I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Donna Hay.
The love comes mainly from admiration – seriously, have you opened one of her cookbooks recently? The photos, the styling, the flavour combinations – if I’m ever feeling uninspired, it’s Donna to whom I turn.
However, despite the ‘fast, fresh, simple’ tagline, I can’t say I’ve ever found any of her recipes (particularly for baking) all that quick, or even simple. The flavours are simple, sure. But the recipes themselves can sometimes have too many or too few steps, and either require ridiculously expensive or difficult-to-find ingredients.
I remember my first cookbook was Donna Hay magazine’s annual kids issue – the first volume of it, in fact. I loved that thing. Even as a ten-year-old I would read it again and again, bake the same things again and again, and spend an unnecessary amount of time decorating cupcakes to perfection.
But what frustrated me, even back then, was the recipes and the ingredients. Often cakes would call for a mixture of plain flour, baking soda and baking powder – I’d say this is overkill for a magazine aimed at kids, when self-raising flour is readily available. Similarly, the recipes were often so simple as to not give enough direction. I could never recreate the pictures and it annoyed me, even though I now know that is quite a difficult thing to do, even for much more experienced cooks than me. Despite all this, and even after all these years, I still cook from Donna’s magazine, buy most of her new cookbooks, and flick through the pages when I’m bored.
So this brings me to what I baked today – an adaptation of Donna’s simple apple and blueberry cake from Fast, Fresh, Simple. It sounds easy, and the recipe makes it look easy, but to be honest I was disappointed with my results. Some of this probably comes from errors on my part – not softening the butter well enough, for example – and possibly oversights in the recipe itself. I’m always a bit doubtful of “chuck everything in the mixer” recipes, but they sometimes do work. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of those times.
I adapted the recipe slightly to suit the ingredients I had on hand, which wasn’t the issue. My first main problem was that my butter was not soft enough, so it didn’t blend into the cake batter properly, as there was no butter-sugar creaming step. This meant the cooked cake ended up tasting overly like butter, as the small chunks of butter melted into the cake – this sounds like it could be a good thing, but it wasn’t in this case. Imagine putting extra butter on top of a cooked cake – not nice.
My second issue was, as always, the cake looked absolutely nothing like the beautiful picture it was meant to. The cake rose around and above all of the fruit, so it didn’t look like a fruit cake at all. I don’t know what I could do to avoid this, apart from putting more fruit on top.
That said, I am more than willing to overlook an ugly cake if it tastes good. Unfortunately this one did just not stack up. Even with the supposedly easy one bowl, two step recipe, it still took a while to prepare with the chopping and cleaning, and all for not so good results, tastewise. That said, I might try this cake again, with super soft butter. I’ll post an update here when I do.
Apple and Strawberry Vanilla Cake, adapted from Donna Hay’s Fast, Fresh, Simple
- 225g self-raising flour, sifted
- 165g caster sugar
- 125g unsalted butter, softened
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 125mL milk
- 1 small apple, thinly sliced
- about 7 strawberries, sliced
- 2 tsp caster sugar and 2 tsp brown sugar, mixed together
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Grease and line a 22cm springform pan with baking paper.
- Place the flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs and milk in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until just combined.
- Pour into prepared pan and arrange fruit on top. Sprinkle with sugar mixture.
- Bake for 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes (the original recipe specified 45 minutes).
- Allow the cake to cool slightly before removing it from the tin to cool on a wire rack. Serve with icecream and fresh fruit.