When it comes to cooking, most of the time my starting point is, what do I have? What produce am I inspired by, or what ingredient do I have that I want to use up?
Even when I’m just randomly trawling through recipes, it usually comes down to what I happen to have in the fridge or in the fruit bowl.
My usual everyday cooking is a bit like that too. I love using the random bits at the back of the fridge or the vegie drawer and turning it into something great.
It’s partly from growing up poor and learning not to waste anything. But I also just enjoy the process of working within constraints. It seems to make my brain work better.
If I was on MasterChef, and they said “cook anything you like”, I’d flounder. But that weekly mystery box with a limited range of ingredients! That really makes my brain spark. It’s my favourite show of the MasterChef week, and I sit there endlessly thinking about what I could make from those ingredients.
Today I knew I wanted to make a cake, something new, but nothing came to mind. Until I saw this one in my favourite The New Nordic cookbook.
The ingredient that swung me? Cream. I don’t often have it in the house, but I had some leftover from a recent pav, and what I had left was exactly the amount the recipe called for. I only had a couple more days until the cream was past its use by. And I happened to have both malt and frozen berries, which were required.
It was clearly fate.
And once I was done, I really knew it was fate, because this is by far the most delicious cake I’ve cooked this year.
In usual fashion, there were some adaptations along the way. I won’t even pretend that it’s healthy – there’s lots of butter and sugar and cream to enjoy. But it certainly tasted fantastic.
Oat and berry cake (based on a Danish dream cake recipe)
In a bowl, whisk for 10 minutes, until pale and creamy:
3 large eggs
300g caster sugar
Sift and fold in:
300g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
90g butter, melted
2tsp vanilla extract
200ml cream (or substitute whole milk)
175g fresh or frozen berries (the recipe said red or black currants or blueberries; I used mixed frozen, with quite a lot of blueberries)
Pour into a greased springform cake tin and bake for 40 minutes at 190C, until firm to touch in the centre.
The cake rose a lot and was very high in the tin, and I suspect it needed to cook a few minutes longer, because at the end it sank a little right in the middle.
FOR THE TOPPING
At 35 minutes into the bake (five minutes before you’re due to take the cake out of the oven), put these ingredients into a saucepan and cook until bubbling:
40ml whole milk
200g soft brown sugar
120g rolled oat or barley flakes
2 tsp malt extract (the original recipe called for dark malt, which I suspect should be a powder, but I figured the malt extract would do, since that’s what I had)
Note: This is 2/3 of the quantities of everything that the recipe suggested for the topping. I only had 120g of rolled oats so I reduced the total. (As it happened, the cake was high and even this reduced quantity of topping bubbled over onto the oven floor. Loads of smoke and the lovely sound of smoke alarms. But the cake was fine).
Take the cake out of the oven and smear the caramel topping all over. Put it back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes. Allow it to cool a little before running a knife around the edge and taking the springform side off. I took it out at 6 minutes because it was bubbling over and making quite a mess. The recipe suggested it should cook until the edges were starting to turn dark brown, but I decided to cut my losses at that stage.
It ended up with a small sink in the middle, so overall a touch undercooked, I think mostly because it rose so much.
Verdict: Magnificent. Even with the small squidgy bit (only a very small area), this cake was the best I’ve cooked this year. It was light and fluffy and had the lovely crunchy, caramel-y, oaty topping.