Rise to a baking occasion
For the last two years of parenting (that is six birthdays) I've ordered sponge cakes from a home industry.
Without a decent oven, we've had to break our family birthday baking tradition. In some ways it's been a pleasure - no squabbles about who beats what and for how long, who breaks how many eggs into which bowl and who has had the most time licking the bowl and with what spoon.
But the truth is many cooks do not spoil this broth, and we've missed the process.
If you've watched how a few ingredients combined into a runny mush become something radically different when placed in an oven, you may understand the magic of baking. My children do. This year, thanks to a newly installed oven, we've gone back to tradition.
My year starts with two birthdays in one January week. That's two full days of baking. Despite using the simple, non-flop sponge recipe I've used since I was a child, this is a complex task. The outcome is never the same. Sometimes the cake mixture rises to a perfect pitch. Other times it remains rather flat or rises more on one side. But this has never put us off from having fun.
WHAT YOU NEED
A cake tin (shape and size depends on what you intend creating), a sieve, a pot, a few bowls, an electric or hand beater, a measuring cup and ingredients (see box), and loads of patience.
You need to settle on the theme of the cake. We've had soccer , tennis , cricket , swimming and fairy cakes .
This year, for my youngest daughter's fifth birthday, she wanted a "ballerinas in the garden" creation.
Then there is a trip to the specialist cake shop, Linda's Bake & Pack, in Westdene. It's best when the birthday child is the only one in tow, but this is seldom the case.
The almost-always-crowded shop becomes unbearable with three children arguing about colourants and dyes, glitter, sparkles, balls and candles. Here you can also hire tins made in special shapes, and buy basic ingredients - eggs, flour, icing sugar, caster sugar and baking powder. Milk and butter you need to buy at a grocery store.
Make sure you have enough space for all the helpers. The birthday girl gets to choose which tasks she wants. There is the greasing of the tin, the beating, the mixing, the sieving.
Follow the recipe closely. You can't deviate from the recipe, except by adding more sugar.
The sponge may not be the high-rise kind you see in pictures, but it will do for the children's main attraction: the decorating.
GLITTER AND GRIT
Once the cake is cooled and you've made a basic icing (recruit someone with forearm muscles for this), the fun begins. For our "ballerinas in the garden" cake, we tried an icing using cream cheese instead of butter. It was too runny, but with no time to make another batch, this bright green sponge covering had to do.
For the birthday child, it was just the canvas she needed to create the garden for her ballerinas. The cake was a huge success.
A few days later, for my son, we were at it again. But for now, the baking goods are packed away.
NON-FLOP SPONGE CAKE RECIPE
GREASE and flour your cake tin. The recipe says you can use 2" x 9" layer pans or one 13" x 9" oblong pan.
This recipe also makes about 12cupcakes.
Turn on your oven to 180C.
Beat 4 eggs until very light.
Beat in 1 cups caster sugar.
Sift together, in separate bowl, 2 cups of cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder and teaspoon salt.
Melt in a pot 2 tablespoons butter in 1 cup hot milk and add to beaten egg and sugar with 1teaspoon vanilla essence.
Fold the hot mixture into the flour mix.
Pour into pans. Bake for 25 to 35minutes.
Decorate as you wish.
Linda's Bake & Pack, 90 Aberdeen Street, Westdene, Johannesburg. Call 011-482-2125