The art and pleasure of home baking – and how to make a divine Caramelised Almond Butter Cake

Food is first and foremost about sustenance and our wellbeing. But it is also about family and connections, about creating a home and an environment where we can feel that we are a part of something special.

Food is also a feast for the senses. Think of bacon frying, a chicken roasting in the oven. Hard to resist. But I feel that baking reaches our senses on an even deeper level. Imagine the heady aromas of apples and cinnamon, poached fruit and vanilla or creamy tarts with lemon zest. These are the smells that make us feel safe and ward off the big bad world. For myself it takes me back to my childhood when I was free of responsibility and life was simple and uncomplicated.

When you visit my sister-in-law’s house the place you are most likely to find her is in the kitchen. It is her happy place, the place where everything makes sense. And of course it does – baking has rules, it is a science. If you follow those rules, add plenty of love and a touch of technique wonderful things happen.

My sister-in-law Mable has been a part of my family for some twelve years now and I like to think of her as our very own domestic goddess. She told me that she has been baking since she was a girl but it is an interest that grew naturally rather than being passed down from her mother.

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Mable has an interesting background. Born in Hong Kong, she was around nine years old when her family moved to Melbourne. She was dazzled by the array of sweet creations available in her new home – so much more than had ever been on offer in her native Hong Kong. Exposure to these delicacies is what first inspired her to try her hand at baking. She was around eleven when she made her first cake with a packet mix from the supermarket. It sounds strange to hear her tell me this. She is such a pro these days that it’s difficult to imagine Mable and a packet mix sharing the same bench space.

From that first cake her love for the kitchen grew steadily, which led her to tackle a home economics course at school. She continued through the years to teach herself, helped along by the fact that it was an interest she shared with her twin sister.

But it was after marrying and having a family of her own that Mable was able to really come into her own and immerse herself in the art. Today she is an adventurous and skilled cook, with a particular love for baking and is not afraid to tackle anything! Every time our family gets together it is always fun to imagine what treat Mable has in store for us – and there is generally more than one!

As someone who loves to cook myself I understand the appeal of communicating through food. This is how we like to show the people we love how much we really do care. And food is also a way of creating family history. Mable has the most fabulous cooking journal. A patchwork of recipes and ideas, it tracks her culinary journey. What a wonderful thing to pass down to her daughters one day.

I understand that baking, and indeed cooking, is not for everyone. But eating certainly is. And while I believe that you can love to eat without loving to cook I don’t believe it can be the other way around – if you don’t love to eat how can you possibly love to cook? So I say this – if you are someone who loves to eat you are already halfway there at being a cook.

When talking about delicious cakes and tarts and all things sweet, I thought it would be wise to touch briefly on how they fit in with healthy eating, which is a big part of our lives – and so it should be. I realise that in a world seemingly obsessed with ‘low fat’ this and ‘no carb’ that, good old-fashioned home baking has fallen out of favour to an extent. But I think we have lost sight of the fact that it was and is only ever supposed to be eaten as a treat. A treat by its very definition is something you enjoy only occasionally but that gives you great pleasure.

So can I suggest that when you do decide to indulge you make it worthwhile and have the real thing. I see absolutely no point in a sugar-free biscuit. If you don’t want to eat sugar then don’t have a biscuit. Have something else entirely. Just an opinion.

When first broaching the idea of this blog to Mable I asked if I could share one of her recipes with you and she has generously agreed. This cake is so easy it is the perfect starting point for someone new to the game. Although I think even a seasoned baker will find great joy in so much gorgeousness from so little effort.

If you are new to baking there are a few important tips I’d like to share before you start – always use the right sized tin, never over mix and please, please, please, ensure your eggs are at room temperature.

I was fortunate enough to enjoy a piece of this cake not long after it had come out of the oven. Although the cake may seem simple it has a beautiful flavour and texture – but the standout here is the caramelised almond topping. It’s quite important that the topping goes onto the cake while it is still hot so make sure you’re ready to go when you take the cake out of the oven.

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For this cake you need a 20cm round spring-form tin. Line the base with baking paper – this makes your life easier when transferring the cake to a plate or stand. If you don’t have a spring-form tin you could line a normal tin with pieces of baking paper at right angles (make sure they are long enough to come over the sides of the tin so you can lift the cake out easily).

One last note – the milk to be used in this recipe is proper full-fat milk!

 

Caramelised Almond Butter Cake

Cake

125g butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

¾ cup milk

2 cups flour, sifted

4 teaspoons baking powder

 

Topping

50g butter

¼ cup sugar

70g sliced almonds

2 tbsp milk

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Put the butter and sugar in a saucepan that will be large enough to mix all the ingredients and heat until the butter has melted – keep the heat low.

Take the saucepan off the heat.

Beat the eggs and milk together and then add to the saucepan with the flour and baking powder. Mix until everything is combined. It’s best to use a wooden spoon for this.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at 180°C for 40-45 minutes. Mable tells me that she usually bakes it on fan force at 150°C but either will work fine. Ovens do vary so definitely start checking after 40 minutes.

When the cake has about 10 minutes to go get on with the topping. Put the butter, sugar and almonds in a saucepan. Heat together, stirring until the sugar melts. Add the milk. Now bring to the boil and boil for five minutes.

Once the cake is out of the oven and while it’s still hot spread over the topping. Return it to the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes or until the cake is cooked. Do check after 15 minutes or indeed keep an eye on it the whole time because the last thing you want is for the almonds to burn. It is well worth investing in a cake tester for this, although I have been known to use a piece of dry spaghetti.

Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes before lifting out and transferring to a cake stand or plate. Mable and I agreed that this cake is best served with a creamy partner that has a sour note – so a dollop of yoghurt or crème fraîche would do nicely.

This beauty would quite easily traverse several eating points throughout the day – morning tea, afternoon tea, dessert. Delicious. And such a treat!

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2 Comments

  1. Ross Cuff says:

    Absolutely loved this one Tracey. Have no doubt that although I am just a man I am going to try and be Jamie Oliver for a day and cook this one for myself.

    Like

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