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Is it possible to bake a cake with no recipe?

Before you start accusing me for ruining your next cake, dare I say the answer is, yes. Of course you can bake a cake without recipes. I know how everyone thinks baking is so difficult that you must follow the recipes to a T or else your soufflé will collapse on your, and another kitten will die. Oh no you don’t!

Many centuries go, before someone was actually writing down the ingredients used, the methods on how the cake was made and then called it a ‘recipe’, I am sure it all started as a trial and error in the kitchen, and that someone must have decided to mix egg, butter, flour and sugar together and hoping for the best. In theory, it should work and some form of cake would come out of the oven, it might not be the best tasting ‘cake’ but it is something.

So I was craving for something sweet last night and decided to bake a cake. A chocolate cake with hazelnuts on top to be exact. I didn’t have a recipe to follow, and I was too lazy to measure my ingredients, but somehow I managed to bake a cake, a cake is good enough to eat that inspires me to write this post. It definitely gives the terms “blind baking” a whole new meaning. Trust me, all you need is to understand the nature of the ingredients, gut instincts and a little sparks of creativity in the kitchen, and the cake will rise, unicorn will fly and the rainbow will shine.

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For this chocolate cake, I want something a little denser than a normal cake but still with good crumbs, light enough to go with a cup of tea. Here are a list of ingredients that I chucked into the mix and the reasons why:

Butter

Butter is flavour for the cake and is also the component to control the crumb of the cake, whether you want your cake light, airy, dense, moist or dry. More butter used means a heavier, rich cake but still soft, a tad greasy on the crumbs. Less butter will give you a dryer, crumbly cake. Oil also sometimes is used to replace the butter, and the cake will definitely be a lot heavier than a butter cake.

Flour

Flour has gluten, gluten is the component to form a cake and hold its structure when baking, that’s what we called “crumbs”. The soft or heavy crumbs all depends on the amount of flour used as well. When you see a ‘flour less cake’ recipe, then you will expect it to be a very dense, moist cake without too much crumbs in the cake. You can’t bake a cake without flour, else you would call it a flan or custard. Almond meal is the most common ingredient to substitute flour for those who are allergic to gluten.

Almond Meal

I used almond meal in this recipe as well because I want the cake to be moreish than a normal butter sponge cake. The almond meal releases its natural nutty oil which moisten the cake when baking. The crumb is coarser than a normal flour cake, so don’t expect the cake is going to be light and fluffy.

Egg

Egg also adds flavour to the cake, but more importantly; egg is also the binding agent for the cake and helps it to rise. If you have made a spongecake before then you would know that the only rising agent is egg, no baking powder or bi-carb. Obviously for spongecake, the eggs are treating different by whisking the egg white separately to incorporate air into the egg so it rises like fluffy pillow when baking. In this case, we simply incorporate the eggs with the flour so when the cake rises, the gluten forms the structure of the cake, and the egg is the cement and bind them together.

Sugar

Self explanatory really, sugar adds sweetness to the cake. Just be mindful what you going to add on to the cake afterwards, like icing, buttercream, or serve with ice cream, caramel or any other sweet stuff. Then you might want to reduce the sugar in your cake mix a little. The quantity of sugar used in any cake will not affect the end result of a cake but only the taste. What do you mean you quit sugar?

Bi-carb Baking Soda

Usually you do need bi-carb baking soda when you are baking a cake. Unless you are rely on the egg to be the rising agent, then you will need the baking soda to do the job. Again, common sense really, more bi-carb in the cake, it will rise higher, and the crumb will be lighter and crumbly, less bi-carb makes a denser cake with firmer texture like a brownie.

Milk/water

The wetting agent. We are making a cake without measuring all the ingredients here, it is all by feel and gut instincts. So it is not surprise that sometimes the cake batter can be too dry or too wet. If the cake mixture is too dry, add some milk, a little at a time. Keep stirring until a thick cake batter is formed. If the cake is too wet, don’t panic, add more flour. The cake batter can be a bit runny, you just need to cook the cake in oven a little bit longer and it might not rise as high as a cake with a thicker batter.

Etc

Chocolate cake adds chocolate or cocoa powder to the cake. Usually a chocolate cake that is made by only using chocolate block will not give you that dark rich chocolate colour that you were hoping for. The secret is to add cocoa powder, you don’t need a lot of it so it doesn’t really change the texture or the flavour of the cake that much.

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That’s all you need to make a chocolate cake really. If you really want me to write a recipe for this cake, then here goes.

A chocolate cake with no recipe’s recipe

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and line a springform tin with baking papers.

I put maybe about a cup of butter with half a block of dark chocolate in a heatproof pyrex jug. Put jug in the microwave, and zap it for 20 seconds, give it a stir, then zap again for 15 seconds this time, stir again. Repeat zapping one or two more time, stir until chocolate has melted and mix in with butter.

Whisk 2 eggs with about 1 cup of sugar in a mixing bowl until sugar has dissolved. Add chocolate mixture and stir to combine. Sift a cup of flour, a tsp of baking soda, maybe 1/4 cup of cocoa powder into the wet mixture, stir until full incorporated. Stir in 1/2 cup of almond meal, add some milk, a tablespoon at a time, if is too dry. The batter should be very thick but flow like lava.

Pour batter into the tin, sprinkle a few hazelnuts on top. You can use anything really. Bake in oven for 40 minutes. For 40 minutes, it will be a completely dry cake. You can bake 5 minute less, if you want your cake a little moist on the inside.

Well, there you have it. Happy baking!

P/S: If it fails, just don’t call it a cake, call it something else.