Annabel Langbein: 1 cake 3 ways (+ recipes)
Returning to New Zealand in my 20s, after a couple of years backpacking the globe, I got a job as a microwave consultant. No one could believe it, let alone me.
My sole experience with microwaves was limited to working in a pub in England, where every day a man would come in and ask for a cornish pasty and a beer for his lunch. The pasties were kept in the freezer and our instructions were to microwave them for 1 minute to heat them through. I always popped the pasty back in for a bit longer, hoping it might come out a bit less anaemic. It didn't.
About three days into serving up my microwaved pasties to this bloke, he shoved his plate in my face so I could see the black carbonated centre. "If you ever burn them again I'm going to report you to management," he hissed, throwing the plate down on the counter and walking out.
When I landed the microwave job back in New Zealand, I was none the wiser as to how microwaves actually worked. My new employers handed me a huge box with a shiny new microwave machine in it and sent me off. No lessons, no explanations.
I went to my sister's house out at Scorching Bay, unpacked the box and made a carrot cake. After 10 minutes the cake had risen but was deathly pale, so I put it on for another 10 minutes and then another and another.
When I finally took the cake out 50 minutes later it still looked pale and unappetising and I found myself wondering why people might want a machine like this. Taking the cake out of the tin, I realised that I had, in effect, constructed a new building material - my cake was as hard as concrete.
I was reminded of this cooking disaster the other day when we were filming some online cooking clips with Toni Street, Niva Retimanu and Sam Wallace. The soundie on our shoot came up and said, "You probably won't remember me, but many years ago we worked on a shoot together. You turned up with a generator and a trestle table and a wagonload of microwaves to cater a short film."
It all came back. I had moonlighted from my microwave job to cater this shoot - my first ever catering job - and from its success I set up my own little catering business, which I called Hot on the Spot.
I don't think I've microwaved a cake since that disastrous day at the beach. When it comes to cakes I find it hard to go past my Miracle Cake - a brilliant base recipe that you can turn into a multitude of different cakes that are all light, tender and moist. And there's no microwave involved.
In baking, the process of beating butter and sugar together is known as creaming, and it is used to deliver lightness to your cake mixtures, as the butter softens and warms and fluffs up with the sugar trapping in the air.
I add the ricotta in here as well as it assists in holding air to make the cake nice and light. If you don't have ricotta you can use cottage cheese instead, but you'll need to drain off any liquid first then break up the lumps by beating the cottage cheese by itself before adding the butter and sugar.
When you add the eggs the mixture sometimes curdles but don't worry about this, it doesn't affect the end texture of the cake. You could also add 1½ cups chocolate chips or 1½ cups chopped dried fruit, such as cranberries, to the base mix. Get the recipe
These are just three of the clever Springboard Recipes in Annabel's new book Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a beautiful compendium of more than 650 of her best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.