Monday, 3 February 2014

Let them eat cake.

As I mentioned in my last blog post; Marguerite Patten's recipe for "Rich queen cakes" has been the basis for every cake my family and I have made for as long as I can remember. It's a simple recipe but an effective one and even when I'm making a cake far more complicated than just flour, sugar, eggs, butter and some sultanas I always seem to come back to Marguerite to find out in what order exactly I should be adding each ingredient. (It doesn't seem to matter how many times I make cakes - I always want to add the flour first.)

I decided I would try to follow the recipe in my family's copy of Step by Step Cookery to the letter, but was thwarted when I realised I don't actually like sultanas. A quick switch for raisins had me on my way but it did lead me to wonder about what Marguerite Patten would think of my not wanting to follow her recipe exactly. Not that changing her recipe to suit my family's taste is a new phenomenon since my Mum has added a handwritten note to the recipe that says "Sprinkle caster sugar over uncooked cakes for a nice cracked effect". I find it really interesting to compare the way my mother's extra step is worded in comparison to Marguerite's recipe. Where Marguerite is as "straight" as she proclaims herself to be, with little in the way of descriptive language, my mum specifically refers to the cracked effect as being "nice". It's a lovely personal touch to a recipe that is quite cold and calculated - especially since cakes are for me a comforting food that reminds me of my childhood.

Of course this 6 step recipe can be adapted in more interesting ways than just adding a bit of sugar on the top and switching out sultanas for raisins. Marguerite herself offers some alternatives under her Rich queen cakes recipe, one of which is for "Economical queen cakes" where you essentially just use less ingredients and cook it a bit hotter - a perfectly thrifty way to still give your family a treat.

Use above recipe but reduce the margarine or butter and sugar to 2 oz. each. Bake near top of a hot oven (425-450F. or Gas Mark 6-7)

 My adaptions to the recipe, however, take Marguerite's cakes from thrifty to extravagant. I added lashings of food colouring and various different flavours to her Rich queen cakes recipe and the results couldn't be more far removed from the black and white, dull photos of my family's recipe book. One thing I'm almost certain Marguerite would disapprove of me using is the tub of Betty Crocker icing - she would definitely have tried to convince me to make my own if she could've.

As you can see the 6th step of Marguerite Patten's recipe - "Ice if liked" is one that I buy into in a huge way when making my cakes. Sometimes I take ideas from other sources - the mint chocolate cupcake was a suggestion in a Tesco magazine - but often I let my imagination run away with me using the basic recipe Marguerite has given me, and that often creates the best cakes. In this batch I've tried a Lemon & Mint combination (which really, really didn't work) and a Caramel and Chocolate one (which most certainly did). That is in essence what I believe the power of Marguerite's simple recipes to be - they teach you the skills you need to really let loose with your cooking, and I like to think she'd be proud of what I've come to achieve through her teaching.

And today? Today I finally managed to make a Red Velvet cupcake that was red and not a dull, drab pinky brown colour.

I definitely call that an achievement.

Thank you, Marguerite.

Marguerite's Secrets of Success for Rich Queen Cakes - Do not bake too slowly. Cream mixture well at stages 1-2.


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