Some of my colleagues here in Indonesia are observing Ramadan, where they fast during daylight hours for a whole month and break the fast every evening once the sun has gone down. As someone who struggles to miss a meal, I have great respect for the discipline they show during this time. Most people return to their home villages at the end of Ramadan for Idul Fitri and a great big feast, so my office decided to have an office get-together to break the fast before everyone went their separate ways for the holidays.
Traditionally on your birthday in Indonesia, you should provide cake or pay for everyone who comes to celebrate with you. I thought the meanest thing I could possibly do on my birthday was to bring cake into the office that my co-workers couldn't eat! So I took the day off and baked a cake for our get-together a few days later when everyone could enjoy it. But that didn't quite go according to plan.
Now first thing's first, I don't bake. At all. So I'm not sure why I offered to provide a homemade cake in the first place.
I once read that there are two kinds of cooks in this world: 1) People who are exact and want things to be precise - these people are generally good at baking, science, maths and the like. 2) People who like to just give it a shot, don't read instructions properly and usually turn up to major life events missing one crucial ingredient (sleeping bags on camping trips; running shoes to the gym...etc) - these people are a bit more creative and can throw together an amazing meal out of random things from their fridge.
Guess which one I am? Not #1, that's for sure. Occasionally I question whether I am even #2. Or whether I'm a rare breed of #3 that has yet to be classified and hasn't been seen in the wild since the turn of the century.
I also come from a long line of non-bakers and am not sure I've ever seen my mother actually bake anything (Sorry, Mum!), despite me pouring over The Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book in the months leading up to every birthday, praying that one day someone would make me a cake from its pages. If you're not familiar, this cookbook is the crème de la crème of cake cookbooks and has inspired everything from a comedy show to someone undertaking the impressive challenge to bake EVERY! SINGLE! CAKE! in the book. This song pretty much sums up what this cake means to the children of Australia.
So with this history and predisposition to bad baking began my attempt at a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, chosen only because I had a pineapple in the fridge and the rest of the ingredients in the cupboard, thus negating the need to leave the house at all.
The other thing to note is that I live in Indonesia, which means that baking apparatus is expensive, unavailable or completely non-existent. So any recipe that requires a blender, electric mixer, or crushed anything usually involves me pounding at a bowl for half an hour with a stone pestle or whisking my arm to near-death.
The recipe started fine until I got to the cake mix part and forgot to add the eggs, so was left with a miniscule amount of mixture that wasn't very batter-like. I may not know much, but I knew that wasn't going to magically turn into a cake in the oven. Adding the eggs and topping it off with a tiny bit of milk to moisten the mixture more did the trick! It at least looked like cake batter now.
Next I spread it into the tin and thought it looked a bit sparse, so tried to make another lot of mix, but I was out of eggs, so I just mixed self-raising flour, milk and sugar. I can hear bakers world-wide cringing as I type! It didn't end up doing a lot so I had my fingers crossed it might just make an interesting base for the cake.
Once out of the oven, it was a pretty disappointing sight. The pineapple was covered in the toffee that the recipe had instructed me to spread on the base of the tin and was barely visible. It was flat, half of it had broken away. I wrapped it in foil, put it in the fridge and tried to forget about it until later.
I'll leave you to check the recipe out for yourselves - you can find it here on the BBC Good Foods website.
And the result? They loved it! Smells and tastes amazing, and no one noticed the shape.
Still, I think I'll hang up my bakers apron for a little while and leave it to the experts.