The Glorious Cake Mistake

It seemed like every Saturday, as a child, I would mix butter and sugar for my mother’s eternal chase after the perfect sponge cake. The butter was always hard, the sugar grainy and everywhere and I usually struggled.

Now my mother could bake bread, the illustrious Christmas cake with cherries, raisin, currants, orange-peel and rum, but a sponge cake never!

My mother thought baking a sponge cake such a difficult task that she moaned about it. So I began to think that baking was difficult. Baking was not my forte and I decided that I was not a person who could bake a cake.

I didn’t tackle a cake until I was in my late 20s and then it was a coffee cake baked by a fellow teacher who after our oohs and aahs after tasting, wrote the recipe down by hand for us all. I followed it that very weekend step by step and viola! I created a coffee cake with frosting!

How amazing was that I thought.

That recipe was like a spell, a wondrous map that took me from the mundane savoury to the bountiful baker.

This doesn’t mean that I began baking, oh no I stuck to that recipe baked that cake over and over.


I met my husband. I was 38 years old, still baking a coffee cake which I also baked for him!

For me baking was the ultimate magic, alchemy at its most phenomenal: you put together some rather ordinary and not particularly great tasting ingredients and abracadabra you have transformed it by heat into delectable revelations on the tongue! The desire to perform this magic with a result that looked like the photo in the book: well that is just pure joy to me and as elusive as a garden gnome.

So my husband Dan was the ultimate magician, a baker who could bake bread and cakes and buns like it was fairy magic.

He was a stickler for a recipe so with him at my side I tackled my next cake -an upside down plum and almond sponge. And thus began my baking life at the age of 39.

I baked cakes for my family birthday parties, I baked cup-cakes and cheese cakes, even began doing a Christmas cake which is now a tradition, BUT that elusive sponge well I was still chasing it!

In 2006 at the age of 44 we got married and I really began baking ON MY OWN meaning I didn’t need him by my side. Bread I had never tackled as all my results were hard, rock-like stones.

Then one term I had to bake with the children and guess what I had to teach them to make- BREAD!
60 children and I: all baking bread! Scream…

Well I got this recipe from a food science course and we tried it, with my eyes closed, my fingers and toes crossed and hey presto it worked! I set off a wonderful bread making bonanza that term and one of them even decide he’d found his calling to be a chef!

Back at home I was baking bread every morning, no hands held, but my euphoria was diminished. All this time I relied on the recipe and I always felt that little panic before I started. Everything had to be weighed up and measured before-hand, checked and double checked. At times my brain would even go fuzzy when I looked at the recipe.

Between the ages of 48-51 I really began baking comfortably but my creations always had to be perfect, so sadness dogged me. You never knew what would come out after all that alchemy. And then came Herman the German! Some might know it as the German Friendship cake, or the Herman cake or just HERMAN! This is my secret weapon of a cake given to me by my friend Carol. It is a beast of a cake, a yeast of a cake but just delightful to make, and here’s what- it never goes wrong! And it’s a cake you have to FEED!

However it was not until I crossed 51 that I suddenly decided in for a penny, in for a pound; in other words I had permission to play. I was going to find me two things: the perfect sponge cake recipe and the perfect chocolate cake recipe. And I tried and tried many, Dan enjoying every failure with a flick of his tongue upon his lips and finally I did!

So here are the results of my happy failures…

p.s. Over the years I think I may have lost the coffee cake recipe or it may be tucked between the leaves of a book…we may find each other again…

Dawne Gowrie Zetterstrom | Örebro, Sweden

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