If one day you find yourself walking down the street feeling so miserable you could cry, and on further investigation realise that there is actually nothing wrong at all except that it is February, there are worse things you could do than go home and bake a cake. If the recipe happens to be one which was passed on from your dad’s cousin to your mum before becoming part of family folklore, so much the better.
This is the cake my mum cooked for every birthday, special occasion, school bake sale or wet Sunday afternoon when we were litle. (She has now replaced it with a more sophisticated and rather delicious bitter chocolate and ground almond torte as her go-to cake recipe. It is lovely, but lacks the squish factor and nostalgic merit of this cake). Mum would carve it into shapes with the breadknife for our birthdays, and decorate it with sometimes lurid icing: grass green with tiny horses racing across the top for my sister, or an entire chocolate horse with a saddle drawn in smarties; something pink and ballet-related for me.
It’s called a sheet cake because you’re supposed to bake it in a large rectangular tin. The one my ma uses is 9″ by 12″ with sides about 1 ½” deep. I only have round tins, so I used two 9″ tins. This changes the proportion of cake to icing, because you will end up with a deeper, layer cake, which is worth bearing in mind because the icing is one of the best things about this cake (and one worth adding to your repertoire for making an ordinary sponge more exciting, too).
Please note all measurements (cups, teaspoons (tsp) and tablespoons (tbs)) are British.
4 oz butter
1/4 cup oil
1 cup water
4 tbs cocoa
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups self-raising flour
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup sour milk or yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 oz butter
4 tbs cocoa
4 tbs milk
12 oz icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to gas 6 (200°C, 400°F)
Grease and line your tin(s) – a 9″ x 2″ rectangular tin, or two 9″ tin
Place in a saucepan the butter, oil and water, and bring to the boil. Mix together the beaten eggs, sour milk or yoghurt, and vanilla essence. Mix dry ingredients, then pour over the hot butter mixture and stir well. Mix in egg and sour milk mixture, and pour into your tin(s). Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in tins for 10 mins, then turn out.
To make your icing, add butter, cocoa and milk to a large pan and bring to the boil. Add icing sugar and vanilla essence, stir well. Allow to cool until it is soft but not runny, about ten minutes. Ice cake with a spatula or palette knife, and use a fork to make patterns on the top of your cake, if desired.
(If you use the icing while it is hot, you can pour it on the cake and achieve a smooth, shiny surface (as seen in my photos, because I am impatient), but you risk the top layer sliding off the bottom, and the icing will keep pouring off the sides of your cake and onto the counter-top, leaving you with less icing on your cake. You have been warned!).
I hope this cheers up your February! All other tips gratefully received.