Recipe: Vicki Ravlich-Horan | Photography: Ashlee deCaires

175g butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs (size 7)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1¼ cup flour
1½ tsp baking powder

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  
Add the vanilla extract then eggs one at a time, beating well between each.
Fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined.  
Pour batter into a greased tin (21cm round or 21cm square) and then bake at 175°C for 25–35 minutes.

Easy variations

  • Yoghurt Berry Sandwich. Split the cake in half or bake two and sandwich them with yoghurt and berry compote. Dust with icing sugar and violà.
  • Lemon and poppy seed cake. Mix the zest and juice of a lemon with 2 tbsp of poppy seeds in the mix after folding in the flour.
  • Seed cake. A favourite of my grandfathers; fold in 2 tbsp of caraway seeds with the flour.
  • Strawberry and white chocolate. Mix 150g of melted white chocolate in with the creamed butter, sugar and egg. Once baked and cooled, top with fresh strawberries and shaved white chocolate.
  • Citrus loaf. Add the zest of two lemons or oranges into the batter. Make a syrup by heating the juice of the lemons or oranges and equal quantities of sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup over the warm loaf.

Tips for success

  • The butter needs to be soft but not melted. If you have forgotten to get the butter out to soften, don’t be tempted to nuke it in the microwave, this will almost always mean melted butter. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in a warm place, it will soften in no time.
  • Creaming the butter and sugar is a crucial step and unless you are up for a serious work out, best done with an electric mixer. Don’t confuse mixing with creaming. When you cream sugar with butter, the water in the butter starts to dissolve the sugar, trapping air as tiny bubbles in the fat. It is these bubbles that will make the cake rise when it bakes.
  • Use room temperature eggs and add them one at a time—this makes it easier for them to incorporate into the butter and sugar and avoid the mixture curdling. The egg proteins strengthen those precious air bubbles you made by creaming the butter and sugar, so when heated the air can expand and turn to steam causing the cake to rise.

Good quality vanilla will turn a plain cake into a delicious cake. Vanilla is a natural flavour enhancer, note I say ‘natural’. Throw out those fake vanilla essences and invest in the real deal—vanilla extract. There are now a number of great versions readably available, especially at great food stores like Red Kitchen (in Te Awamutu and Hamilton) and The Herbal Dispensary (Raglan).  Vetro (Third Ave, Tauranga)

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