While I have a true passion for food and cooking I have failed, totally, to pass this on to my children and it is all my fault.
Instead of being like one of those mothers on television advertisements, patient and sweet, happily watching as their little angels begin to discover the tactile pleasures of the culinary arts, I hovered anxiously, worrying about kitchen hygiene and safety and becoming quietly hysterical at the thought of the clean up at the end of it all and the limited hours in my day in which to do it. I struggled with control issues, not always overcoming the urge to step in and “help” out when I could see the children grappling with the cracking of eggs or the mixing of a heavy batter.
This is where an indulgent, attentive grandmother would have come in very handy to pick up my slack, creating happy kitchen memories as she forged a bond with her grandchildren, but that was not an option available to me at the time. However, I did have the great fortune to stumble across some very capable and energetic babysitters who seemed to enjoy the company of the kids almost as much as they desired the pittance that I paid them! Once I became comfortable with the notion that the children could actually survive for some hours at a time without my presence, I leapt at the opportunity to enjoy some adult time, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to have some fun in the kitchen with someone a little more relaxed about it all. Obviously, steamed vegetables and nutritionally balanced meals were not high on their agendas, but anything with chocolate and the baking of cakes was!
As a result of this, my eldest who is now 19, is very fond of making cupcakes. While she prefers not to eat them, she seems to find the process therapeutic and will often whip up a batch when either very stressed or, conversely, very happy, taking great pleasure in the finished product. She has become extremely good at baking them, too, and is very popular with her younger sister at birthday times when overt displays of obsequious sisterly affection become just a little nauseating.
The most popular cake recipe by far comes from a lovely book by Tessa Kiros, called “Apples for Jam” which is a collection of recipes that have been passed through families and swapped between friends. Kiros has put these recipes together with memories from her childhood and some beautiful photo’s of her own daughters to create a warm book full of family-friendly dishes that just make me want to go to the kitchen and cook up some love for my family.
This is a beautiful buttery cake and not for weight watchers. We always use butter, never margarine, and always cream the butter and sugar for at least 3-5 minutes. Kiros’ original recipe uses vanilla extract, but we prefer “Queens” Vanilla Paste for a much better flavour. If using vanilla essence, never, ever use the imitation stuff – yuk! – spend a few cents more and buy natural vanilla essence. She also suggests substituting pouring cream for the buttermilk, but I prefer to stick with the buttermilk. You could try substituting a good quality plain yoghurt if buttermilk is unavailable. This can be baked as cupcakes or one large cake. If baking in one pan, cook for about 45 minutes.
250 gm softened butter
250 gm caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
290 gm plain flour
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
185 ml (3/4 cup) buttermilk
Preheat oven to to 180C and prepare patty pans.
Cream butter and sugar well using electric beaters or stand mixer. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla, then sift in flour and baking powder. Beat well, adding buttermilk a little at a time.
Spoon into patty pans and bake for 20-25 minutes, using a skewer or toothpick to check if done.
When cool ice and decorate.
100 gms softened butter
200 gms icing sugar
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp milk
Place butter, sugar and vanilla in bowl, beating on low speed until incorporated, add milk slowly and increase speed until icing is smooth, but spreadable.
We threw caution to the winds and added cocoa to make chocolate icing for ours.