I’ve always been more of a non-recipe cook. Don’t get me wrong – I love cookbooks, but after years of working in restaurants alongside chefs – some great, some mediocre, I have realized that once you develop some basic knowledge, and learn to trust your taste buds, anyone is capable of inventing a recipe (implementing it is another matter!)
I am a great ‘surprise chef’. I can walk into any kitchen and prepare a meal – often a great one, if I try, out of almost anything. You know how MacGyver used to make a nuclear warhead out of a ball point pen, two batteries, a paperclip and a piece of gum? That’s me in the kitchen. The only thing that has held me up has been baking. It has always stood on a pedestal as the unmuckable cooking. Hard-core recipe stuff. I think it was several early failed attempts at pavlova and anzac biscuits that did it.
But what I’ve realised recently is that baking – particularly cakes – does not need to be as exact as I thought. Sure, there are things that MUST be included. Eggs to bind, oil or butter for moistness, some kind of raising agent for cakes, sugar for taste. The quantites are variable. More eggs for a dense cake, less for a crumbly one, more baking soda for fluffy scones, less for whoopie pies, more butter for brownies, less for banana bread. And do you know what, as long as you don’t accidentally put in garlic powder instead of ginger, and you don’t burn it, the sugar is ALWAYS going to make it taste good – no matter how chewy or crumbly it is.
So here is my favourite of all cakes: ‘Pain d’epices”. It actually translates as spiced bread – but it has no yeast in it – it’s a bread like a banana bread, and tastes amazing fresh from the oven with a slab of melted butter on it. Again, it has my regional stamp on it – I love Arabic ingredients, but they can be substituted if you can’t find them
- 125g soft butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup date dhibs (substitute molasses/treacle if you don’t have this)
- 3 eggs
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate or soda
- 1 tsp gr Ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp g nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp all spice
- 1/4 tsp g cardamom
- 1 tsp orange blossom water (or 2 tbsp orange juice)
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 180ᵒC. Sift flour, bicarbonate and spices into one container, and put milk, orange blossom water and lemon juice in another.
- In a third bowl, cream butter and sugar with a beater on slow, then add molasses, and eggs one by one. Turn speed to medium, and add flour and milk mixes alternating
- Pour into a pre-greased or lined pan (I used a 22cm round), and cook for about 45 minutes until a spike tests clean (poke a skewer in the middle and if it comes out fairly clean, it’s cooked – if it has goo on it, leave it in)
Serve warm or cooled. Keeps nicely at room temperature in a sealed container for several days, or can be frozen and later defrosted. Why not try it without the orange blossom and lemon juice, instead supplementing a ripe banana and a little less date dhibs/molasses…?