Parents always seem to be impressed by things that their children make for them. It doesn’t matter if they really don’t want a ‘yummy’ concoction of tomato-sauce, cereal, scrambled eggs and raisins first thing in the morning – the fact that their little child made it for them still brings a smile to their face. However, as the children get older a little more is expected of them – but even so, it’s always going to be the thought that counts.

As such, I have now recently found my-self living away from home – in a house that contains, well, not very much yet. None the less, it’s still nice to be able to impress ones parents and in that spirit I once decided to surprise my mum by baking her a cake on Mother’s Day. And, despite my inexperience and lack of accessories it turned out rather well and brought one of those same childhood smiles to her face. So since it’s Father’s Day I decided I’d do the same for my dad.

I found this recipe to be great for starting out, as it doesn’t seem too complicated and only requires things that you’ll be using time and again if you want to keep baking. So if you plan on baking more in the future you’ll always need these things and it’s great to have them for yourself and if you’re an experienced baker it won’t be anything you haven’t done before. And at least if it doesn’t work out 100% this time, there will always be another time – practise makes perfect. So without further ado….

Utensil type things you will need:

  • An electric mixer or beater – okay so you don’t really need one of these, I have been told* that the best way without one is to use a sturdy wooden spoon or metal fork and make sure the butter is at room temparature, but I discovered the hard way that trying to cream butter and sugar is nigh on impossible without one, goodness knows how people baked in the olden days!
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • A sift
  • Something that will measure cups
  • Something that will measure teaspoons – a plain old teaspoon just won’t do, it’s gotta be an official teaspoon, that’s 4.93 ml’s that is
  • A loaf pan, mine is 24cm long, 13cm wide and 8cm deep (that's 6 cups) and fits this recipe perfectly
  • An oven

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • ½ cup of butter
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 ½ cups of cake flour1
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 150 – 200 grams of glace cherries
  • 100 grams of almonds (flaked or whole)
  • Some hot water
  • 1 cup icing sugar (optional)

What you need to do:

  1. First up, preheat your oven to 350F, that’s 180C to us other folks.

  2. Get your loaf pan and rub the whole inside surface with some butter, then lightly cover it with flour, this will stop the cake sticking to the pan2. You could use some non-stick spay, but this is better.

  3. Take the glace cherries and put them in a bowl of very hot water so they’re all covered and then put them aside. Don’t worry – they’ll be fine!

  4. Now, place the butter and the sugar in one of the mixing bowls (the largest one is best) and cream them together until you get a nice smooth, light yellow looking mixture.

  5. Crack one of your eggs into a cup. Peer into the cup and make sure the egg is nice. This way, you don’t crack a horrible egg into your lovely mixture – keeps the eggshells out too. If you’re happy with the egg, add it to the mixture and beat them together. Repeat for the other egg.

  6. Take all your dry ingredients and sift them one at a time into the other mixing bowl. Remember, sifting is your friend. Once they’re all in the bowl, stir them together.

  7. Pour a little bit of this dry ingredient mixture into the other mixing bowl and mix them well together, then do the same with a bit of your milk. Keep alternating between mixing in a bit of the dry stuff and a bit of the milk until it’s all finished. Make sure it’s well mixed with no lumps, but be careful not to over-beat it either.

  8. Pour in your almond extract and mix it up well. 1 teaspoon is pretty much the most people would normally use in a recipe like this as it is quite strong, so if you’d like the flavour to be a little less obvious, just add a little bit less. Trial and error may well be involved here.

  9. Remember those cherries you left sitting over on the counter? You get to use them now. When you’re adding cherries to a loaf cake, you don’t want them all huddled together at the bottom, you want them to be as dispersed throughout the cake as possible – that’s why you placed them in the hot water. When you take them out of the hot water you should feel that they are all nice and warm. Cut them into halves and put them into a bowl with a little bit of flour. Once they’re all in there, mix it up so all the cherries have a light coating of flour. This, along with them being warm, will help with making them all not sink to the bottom.

  10. Take the covered cherries and put them into the cake mixture and stir them in. Try not to add any surplus flour.

  11. The almonds come next. Flaked almonds are good because they are smaller and lighter, thus they tend not to all just sit sulking at the bottom of the loaf3. However, some people like whole almonds because they are more nutty tasting and what not, it’s really up to what you prefer. If you are going to use whole ones I would definitely recommend cutting them in half though. Once you’ve made your choice, pour about three quarters of them into the cake mixture and stir them up well.

  12. Get that loaf pan right up close to the mixing bowl and pour the cake mixture into the pan.

  13. The last step depends on a choice you made earlier. If you used flaked almonds then just sprinkle the remaining ones onto the top of the cake. However, if you try and do this with whole almonds the cake will rise but the almonds won't - they'll just get swallowed up and you won't be able to see them. So just put them aside for now and you can attach them later. Finally place the pan on the middle shelf of your oven.

Now comes the waiting....

The cake should take an hour to cook, however you may want to check it after about 45 minutes. Just quickly open the oven door and poke a toothpick or something like it into the center of the cake, if it comes out clean then the cake is done. If it’s not done but it’s starting to burn on top (it should be a pretty dark brown though) you can cover it with some tin foil and leave it to bake a little longer.

When you take the cake out the oven leave it to cool before you try and do anything with it. Once it’s cooled down you can try taking it out. The easiest way to do this is to place a bread board on top of the pan, then hold them together and turn it over so the pan is sitting on top. Gently tap the bottom of the pan to try and loosen the cake, if all goes well it should come loose and land neatly on the bread board. If it needs a bit of help you can turn it right side up again. You will see that the sides of the cake should have slightly pulled away from the edges of the pan at the top. You can carefully run a knife or spatula around the edges and try again to turn it out upside down. If the worst comes to the worst and it ends up in two pieces, well, it’s the thought that counts… and it has to be cut up anyway. After the cake is out the pan, make sure you turn it right side up again or it could crack and you'll spoil the nice top surface.

Now what you do to the cake is pretty much up to you. If you used whole almonds and you want to add the rest of them to the top of the cake you can make a glaze. Otherwise you could just leave it as is – it still tastes great and is not too sweet – but if you do want something sweeter you could sprinkle some icing sugar on top, make some icing for the top or just make a glaze to pour over it anyway. Whatever works for you.

Making the glaze:*

  1. Put the icing sugar into a small bowl and slowly add a little bit of hot water. Stir it until it's smooth.

  2. Keep adding water and stirring until the mixture gets to about the consistency of honey. If you want to make more glaze just add more sugar and more water until you have the right amount.

  3. If you want the almond flavour to be quite strong, you can also add a few drops of the almond extract to the glaze.

  4. Taste a little and see if it's good, and once it meets your satisfaction. Make sure that the cake is completely cool before you pour the glaze over the top of it, otherwise it'll just sink in and the almonds won't stick. You can now stick the remaining whole almonds in place.4 Since it was for Father's Day, I arranged the almonds to say DAD, but whatever.

Tada! You now have a fantastic cake, made with all your love and care.

Go make someone happy!

*Thanks must here by go to yclept for her help and guidance on getting me started. And for answering all my questions with lots of useful tips!

1. Cake flour can be "made" by replacing 1/4 of a volume of all-purpose flour with cornstarch or potato starch.
2. Greasing and flouring a pan works better with vegetable shortening, instead of butter. It makes a better non-stick surface. Pam and Baker's Joy both have a spray on flour/oil combo as well, which is messy to use but works perfectly.
3. Lightly toasting the almonds (let them cool), and then dredging them in flour prior to adding them to the batter will stop them sinking to the bottom even more.
4. Some apricot jam would work wonderfully with this. Melted in the microwave, spooned over the top when cooled a bit....