Tab Tries: Faking a Cake

CLAUDIA LEONG battles all odds and tries out some alternative ways of baking in college.

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The quality of college accommodation at Cambridge varies enormously, but there’s one fairly constant theme – absolutely useless kitchens. Contrary to popular opinion, a George Foreman is not an acceptable substitute for an oven. As a friend’s birthday was coming up, I decided to see just how far student ingenuity can go when it comes to cake making.

You will need: 1 packet cake mix, 1 egg, 75 ml water, 5 heat resistant cooking bags, 1 tube superglue, 1 spoon.

First, make the batter, by dumping the first three ingredients into a container and mixing them all up. Spoon the mixture as evenly as you can into four separate bags and superglue them shut.

Cooking method 1: the electric kettle

I put the bag of cake batter into the kettle, turned it on and waited with trepidation. The cake was more or less cooked after a couple of attempts. I was fairly pleased with the result – the texture was rather fluffy and light. Another advantage of this method is that you should be left with enough hot water in the kettle to make a nice cuppa or two afterwards.

Tab tip: Make sure the bag sits on top of the heating element for a nice, even bake.

Cooking method 2: the iron

Next up was a rather more dangerous method. After laying newspaper down to protect my table from potential leakages, I heated my iron to the “high/linen” setting and gently ironed the bag. This method yielded a pancakey sponge that peeled easily away from the plastic. It cooked in less than 8 minutes and had a nice, dense texture with crispy bits along the edges. Definitely an option to consider if you reckon waffle irons are too mainstream.

Tab tip: Don’t be alarmed if you hear the batter sizzling, and don’t leave the iron in the same place for more than 30 seconds or the fire alarm might go off.

Cooking method 3: the tumble dryer

Being a little paranoid about cake batter being flung all over the college tumble dryer, I double bagged and stapled test number three before throwing the whole thing into a tumble dryer set to ‘medium’. Unfortunately, the inner layer of the bag did eventually burst, so I called a halt to the experiment. Even so, after a good 10 minutes the result was a lukewarm, lumpy custard-like mixture.

Tab tip: Don’t worry about things shrinking; crank the heat onto high or you’ll be in the laundry room all night!

Cooking method 4: the microwave

After the tumble dryer palaver, microwaving my final bag of cake suddenly seemed a lot less exciting. After five minutes of cooking, the gyp room was filled with the aroma of the chicken korma my neighbour had already exploded over the microwave. Yum. Surprisingly, the microwave was not a vast improvement on my previous methods. The cake was cooked after 10 minutes, but the bag it was in was puffed up and seemed on the verge of explosion. It also looked suspiciously like scrambled egg put through a food processor.

Tab tip: Use a sensible container.

So maybe my experiments didn’t exactly produce Fitzbillies-standard cakes. I was left with a lot of washing up and a vague sense of guilt about wasting food that no sober person would eat.

But I think the proof is in the pudding here. Don’t let the limitations of student living prevent you from demonstrating your domestic skills. Let your imagination run wild!