Unlike in many of my other recipes and methods, you will find me a little more specific in the instructions here. This is because baking, while still an art like all cooking, needs a bit of precision; we are talking chemical reactions here, and a little bit more or less of something can make a profound difference to the finished cake. However, you do still have some leeway. You cannot eliminate all the variables: how dry is your flour, how exact is your oven thermostat, how big is a medium egg? Take note of the result, and juggle your method a little next time – perhaps a slightly longer bake at a lower temperature will work best in your oven, for example. Fine tuning is the name of the game here, but as long as you follow the instructions reasonably carefully you will end up with a perfectly good cake on your very first attempt. It may be kitchen science, but it ain’t rocket science!
I am suggesting you use two 7inch/18cm cake tins, each at least 1inch/3cm deep, to give you the two pieces of your sandwich. However, you can easily use a deeper tin and slice the cake in half horizontally once cooled. Some writers will tell you that there are dire consequences for using the wrong sized tin; in fact, there is more flexibility than they allow. If you only have a 6inch/15cm tin, then your cake mix will be deeper, so will need a slightly longer cooking at a lower temperature. If you have 8inch/20cm tins, then you will need less time in the oven. You could even use square or rectangular tins. Or go buy the seven inch tins…
To prepare your cake tin(s): Grease thoroughly but thinly with butter, then add a spoonful or so of flour, and shake well around, tilting the tin as you go, until there is a fine dusting of flour covering all the butter. Tip out any excess flour. This makes a pretty good non-stick surface (and you should still do it even if you are using non-stick tins) but you can also cut a disc of greaseproof paper or baking parchment to line the bottom of the tin if you’d like to be absolutely sure.
As well as the cake tins, you will need a cake rack/grid to cool the finished cake out of its tin.
A note re vanilla: keep a vanilla pod in the jar of sugar you use for baking – this gives a lovely flavour, and you won’t need to add vanilla to the cake mix. If you don’t have vanilla sugar, use vanilla extract for a purer, cleaner flavour – NOT anything called “vanilla essence” or “vanilla flavouring”, as these are cheap-but-nasty and do not give you the authentic flavour.
4 oz/110 grams self-raising flour, or plain/all purpose flour with baking powder added to the quantity suggested on the packet (some baking powders are more reactive than others) – probably around a teaspoon or so.
4 oz/110 grams good quality butter, preferably unsalted
4 oz/110 grams caster sugar/fine granulated sugar
2 medium-to-large eggs, beaten
A few drops of vanilla extract, if not using vanilla sugar – see note above
A pinch of salt (this brings out the sweetness and the other flavours, and will not make your cake taste salty)
For the filling:
Cream whipped to stiff peak (you can turn the bowl upside down without the cream falling out), or clotted cream
Preparation time: 5 – 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes
Finishing/assembly: 2 – 3 minutes
Set the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F, with the shelf at middle height.
Cream the butter and sugar – this means to whisk, whisk, and whisk again until the sugar and butter have blended to a pale fluffiness. Your granny will tell you to do this by hand, which is fine if you have strong wrists. Frankly, it is much easier to do it with an electric whisk or in a food processor.
Add roughly half the flour, sifted, and half the eggs and whisk until blended. Add the remaining flour and eggs, the pinch of salt and the vanilla extract (if using). Whisk again, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until thoroughly mixed and you have a light, fluffy mixture. (Adding the flour and eggs in two stages prevents any chance of the dreaded “curdling” of the eggs – I have made literally thousands of cakes by this method, and have never had one go wrong.)
Split the mixture between the tins, smooth out with a palette knife or the back of a spoon (you don’t have to be exact, it will find its own level as it cooks), and place in the centre of the oven. If you can’t fit both tins on the same shelf, put one tin onto the low shelf of the oven and wait ten minutes until you put in the second on the higher shelf. Shut the oven door as gently as you can, so as not to knock any air out of the mix. Start the timing now. Avoid the temptation to peek – opening the oven door too early can cause the cake to fall.
After twenty minutes, it is safe to look: the cakes may be ready now, or may need a little longer. What you are looking for is the cake to be very slightly shrinking away from the sides of the tin, the top of the cake feeling “springy” to the touch, and a skewer into the centre of the cake should come out dry and clean. If they need a little longer, you may also take this opportunity to swap the cake from the lower shelf with the higher if necessary.
Once cooked as above, remove the cakes from their tins to a cake rack and allow to cool completely (don’t forget to peel off the greaseproof paper/baking parchment if you’ve used it.
Once cool (now is the time to cut the cake horizontally in half if you’ve had to make one thick one rather than two thin) spread one cake with jam, the other with the whipped cream and sandwich together. Dust the top lightly with icing/confectioners sugar from a dredger or through a sieve or tea strainer.
This all sounds a bit long-winded, but it is actually very simple and intuitive: once you’ve made your first successful cake, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is, and soon be baking up a storm.