This column first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Domain magazine.
Twelve years ago I made the tree change from Sydney’s inner city to Orange’s outer reaches. From apartment living – crowded trains, coffee on every corner and a drawer full of home delivery menus – I now found myself newly married, living on a farm half an hour out of town. High in enthusiasm but low on rural know-how; a love of baking was the first manifestation of this new, ‘country me’.
When I say baking, I don’t mean tricky, pretty confections; but comforting, portable slabs and slices to fill lunchboxes and cake tins. Because the one thing I quickly learnt from farm life, is that visitors are plenty and unpredictable. Plus, if someone has driven any kind of distance to visit – be it on social or professional matters – there is a quiet, gentle expectation that refreshment will be offered. Cake and tea would be lovely, thank you.
All of this is to say – it helps to have a ‘visitor cake’ up your sleeve. A recipe you can throw together in 45 minutes (including cooking time), confident in the knowledge that it will always work, will always taste good and will sit, wrapped tightly for a good few days (should leftovers be left). Then, just as you hear tyres crunching on gravel and see your visitors arriving in a cloud of dust, out comes this buttery, golden cake, fresh from the oven and smelling delicious. Your visitors will feel welcome, and you’ll feel like a legit country lady or gent. Lesson one in tree-changing is now complete.
Prep time – 10 minutes
Cook time – 35 mins
Wonderful in its own buttery glory, this cake is even better with a cup or so of chopped fresh or poached fruit stirred through the batter just before baking. You could also fold in a shot of coffee and/or a tablespoon or two of proper cocoa powder, the zest of an orange or lemon or two or a teaspoon or so of warming spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cardamom). Our household particularly likes it for pudding with warm chocolate sauce and ice cream.
250g butter at room temperature
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
4 eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cup (250g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Preheat oven to 180C and grease and line a 24cm springform cake tin with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy (this should take about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Sift the flour and baking powder together then fold this through the butter mixture. Spoon into prepared cake tin and smooth over the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until the sides of the cake are just pulling away from the tin and a skewer comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out to cool on a wire rack.