Last night I wanted to bake a cake. My grandmother used to always have a simple cake on hand that I grew to call grandma bread. I have a thin notebook that I saved where I wrote a few of her recipes down and grandma bread is there. My handwriting confirms I was a young girl—neat and girlish in pink pen. I don’t use her recipe because I don’t trust myself to “add milk until right consistency.” And my Mexican rice never comes out the way hers did. There is something about grandma’s cooking that cannot be matched.
I realize now that for grandma bread I can follow a basic yellow cake recipe. It uses butter instead of lard. I think she melted the lard and the yellow cake recipe has you cream the butter and sugar together. I wonder to myself if I should melt the butter and do it that way. No, I better not. She never used recipes; I need recipes as a guide, they provide a structure and basis to work with and learn, later becoming part of my overall cooking knowledge base. As I’m beginning to cook—and bake again, I’m finding a lack of confidence in my baking abilities. I want to build up a knowing and an understanding of the ratios to later experiment. I realize that with baking, there is a precision and accuracy that needs to be followed, which is why I finally broke down and bought a liquid measuring cup and measuring spoons, which I bought just last night, along with an inexpensive hand-held mixer. I had all of these kitchen items before I moved. I practically donated the whole kitchen, so now I’m gradually inviting these kitchen necessities and doo-dads back into our new kitchen.
Last night, after dinner, I had the urge for something close to grandma bread. I flipped to the yellow cake recipe in Better Homes and Gardens. I had everything I needed except baking powder. What the heck? I went out in the pouring rain, jogged to the car to avoid getting too wet. First I went to CVS to get a mixer and measuring spoons. There was only one to choose from. Next stop: the grocery store for baking powder. In the baking isle I saw baking pans and although I have a square one at home, I bought a round one for the cake. I picked up extra butter in case I decide to make another cake soon. Oh, yes, and I needed an orange to zest because I liked the idea of citrus yellow cake as one of the variations listed in the cookbook.
Back in the kitchen, I preheated the oven and set out to bake a cake. I had to make do with a small metal mixing bowl that I use to toss salads. Thank goodness I had a larger plastic bowl that I had gotten at the .99 cents store that is more for serving than mixing. This would hold the dry ingredients and later become the second mixing bowl once the ingredients were mostly mixed and no longer fit in the metal mixing bowl. Images of real mixers sprung to my mind and how, although the cake mix was coming together, it was a challenge to keep the flour from flying out of the bowl. I had to mix slow and careful.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my oven may not bake accurately. I also do not know for sure, and I feel like such an amateur, but the recipe instructions said to use two 8x1 ½ or 9x1 ½ round baking pans or one 13x9x2 inch baking pan. I was prepared to use the square pan that I had if I had to. I would have two different shaped cakes, but the batter all fit into one round pan. Into the oven one round pan went.
Well, the cake took a lot longer to bake and became quite brown around the edges. I had to put foil over the cake to be sure it didn’t brown too much because toward the end I bumped the oven up from 375 to 400 degrees. It finally baked all the way, a knife coming out clean. Forgot toothpicks. The good news is the cake wasn’t dry. It seemed slightly dense, but not too much. It reminded me a bit of a pound cake, which I like a lot. Next time I bake a yellow cake, I will use two pans.
Baking is definitely a very humbling experience and not one to be taken lightly when working from scratch. I feel as though when I was a young girl—I baked better, with more confidence. Maybe it was because most of my baking was done at grandma’s house.