Do you have a go-to cake recipe you can make without a cookbook, that always works and is loved by all? I don’t, because I love to try new things so I don’t make anything often enough to commit it to memory. And when I finally get something down pat, we move and I have to start over, finding the right combination of local ingredients to make it work. Creme brûlée for example. The balance of eggs to cream, fat content of the available cream, size of locally available eggs, temperature and humidity, and temperamental ovens have all contributed to many less-than-ideal results. In China I finally stopped trying because I just couldn’t get it to work. We don’t always have to recreate everything, some things can be special to a specific place. Something to remember or look forward to, when we are there.
But some people do have go-to-recipes that are reliable hits, impervious to local variation and always a success. Case in point: my friend’s Marmorkuchen (German for marble cake, named for the swirls of chocolate and vanilla cake batter that give it its characteristic look). She has served us this in South Africa and Germany and can pretty much rattle off the recipe at whim. The ingredients are uncomplicated and can be procured most places without needing to take up valuable space in anyone’s suitcase on return from your “home” country. This is such a reliable staple with only one key step to making it really good: you must mix in each egg separately for a full minute. One at a time. I haven’t researched the kitchen science behind this but it really does make a difference.
Our kids prefer this to many a fancy cake. It doesn’t need icing (but you can ice it of you’d like), just a dusting of powered sugar. It can be baked in a loaf, bundt, or round cake pan. It travels well on hikes, works in lunchboxes (gasp!) and for picnics but tastes especially good with a cup of coffee in the company of friends. It will dry out a bit after a day but rarely lasts that long around our house anyway. If you put a slice in the microwave for a few seconds, it will probably taste like it’s fresh out of the oven.