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4-2-2 and other magic numbers

The title of this post refers not, as you might suppose, to what remains of a football team formation after two players have been sent off for kicking chunks out of the opposing team or, indeed, having been caught out diving and rolling around on the ground UNlike big girls*  No, 4-2-2 is the magic formula for baking a basic cake.

*see Olympic ladies hockey team playing on with broken noses/jaws and blood pouring down their faces

What do you mean you didn’t know that? Well now you do…What does 4-2-2 mean? Oh, right, it’s the proportion of flour to sugar and butter 🙂 Of course, you need a few other things too, but it’s the basis of a cake batter that you can use to make muffins or other coarse cakes. In this instance, I used it to wrap around the damsons that were left over when I decanted my damson brandy a few days ago. Here’s the result. (The cracking is because I had to go out when the cake still needed a few minutes, so I turned off the oven and left it in there.)

See the damsons?











No boozy damsons, eh? Fear not, it works just as well with other stuff. At some time in your life, if you haven’t already, you will receive as a gift (probably for Christmas), a nice jar containing some kind of fruit in booze or boozy syrup. You will make polite noises to hide your bewilderment, then consign it to the back of a shelf in the cupboard and forget all about it. Years later, you may unearth it and throw it out because it’s out of so out of date you aren’t prepared to risk using it and you never knew what you were supposed to do with it anyway. Sound familiar? Well, if it doesn’t, the time will come, but you will be prepared. Here, my friends, is a use for the contents of that jar. In the meantime, you can practise with fresh plums, other soft fruits, even tinned fruit or preserves, but if you like the boozy aspect, try soaking some sultanas or raisins in your favourite liqueur. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can always add some cocoa powder for a quick and easy chocolate cake. The possibilities are endless.

So without further ado, here is the recipe for my Happy Cake. (We named it that because the brandy soaked damsons put a very big grin on DD’s face #parentingfail).

Happy Cake

4-2-2 ratio Plain flour-butter-caster sugar (I used 8oz flour to 4oz of butter/sugar)
1 egg
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract**
a little milk
fruit and/or 4-5tbsp cocoa powder (hey, there’s no reason you can’t have fruit AND chocolate ;))

icing sugar for dusting

**You can use vanilla flavouring but real Madagascan Vanilla Extract is very worth the price.

Grease or oil a baking dish and pre-heat the oven to a medium heat (around 180C)

Sift the flour, cocoa powder (if using) and baking powder into a bowl. Melt the butter just enough so that it is liquid (I put it in the microwave on a low setting until it’s mostly melted and then mix it until it has all melted). Add the sugar and vanilla extract and mix well. Ensuring that the mixture is not hot, add the egg and whisk well, adding a little milk. Pour the liquid into the flour and mix/beat in with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, thick batter. (The consistency should be the same as muffin batter. Add more milk/flour if needed.) Stir in the fruit and pour the batter into the prepared dish. Bake for about half an hour or until done. I tend to bake by smell – if it smells done, it usually is, but I always do a quick test with a cocktail stick just to check).  Remove from oven, allow to cool, dust with icing sugar (mine also contained cinnamon) and enjoy 😀

So, onto part two of this kitchen alchemy post. My friends on Facebook will be aware that I finally cracked the art of making ciabatta. I have been attempting to make loose textured, holey bread like Foccacia and Ciabatta for some time now, but after a promising start, the texture has always ended up too close and a bit more like ordinary bread. This time, I got it (almost) right) – I may have under-baked it slightly as the centre of the loaf was a little crumpet-like or my dough could have been a little too wet after the addition of the mushrooms (yes, it was wild mushroom ciabatta), but on the whole I was very pleased with the results.

I’m not going to give you a recipe for this as there are plenty out there on the interwebs. What I will do, is to share the ingredients you need get that texture:

  1. Time and Patience. These are not breads that you can knock up in a couple of hours. This one was started days before baking. It’s the same principle as sourdough breads and the fermentation gives the bread its distinctive flavour. If you think it’s ready to go in the oven, walk away and give it a bit longer.
  2. Stretch and Fold. Although initially you knead to activate the gluten, subsequently you need to stretch and fold the dough to introduce more air. Do not knock back, just stretch and fold the dough several times, allowing it at least an hour to rise in between. It will not puff up as much as the initial proving, but each time it will rise again to double its size after the folding process has reduced it.
  3. Refrigerate. If you want do this in stages, you can slow the process by putting the bread in the fridge. It will rise more slowly and can be left overnight, rather than you needing to be on hand for several hours to work the dough.
  4. Moistness. You may have noticed that my bread is in a deep dish. This is because the dough needs to be much wetter than for ordinary bread. Mine could have done with being a little firmer, but essentially, it does need to be almost runny, such that it will tend to splay and spread rather than hold a shape. No nice cottage loaves here.
  5. Olive oil. It’s no secret that this style of bread contains olive oil, but to prevent the dough becoming stiff, work it with oiled hands on an oiled, rather than floured surface.

…and the magic numbers:

7 – The number of days before baking that I started this bread

15 – the number of minutes I was allowed to knead the loaf before DD demanded to have a go at getting her hands covered in the sticky mess.

20 – the number of minutes that it took to get the sticky mess off my and her hands (you can’t just wash off perfectly good dough)

3 – The number of days the final dough was left to ferment

5 – the number of times the dough was stretched and folded and allowed to rise before the final bake

2 – the number of pounds (give or take) that will save you the trouble of doing all this yourself

0 – the amount of satisfaction you will get from not doing it yourself

As always, do let me know if you are going to try any of this and how you get on 🙂

10 October 2012

4 Comments to “4-2-2 and other magic numbers”

  1. Love the idea of your boozy damson cake, but even with my bad maths, no way could I wait that long for 1 loaf of bread 😀

  2. Will you marry me?

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