Home baking has exploded these past few weeks. Instagram has been aflood with cookies, cake and ciabatta. But not every creation is social media worthy.
Above you will see a picture of a cake. A well risen, airy, no-doubt spectacular tasting cake. It is not mine. I wish it was. It's a photo I lifted from a free image site. I searched for cake and it's the first thing that came up. Cheers David Holifield from Waco, Texas.
You might remember my last article - AKA me spouting nonsense at my wife late at night and her scribbling it down in a semi-coherent fashion - Husband vs. Supermarket. Things have improved since we got closer to and finally entered level 2, though flour is still thin on the ground. Why has butter - that other crucial baking ingredient not run out? I suppose we have more cows and dairy farms than grain and mills.
There is a mysterious faction in our local area that gets up obscenely early to strip the shelves of baking products. I don't know who these Flour Mafia are but unless you're awake before the sun rises, you have no chance.
Every time I go to the supermarket, I pass by the baking section numerous times, hopeful that the stocks will have been replenished in the 20 seconds since I was last there. I spot the same people circling, doing exactly the same thing, and we look guiltily at each other.
Once, there was a rush for a single bag of flour left on the shelf. We all lunged towards it but I got there first. Triumph was short-lived as I realised it had been slashed right down the middle. White powder sprayed everywhere. A cruel joke from one of the Flour Mafia, perhaps? I can imagine them cackling as they flee the supermarket, arms spilling over with self-raising, icing sugar and baking powder.
Inexplicably, the lack of suitable ingredients made me even more determined to get my baking on these past few weeks. I don't know why. I have barely set foot in the kitchen for the past decade as my lovely wife edged me out inch by inch. I used to be able to cook. Now I burn toast. I think I was swept away in the wave that had everyone competing in their very own version of The Great Kiwi Bake Off.
It all started in the lead up to my wife's birthday. Bang smack in the middle of lockdown, the gifts I ordered might show up in time for Christmas (they're still not here, a month later), and there was not a sickly sweet pre-made cake to be found. I had to do something. So I Googled cake recipes, steeled myself and marched into the kitchen. My wife looked worried and asked me if I was lost.
I'm not going to lie. I lucked out on that first cake, a moist, flourless orange and almond masterpiece. It had been devoured within 24 hours. I brimmed with pride. I considered starting my own Instagram account: Husband Coiv-19 Craft Cake Creations. But I got cocky.
I decided to make another one for Mother's Day. Perhaps, I could get out of present buying for the rest of time, instead humbly presenting my gorgeous, made-from-the-heart man cakes instead.
I decided on a Victoria sponge. Those of you that actually know what you're doing, will sigh and ruefully shake your heads, while retrieving your perfectly baked muffins from the oven to cool. But I skimread the recipe, saw that it had four steps and minimal ingredients and was convinced it would be a walk in the park for a seasoned baker like myself.
I should have realised I was in trouble when I got stuck in and realised a few things:
1) Our kitchen is a baking wasteland. Our kitchen is woefully under-resourced for cake baking. We're renting at the moment and the owner left us with three thousand tongs and twenty five vegetable peelers. But it's a baking wasteland. No scales, which it turns out is a bit of a problem when you're cake creating. No whisk either - so I had to get innovative and use two forks, which I thought would kind of be the same. It's not.
2) I man looked for ingredients. I know it might be gender stereotyping but I firmly believe there is such a thing as man looking. Anyway, I threw a glance at the cupboard and thought, sweet, we have flour. Unfortunately, it was plain and I need self-raising. I turned to my trusty friends on Google and looked up alternatives, which resulted in me pouring half a tub of baking soda into the mix. A word of advice - don't trust the 'alternative ingredients' crowd. They're maniacs.
3) My cake mix ocean turned into a puddle. I learned too late that the only cake tins in our cupboard were the wrong size for the recipe. Rather than a bountiful ocean of cake mix, what went into my tins could be better described as a puddle. It strained towards the edges, looking more like a tuile than a towering sponge in the making.
Needless to say, the cake did not turn out well. At all. It was so bad that I didn't even let my wife take a photo of it, but it kind of looked like a cross between a pancake and an oversized custard cream.
My sister is a professional baker in London and could not contain herself when I showed her a slice of my cake via WhatsApp. She was especially impressed with just how thin the top layer was (a couple of centimetres) and how the bottom layer somehow managed to be even thinner (possibly into the millimetres). She didn't approve of my fork-whisk solution either.
Even though it would have got me evicted from any of my sister's cake making classes, at the end of the day, we ate it and we enjoyed it so it just goes to show that you can't always judge a book by its cover.
Sure, it was a bit denser than your traditional Victoria Sponge but it kept us full for so long that we saved tonnes of money on dinners. You could probably have survived on a slab of it for at least a few days. The hosts of Eat Well for Less NZ would be proud!
I haven't given up - my son's second birthday is coming up and I already have my eye on an especially decadent looking chocolate cake recipe. But I might head to the shop this time and at least buy some scales. And maybe look a little closer when I check the ingredients as well.
Maybe my career as an Insta-baker isn't dead in the water, after all.
Author: Nick Bell - much loved and appreciated husband of OOBY editor, Jen Bell.