I love baking. It is relaxing and therapeutic with the weighing and measuring, the stirring and whisking, the magical alchemy of bringing together disparate ingredients into something utterly delicious. It is mindfulness and mindlessness at the same time, with a treat at the end of it all (except the washing up). Out of all the things I like to bake, cake is the number one favourite. Not just any cake, but milk chocolate cake from the superbly retro Be-Ro recipe book.
The Be-Ro recipe book was my baking bible as a child. My mum has two ancient editions, one of which has fallen apart from over use and the other is so old I think it used to be my nan’s. It is a long thin book, first produced in 1923. It was essentially a PR gimmick to promote Be-Ro self-raising flour and was handed out at a series of exhibitions in the early 1920s where freshly baked scones, pastries and cakes were sold for a shilling to visitors. It also contained recipes on how to feed hungry families on a very low budget. Now in its 41st edition, it is reassuringly the same, even the pictures haven’t been updated (please don’t ever change!) and is still available to buy at bargain of £2.99.
I have been making this recipe for over 30 years now. To begin with I was perched on a chair next to my mum and too little to lift the huge Kenwood mixer out of the pantry. Then it was the first recipe I was allowed to make completely on my own. Now I have children of my own it is their absolute favourite cake and I am yet to come across another similar recipe for chocolate cake anywhere. At 4 and 6 they are allowed to make most of it by themselves, which is why this example is rather, um, flat. It is a favourite rainy/any day activity. The kitchen always smells divine; rich, earthy chocolatey cosyness as it cooks and the children pull up chairs in front of the oven to watch it rise. I still haven’t grown out of licking the bowl, although I do have to fight the children for it.
There is nothing fancy about this cake, it is simple and unfussy. This recipe, as with all those in the book, defies all cleaning eating, low sugar, fat free trends, although I have tweaked it slightly for the post-margarine era using butter instead and raw cacao powder instead of the Bournville cocoa powder that my mum uses. To me it is a slice of home comfort, a hug and reassurance with good dollop of nostalgia thrown in. It is my childhood in cake form. It is now also the edible embodiment of motherhood – a simple pleasure. I can’t tell you how much I love this cake, eating a large slab (often with lashings of double cream) with a cup of tea is a form of self-care that is yet to to be topped. This is the cake I pack for long walks with the children. This is the cake I would make if I was sad or happy. This is the cake for celebration or commiseration, to cheer up or cheer on. This is the cake.
I have reproduced the recipe below with my alterations, but full credit to Be-Ro for their enduring and delectable (Be-Ro-tiful?) chocolate cake which brings so much happiness to our family.
Be-Ro’s Milk Chocolate Cake
175 g self raising flour
200g caster sugar
25g cacao or cocoa powder (whatever you like)
pinch of salt
100g butter (softened or at room temperature)
2 eggs beaten
75ml evaporated milk
(the original recipe also suggests a drop of vanilla essence but I don’t bother).
Prepare two tins (not loose bottomed) with grease and flour and/or baking parchment
- Sieve together the flour, sugar, cacao and butter
- Rub in the butter
- Mix the eggs, evaporated milk and water together
- Add the liquids to the mixture and beat well
- Divide the mixture between the cake tins
- Bake at 180C for 30-35 minutes
- Turn out and leave to cool before filling with milk chocolate icing.
Milk Chocolate Butter Icing
100g sieved icing sugar
2 x 5ml cacao powder or 25g melted chocolate
- Cream the butter
- Gradually add the icing sugar until all mixed in
- Add the cacao powder and mix it in well
- Smother all over the cake