a foodie's chronicles about the plated pleasures of life :)
when i was younger, i used to watch my mum bake and even helped her out occassionally, but didn’t really pursue it as a hobby or otherwise, until a couple of years back when a turn of events led me to realise my latent love for baking – events that involved this recipe. so, this is a special one for me. i might even go so far to say this is the recipe – the one that re-kindled my interest in baking and led me to the wonderful world z food blogs. want to hear the story? well, here goes.
sometime in 2008, my brother dropped by singapore for a holiday. his birthday was not exactly close by, but i decided to celebrate it anyway. i had dinner and after-dinner plans sorted out, and hit upon the thought of baking a cake for him as well – by way of a surprise! there were a couple of hitches though: one, me and the friends who were joining in were all vegetarians, so making a cake with eggs was not an option. two, i didn’t own an oven - only a normal microwave. it seemed a bit hard to get past the hurdles, but i turned to Google for help and after some searching, came across this recipe (given below with notes). i baked the cake, grappling with the nuances of baking for the first time. i had to beat all the ingredients by hand (which was a good reminder of just how little exercise my arms were receiving until then). i remember rushing to get it done so that my brother wouldn’t know what i was upto. i was using a ceramic dish (the only microwave-proof dish i had) which was a bit big and had to be forced in without the rotating plate. and finally, when i did manage to get the cake done, i slathered some melted chocolate on top, sprinkled chocolate rice over it and stuck a decorated cookie and red bow on top for decoration. needless to say, my brother was a bit surprised that i had made a cake without an oven. we sang happy birthday, cut the cake and ate pieces of it (i was surprised that it actually held out until then!) i still have photographs from that day, with a part of the cake peeking in from an unobstrusive corner of a photo. when my brother said the cake was good, it just made my day (or evening, more like) :)
from that day on, i found myself returning to some of the websites i had seen and linking in to other websites and blogs that boasted drool-worthy recipes and photos. i started to linger at the baking aisles at the stores and began to realise that there was whole world to explore here. along the way, i started to collect recipes and as one thing led to another, i was on my way to baking/cooking and blogging. having gotten a table-top oven sometime back, i didn’t revisit this recipe for a while - until about a week or two back, when i baked it for a friend’s birthday. this time round, i had more tools and some knowledge on baking and decoration, which made it easier to handle the task. i had been wanting to put up this recipe for a while and having the chance to bake it was just about the excuse i needed. and while you may wonder if making a cake in a microwave can really stand up to one baked in an oven, i assure you it can - and the fact that the folks at the bday party loved the cake was testimony to that
400 g Sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup Butter (softened)
1- 3/4 cups Self-raising flour
1/2 cup Cocoa powder
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Vanilla essence
1/2 cup Caster sugar
150 ml Soda water (plain)
2/3 cup Butter
3 cups Icing sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla essence
Colouring (as needed)
2 – 3 tbsp Fresh milk (use as needed to make icing less stiff)
Nutella (didn’t measure this out – just used as much as i wanted from the jar)
First things first – you need a microwave-safe baking dish for this. In my experience, silicon cake pans (9- or 10-inch) are the best – they allow for even heat distribution and release from the cake very easily. And please choose one that fits in with your rotating plate – you need the full functionality of the microwave. However, this cake only lends itself to a round/square full cake - this does not work for cupcakes. While baking, i have only greased and lightly dusted my pan before pouring in cake batter, so you don’t need to use baking/parchment paper to line the pan. Also, when prepping your ingredients for the cake do not open the can or bottle of soda water until you come to adding it into the batter – keeping it open will cause the gas to escape, which it the most important ingredient to help make your cake rise. The cake might rise spectacularly when its in the microwave, but it will deflate once its out – so if you’re planning on a birthday cake, be sure to make two cakes and make a layer cake. Finally, please do set aside atleast a day if you are planning on making a frosted-decorated cake – it takes a lot of time to cool the cake and frost it, so you don’t want to be stressed out by the clock when you are doing it – trust me, i speak from experience! Alrighty, enough of the notes, lets get down to baking.
Making the cake:
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar, add in the vanilla essence and mix. Then add in the condensed milk bit by bit and mix until everything is well combined. Add in the sifted flour mixture in batches and fold it in. When it is mixed in well (no lumps should remain), measure out and pour in the soda water and mix it in quickly. Pour the batter immediately into your cake pan, tap the pan lightly on the counter and then put in the microwave on High for 4 to 5 minutes. When the time ends, put on Medium for the same length of time (as it was on High). When the cake is done, hold in the pan for about for 5 minutes (it is very important to hold it in the pan as the heat helps to cook the cake in the final stages) and then turn it over onto a wire rack to cool completely .
Making the buttercream frosting:
Sift the icing sugar and keep aside. Cream the butter well and add in the icing sugr bit by bit and cream, until all the icing sugar is mixed in with the butter. Add the vanilla essence and mix it in well. Measure and add the in milk spoon by spoon – creaming the icing mixture after each spoon is added in – until your icing is stiff, yet creamy and spreadable. To add the colouring (if using), dip a toothpick into the colour and then into the frosting – and mix it in thoroughly. Add in colouring in the same way (mixing thoroughly each time you add in a bit) until you reach the desired shade.
Frosting/Decorating the cake:
Once your cake layers have cooled completely, take one of the layers and position it on you cake board or plate, leaving a margin of space around the edges (one tip i have learnt is to use cake boards that are atleast 3 inches larger in diameter than my cake pans – i.e., a 12-inch cake board for a 9-inch cake). The margin allows room for extra decoration if needed and as well, looks better than a cake crammed onto a plate. Spread a generous amount of frosting or any other filling on the first layer (i used Nutella), leaving a space around the edges of the cake. Some bakers pipe the filling in concentric circles on the layer to ensure even distribution. Now, place the other layer on top and sandwich the cakes together.
Once this is done, look on top and around the cake to check if the edges are even – and oftentimes you may lots of bumps, excess ridges and even uneven surfaces. No worries, this is the time to correct any rough edges and uneven bulges. Using a knife with a broad edge (for best results, use a regular one with an even edge), move it along the top and edge of the cake, applying slight pressure when you encounter any bumps – this is to ensure an even surface on which to frost. While even-ing out the edge, keep turning the cake such that the knife is kept close to you - this will ensure that you are able to see just how much you are cutting and if it is going according to a smooth line. Don’t worry if the cutting produces a surface that is crumbly or uneven, or if there are any holes - you can patch it all up with loads of frosting
Once you have even-ed out the cake, take a liberal dose of frosting, drop it on top of the cake and start to spread it around the top and sides with a spatula. This is only the first coat, so use only half of the frosting. Ideally, you should separate your frosting into two bowls - this will ensure that you do not dip your spatula back into the bowl with your frosting and have cake bits mixed in with your “clean” frosting. Always keep in mind that you need the second half to be crumb-free for the next round. As you spread the frosting, bits from the cake will start getting mixed in with frosting, thereby giving you a grainy, marbley-looking frosting surface - this is called the “crumb coat”. Once the cake is completely covered with the crumb coat, pop it into the fridge for atleast 20 minutes – this is essential as the frosting will harden during this time and hold the crumbs in place when you do the second round of frosting, thereby allowing you to frost a more even layer with greater ease.
Once the frosting has set, take out the cake and put on a second layer with the remaining frosting on top, even-ing it out again with your spatula. This time round, you have to be careful and ensure that the frosting on the top and sides is evenly distributed. Here’s a tip for a really smooth finish: pop your cake back in the fridge after frosting it for another 20 minutes, take it out, place a piece of parchment paper over any lines or bumps and smooth it down with your fingers. Another way to even out the layer is to hold your spatula in hot water for a few minutes, wipe it clean of water and then lightly run it over the edge (but i haven’t tried this yet, so i can’t really say anything much about how good a technique it is).
Once your second layer is done, you can either start to pipe your decoration onto the cake or pop it back into the fridge to ensure that the top and sides are firm (this makes sure that even if you accidentally touch the frosting, it won’t smudge or come apart in a messy manner). Whew! Now is the time to relax, stretch your limbs, twiddle your fingers for a bit and maybe even grab a glass of ice-cold coke! When you are rested, prepare your frosting/decoration that will go on top. You can make more buttercream frosting and tint it with your favourite colours; throw on dragees, candy or sugar hearts; or even use fresh fruit to decorate. There are really no rules to this – it just depends on how grand you want your cake to be and just what you would like to see on it. You also get ready-to-use frosting in tubes in different colours in stores. I went with a simple design (using my friend’s name as part of a funny-face pattern) and used Nutella to pipe it on. If you are piping with frosting, be sure to test out the consistency first by piping on a piece of baking paper or a plate – this is to ensure that the icing flows smoothly but is not too runny as well.
Well, here is the final, final cake – all ready to be popped into the box and taken away to the party! The face didn’t really have a nose, but we solved that at the bday dinner by sticking a candle in its place Given that it was made over one afternoon, it wasn’t the best i could have done, but i was still quite pleased with it The next time you get an occassion to make a cake, do try this out – its well worth the effort and time.
*Photography by Saraswathi Raja Krishnan