Cook I can, baking not so much!
I read recently that cooks prefer the unstructured creativity that using something picked up from the market, something from the fridge or make-it-up-as-you-go allows. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, as for me cooking has always been a smidge of this and a splosh of that.
There is the age old saying of cooking is an art, baking is a science and whilst this could be argued either way it is generally taken to imply that cooking allows one to have a certain flexibility whereas baking requires patience, timing, accuracy, a set of scales and the recipe to be followed closely. Baking is all about precision, formulas and rules where all parts of the equation are known. Baking requires obedience.
I have none of those things! My approach to baking could be described much like my approach to life; haphazard, full of blind ambition, often throwing caution to the wind, with a healthy dose of panic thrown in in the hope that it will all turn out in the end. With cooking I have a feel of what will work; baking all bets are off.
Following is the recipe for the cupcakes that I made for Alia’s birthday. These cupcakes certainly defied the odds that were stacked up against them and are one of my (few) baking success stories. They were destined to fail given that I don’t own a measuring cup or a set of kitchen scales, the temperature dial on my oven is very much an approximation, the only vanilla I can get is in powder form and not being one to stick to a recipe I added my own Middle Eastern touch by deciding to add yoghurt to the batter! Not sure what I was thinking but the first time I was making these the yoghurt was on the bench so in it went and it worked!
As I didn’t have a measuring cup I used a mug and figured that as long as I was using the same mug to measure all the ingredients then the ratios for the milk, flour and sugar would work out. The recipe that I was roughly following called for 2/3 of a cup of butter, but using a converter on the internet this equated to 150g in the US metric system or 161g in the metric system. Blowed if I knew what system the recipe would be calling for so being one to make it easy I used 200g of butter as the butter that I can buy comes in 100g amounts and I figured that I was using a bigger mug anyway! Really it is a miracle that these cupcakes didn’t end up being flat, tough, rock hard pancakes on the bottom of the pan.
Surprisingly they are lovely and moist with a dense texture. They also stay moist for up to a week after they are made which is a miracle in itself that there were any left for that long in our house.
A friend requested the recipe and I finally worked out what quantity the mug I use for measuring is and have been able to write down the recipe as I bake it (roughly give or take as even knowing what quantity my mug is I’m still eyeballing what I think is 3/4 of a cup etc). So my apologies if this recipe doesn’t work out for you, but I’ve made it a number of times now and it seems to be pretty forgiving as each time the amounts I’m adding for sure are different and the results have always been delicious. Hopefully the photos give you some guide as to what the mixture should look like to help you.
The mug/cup that I’m using is 320ml.
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla (I use a vanilla powder as this is all I can get, but using vanilla essence shouldn’t make any difference in my opinion)
2 ¾ cups all-purpose (plain) flour, shifted
2 heaped tsp baking powder (and I mean heaped – look at the picture for reference)
1 tsp salt
1 ¼ cups milk
150g natural yoghurt (the yoghurt I add is similar in consistency to thick Greek yoghurt and is full fat). I dont’ know exactly how much yoghurt I use but it comes in 200g tubs and there is about 1/4 left after I’ve added what I need.
Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour cupcake pans or use cupcake patty papers. Beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, in a mixing bowl on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Shift flour and baking power and add the salt to the dry ingredients.
Beat in the flour alternately with the milk on low speed. The mixture is quite shift and thick in consistency.
Pour into cupcake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 15- 20 minutes depending on your oven.
To turn these cupcakes into chocolate replace half a cup of the flour with the same quantity of cocoa powder.
Or what I tend to do is make up the vanilla batter and then turn half of it into chocolate by adding half a cup of shifted cocoa powder and enough extra milk until the batter consistency was as per the vanilla batter. Add more or less cocoa powder depending on the richness of chocolate flavour that you want.
I learnt a nifty trick from the internet that to stop cupcakes from burning on the side and bottom before the middle is cooked is to double pan. This is especially useful when using the non stick variety pans as being darker in colour they draw in more heat.
This recipe is also very versatile. Tonight I turned it into a pineapple upside down syrup cake (because I didn’t have any patty papers!). I lined the bottom of a cake tin with pineapple circles and poured in a syrup which I had made using the juice from the tin of pineapple and about a cup of golden syrup. I had heated the syrup over a low heat to melt the golden syrup into the pineapple juice. I poured in enough syrup to just cover the pineapple pieces.I add the cake batter on top of the pineapple and baked for 35-40mins or until the top is golden and a sweker inserted into the cake came out clean. Whilst the cake was still hot I made lots of little holes with a skewer and poured the remaining syrup over the cake. If you don’t have enough syrup left then make up a simple sugar syrup.
Whilst not photo worthy (I don’t have a good cake tin so made it in a slice tray) the pineapple upside down syrup cake was delicious.