… I probably still wouldn’t have baked you a cake. I can’t quite explain why I have never really taken to baking – my love of cooking is mostly about the happy noises people make when eating the results, and people often go “mmmmm” when tucking into something sweet, spongy and chocolatey. I have an ego that likes to be massaged; there are unfortunately few occasions when people are vocally impressed by something I’ve done and, as cooking offers the most reliable source of positive feedback, I put some effort in, and the dividends normally justify the investment. So cakes should represent an easy pleasure hit.
It’s not that I don’t like patisserie either. My wife knocks up a tray of buns every now and again, and I am usually first in the queue to enjoy the results. I used to claim not to have a sweet tooth, but I’ve long since stopped trying to deceive myself; yes, as often as not I prefer a savoury snack to a sugary one, but put a box of chocolates in front of me and I’ll grab the orange truffle before you can blink.
Baking is more of a science than everyday cooking, and that should appeal to my scientific nature – I did A-levels in physics and mathematics so I should be happiest when following exact instructions to get known results. You can’t ad-lib with bakery. I tend to get a feel for how much chilli powder, coriander or soy sauce to add to a main course, but if you try the same with flour or butter your pastries will more often than not be compromised. This is why it is often the case that cakes and biscuits made en masse in supermarkets are every bit as good as, and often better than, those you can create at home; it is all about getting the proportions right, and machines are far more reliable at that than we are.
The exception is cheesecakes, which probably don’t really count as cakes anyway. I love a good cheesecake, but the ones I tend to make aren’t the light, baked variety – they are the heavy, creamy, fridge-finished ones with a thick, spicy base. The below is one I have enjoyed many times; you can vary the biscuits used in the base to suit your taste, but I find the tang and crunch of the ginger biscuits balances the sweet, creamy filling.
Easy white chocolate cheesecake (serves 6 at a push, 2 if you’re feeling greedy)
- Half pack of ginger nuts (or I’ve found a couple of gingerbread men with the features removed works well)
- 2oz butter
- 250g ricotta
- 250g mascarpone
- Few drops of vanilla extract
- 100g white chocolate
Turn the biscuits into crumbs with a blender or a food bag and rolling pin. Melt the butter, stir in the crumbs and press evenly into the bottom of a greased sandwich tin. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, and cream together with the cheeses and vanilla extract (whip the mixture if you prefer it a little lighter). Spread over the biscuit base and chill for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Finish with some grated chocolate and, if you have some, finely chopped stem ginger.