Monday, 6 October 2014

Foolproof baking? Putting instant gluten-free cake mix to the ultimate test...

Fellow gourmands, I know you can bake gluten-free delights in your sleep. You think nothing of having an arsenal of flours, your stocks of ground almonds would see you through a nuclear winter, and you can wield a whisk at deadly speed.

But not everyone is au fait with baking. So when the folks at Udi's sent me some of this easy chocolate cake mix, whipping it up myself felt like cheating. No, my friends, the real test of foolproof baking is putting it in the hands of someone who has never made a cake before.

Enter my lovely assistant, Wheaty...

Wheaty checks the cake instructions, with a look of incredulity that would endure
throughout the baking process. Image © Anita Isalska

Wheaty has never baked a cake. He's not dessert disinclined, but with the ready availability of wheat-filled cakes, he never had much of an incentive to make his own. And when he moved in with me and gluten-free home-baked cakes became the norm, there was no reason to rock the boat. This made him the perfect subject to road test an 'easy' instant cake, and see just how accessible the mix and its instructions are to novice chefs.

The first challenge was finding the right equipment.

"A nine-inch cake tin," Wheaty murmured, clattering through our cupboards. "This looks like nine inches to me..."

Dear reader, I didn't go there.

Nor did I balk when his 'lightly greasing the tin' involved a libation of olive oil so generous it could have loosened the axles of a heavy-duty truck.

A lack of differentiation between spoon sizes threatened to throw the butter measurements off course, but this cake mix is surprisingly forgiving to loose-elbowed chefs. And to chefs who lose a third of their butter to the kitchen counter and floor.

Pinteresters, look away now. This ineffectual whisking and batter-streaked
kitchen might be a bit too real for you. Image © Anita Isalska

"How do you make it fluffy, that barely makes sense," grumbled Wheaty, tipping the cake mix into some brutally flagellated butter. "What texture would you say this was?" he asked, indicating the half-mixed cake dough.

"Grainy? Variegated? A bit Jackson Pollock?" I offered.

"Shit. The box says it should be crumbly. I don't think I'm doing this right."

And yet, whatever the textural nuances of the batter, somehow it was starting to blend together smoothly. Generous dollops of yoghurt, per the instructions, seemed to make up for the missing butter. Although what the cake regained in mass, it quickly lost again at the raw batter tasting stage of the process. ("It's basically chocolate mousse!")

Finally, Wheaty tipped the batter into the oiled tin with an unceremonious slap. "I could smooth this out, but the oven will probably do most of the work," he opined. Once the cake was consigned to the oven, Wheaty refused to check on it until the full 40 minutes of cooking time on the packet had elapsed.

"You told me to just follow the instructions," he shrugged, now on the couch pouring himself a glass of red wine.

Not even a bit of rough handling at the final stages could ruin this
mighty tasty chocolate cake. Image © Anita Isalska

Finally roused by the beeping of our oven's timer, Wheaty retrieved the cake and looked at it with suspicion. It looked like... a cake. All the butter sacrificed to our kitchen floor, unorthodox choices of baking tools and total disinterest in the cooking process hadn't managed to ruin the final result. It was light, fragrant and (as our thorough taste test showed) very chocolatey.

The ease of making this cake might have lulled Wheaty into a false sense of security. I can foretell Wheaty's casual approach to dessert-making wreaking destruction on our ice cream maker and consigning legions of gingerbread men to a fiery death.

"I might try an orange cake next," mulled Wheaty. "With real lemons."

What could go wrong?

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