Butter + sugar + eggs + flour + heat = cake

Chocolate cake illustration for how to bake a chocolate cakeCakes require accuracy and, frankly, a mixer (or patience and a strong wrist).

The process is simple – you mix up butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy, add egg a bit at a time until it is incorporated. Now for the flour – sieved and mixed in spoonful by spoonful – a bit of milk perhaps to loosen the batter, a bit of time in a preheated oven and a cake is born.

But there’s no messing about with a cake. No flights of fancy. No “I’ll just eyeball this” about it. Good cakes are made by good kitchen scales. Sure, cups are faster and will do in a pinch, but scales make cakes foolproof.

If you’re making cup cakes a lot, it’s not a bad idea to measure the ingredients once, and pour them into cup measures and draw a more accurate line inside the cup indicating where the measurement really comes, then you can scoop happily (and speedily) with greater accuracy.

Victoria Sponge IllustrationThe ingredients should be at room temperature before you start to bake. This is especially important when it comes to the butter. Creaming solid butter is no fun at all.

If you’re baking a cake in a tin try to find the right sized tin. A little leeway, sure, but nothing too dramatic.

If your oven is unreliable (like mine) turn the cake half way through cooking to try to get a more even temperature.

Make sure the oven is preheated before you start.

It’s in the decoration that cakes really reveal their full capacity to bring joy. But if mixing up icing is suddenly too much remember that a marshmallow balanced on top of the cake, then put for a few moments under a grill to melt, is a good no-effort substitute.

Pistachio cupcake illustration for how to bake a cakeKeeping the basic proportions the same, it’s really easy to make a whole variety of different cakes. Take out 1 tbsp of flour and replace with chocolate for chocolate cake, or desiccated coconut for coconut cake, or carrots, or almonds … Add vanilla extract, or espresso coffee, or lemon juice, or orange juice. Fill cakes with strawberries and cream, or raspberry jam and cream, or bottled morello cherries and cream for a Black Forest twist, or lemon curd, or nutella …

If you can make that you can make this: