Piece of cake
In my days as a pastry chef, I made enormous wedding cakes, big enough to feed 200, and extravagantly decorated cakes with pulled- and blown-sugar decorations that were entered into competitions. When I bake at home, though, my cakes are much more simple, usually requiring nothing more than a light dusting of icing sugar. These are two cakes I make frequently.
Orange chiffon cake
This recipe comes from the book The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. The only things I have changed are that instead of using all orange juice, I use some lemon juice, so the cake is less sweet; and I add a lot more zest than she instructs.
You need a two-piece 25cm tube pan for this cake. Do not grease and flour it or spray it with pan-coating. You also need a large wire balloon whisk, for mixing the whipped egg whites into the batter (the whisk maintains the volume of the whites better than a spatula would).
225 grams cake flour, sifted
300 grams granulated sugar, divided
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
110 grams sunflower oil
130 grams egg yolks, at room temperature
150ml fresh orange juice
35ml fresh lemon juice
The finely grated zest of two oranges and one lemon
300 grams egg whites, at room temperature
1¼ tsp cream of tartar
Whipped cream and fresh fruit (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Put the flour, 270 grams of sugar, the baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir thoroughly. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange and lemon juices, and orange and lemon zest and beat until smooth.
Put the egg whites into a large, clean, dry mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer fitted with clean, dry beaters to whip the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and whip until the whites form soft peaks. Mix in 30 grams of sugar and whip until the egg whites form medium-stiff peaks.
Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the flour/sugar/egg mixture. Add the remaining whites in two additions, gently stirring them in with a balloon whisk until the colour is evenly very pale orange. Pour the batter into the ungreased tube pan and bake at 160 degrees for 45 minutes. Very carefully turn the cake around in the oven so it bakes evenly; it's fragile at this point, so move it gently. Continue to bake the cake until it's done: it should be brown and fragrant, and when you touch the surface it should be firm. Check by inserting a wooden skewer into the cake, near the inner tube - the skewer should come out clean. When the cake is ready, immediately invert it, placing the inner tube over the neck of a wine bottle; cooling it upside down keeps the structure of the delicate cake, so it remains light. Leave it until it's completely cool. Carefully run a small flexible spatula around the pan and inner core, to loosen the cake from the metal, then transfer the cake to a serving dish. Dust it lightly with icing sugar, then slice it with a serrated knife. Serve with whipped cream and fresh fruit, if desired.
Sour cream coffee cake
This is my mother's recipe. She called it "coffee cake" because it goes well with a cup of coffee, although it's just as delicious with tea.
I usually bake it in one or two bundt cake pans, but you can also use a 20-23cm tube pan.
225 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
200 grams granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda, sieved
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
235 grams sour cream
260 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
For the topping:
40 grams soft brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
50 grams chopped pecans or walnuts
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Spray the bundt or tube pan with pan coating.
Put the butter, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl and beat the ingredients until they're light and fluffy. In a mixing cup, whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract. Add half the eggs to the butter/sugar and stir to combine, then add the rest. (The mixture might look curdled - that's fine.) Scrape the mixing bowl and the beaters with a rubber spatula, then stir in the sour cream. Add the flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape the mixing bowl and beaters, and stir again.
Mix together the ingredients for the topping.
Pour slightly less than half of the cake batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with half of the topping ingredients. Spoon the remaining batter into the pan, taking care not to disturb the topping layer. Sprinkle with the remaining topping ingredients. Bake the cake at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes, then turn it around in the oven and continue baking until done. It's ready when it's fragrant and brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the cake completely, then invert it onto the serving platter and remove the pan.