When our second baby was born, too many late night moments resembled each other; hubby and I barely awake, one eye on the telly, one eye on the baby monitor, and both alert to any incriminating footsteps from our restless young son's room. As any parent will tell you, giving your full attention to any one thing can become a rare luxury in these early years, and I know that I have become pretty crap at it.
Except, that is, when it comes to baking. For a perfectionist like me, most recipes demand that I focus solely on the task at hand. In the kitchen, I can ignore the umpteen other tasks and chores that eat my daylight hours and just make a sodding cake. Uncomplicated and rewarding AF.
As I set about turning a beloved hobby into a professional pastime, I thought it only fair that I try to share some of the tricks, tribulations and tips I've picked up from the amazing pro bakers I've been stalking on the internet, plus the gems I know personally.
First up is a simple recipe I learned from one of the most intelligent, warm, fearsome and generous people I know: my French mother, Marie-Alice. Ok, so she's not really my maman (sorry Mum!), but I've spent enough time in her house, eating her food and being told off by her for it to almost qualify. When I lived in Paris, this was the recipe she taught me for a basic gâteau au yaourt or yoghurt cake, which, I guess, is the French equivalent to a basic sponge cake. It's extremely student-friendly - no scales or proper kit required, just your empty yoghurt pot for measuring, a bowl, a wooden spoon and a tin to bake it in. Use it as a base and try adding different flavours - such as fresh blueberries, as I did with my son in the picture above. It's very quick and pretty much idiot-proof, this baby.
Gâteau au yaourt
1 single serving pot/cup of plain yoghurt
3 pots/cups self-raising flour, sifted
1.5 pots/cups caster sugar
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
0.5 cup vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsps milk
NB: Empty your yoghurt pot at the beginning, clean and dry it, then use it for measuring all other ingredients. Just use a bigger cup, keeping all proportions the same, if you want a bigger cake.
1. Grease a small loaf tin and preheat your oven to 180ºC.
2. Put your sugar, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl, stir, then make a well in the middle.
3. Lightly whisk the yoghurt and vanilla extract into the oil and pour into the well in the sugar mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon until the full mixture is wet.
4. Add the flour, mix until fully combined, then add the beaten eggs, mixing until the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If the batter is very stiff. add 1 tablespoon of the milk and mix to loosen it. Add more milk as required, mixing after each tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches a good consistency.
5. Pour the batter into your loaf tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Banana: add 2 mashed overripe bananas and 0.5 tsp cinnamon
Blueberry & chocolate: fold in a cup of fresh blueberries and 0.5 cup of dark chocolate chips right at the end, great for cupcakes.
Coconut & Nutella: add 1 tsp cocoa and 0.5 cup desiccated coconut to dry ingredients at the start, and 2 generous tbsps Nutella to the oil mixture.