was a little on the ugly side because of the damage to the top, luckily it was destined to be sliced and distributed at work rather than presented whole – good job too.

An additional tip – should you want to bake this for yourself – is that I remembered from disaster no 1 that pouring the syrup over the cake resulted in a lot of the syrup being lost of pooling around the sides, so I made good use of a skewer and spent a long time drizzling slowly in intervals to ensure as much of the syrup as possible got into the cake.

Was the whole thing worth it? Well, I can’t see beyond the second near miss, and I feel that the authors couldn’t been more detailed in their instructions (error aside) but the resulting cake was moist and tart and seemed to go down well. It keeps, wrapped, for a coupled of days and would no doubt make an excellent base for a trifle!

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One comment

  1. I loved this post – I have just posted about my latest kitchen disaster – plastic left on puff pastry – but I made scones last night which needed a far hotter oven than the recipe said and couldn't believe this mistake – good on you for rescuing the recipe. I don't know that I would have known it was the wrong amount of flour either – every batter is different so I would have wondered but not been sure – every now and again a recipe looks wrong but works out right if you follow it properly and makes you unsure about prejudging recipes based on only your own experience



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