Ask me to whip up a quick Hollandaise sauce, I'm yer man. Home made mayo? No problem. Catch, gut and perfectly cook a whole sea trout? Done that.
I know what to do with star anise, and I know what saffron is for. I've made stocks, sauces, my own pasta, cooked weird bits of pig in tasty ways, debeaked a squid, commanded the forces for a number of Christmas dinners.
But beyond bread or roasting hunks of animal, the oven and I just don't see eye to eye on its most basic function: taking a bunch of ingredients, arrange in a set form and then let the heat do the magic.
Maybe it's the fix-edness of cake baking that gives me the shudders. The fact that once you've made your mix, and the stuff's in the oven, there's no going back. It's like Original Sin. The die is firmly cast - that cake is in there and it's beyond your control.
You can tweak a stir-fry, amend a beurre blanc, rescue a ragu, but what's baked stays baked.
But that's no way to live your life, is it? Being afraid of the oven.... which is why I agreed to face my fears and bake a cake.
I sought advice from my better half, who is a veritable baking Jedi. Like all Masters she was able to point me in the direction of wisdom from an unlikely source.
Our five year-old daughter: "It's just a cake daddy. I can do that... flour, sugar, butter eggs. Start with the sugar," she said, stoically. As if she was talking to an idiot. Which she was.
Right then young Padawan, you're on....
I made this hummingbird cake, adapted from the Humingbird Bakery book (http://hummingbirdbakery.com) because I like hummingbirds, and I like eating cake. It has no hummingbirds in it.
But it does have chopped tinned pineapple which, I think, does the same job that carrots do in a carrot cake.
It turned out alright. This is what I followed, but I didn't have the pecans and used walnuts instead.
300g caster sugar
3 large eggs
300ml sunflower oil
270g bananas, peeled and mashed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 1 teaspoon for decorating
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
100g tinned pinapple, chopped
100g pecan puts, chopped, plus 50g for decorating
600g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, softened
250g cream cheese.
Preheat oven to 170 degrees celsius. Grease and line two 20-cm round cake tins.
In a large bowl mix the caster sugar, eggs, mashed banana, oil and cinnamon with an electric mixer or a handheld whisk until well combined. Add the salt, vanilla and bicarbonate soda. On slow speed, add the flour a little at a time and beat until just mixed.
Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in the pecans and pineapple pieces.
Pour half of the batter into each cake tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed. Let the cakes cool briefly in the tins, then turn them onto a wire rack and allow them to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the cream cheese frosting. Beat the icing sugar and softened butter together until you get a sandy texture, using a paddle attachment if you have an electric mixer. With the beaters still running, slowly add the cubed cream cheese. It might look really dry at first, but as the cream cheese softens further you'll see a dramatic change to a soft creamy frosting. Continue to beat on medium-high speed for at least 5 minutes to fluff the frosting.
To assemble, sandwich the cakes together with a 1 cm thick layer of cream cheese frosting. Then use a spatula to cover the entire sides and top of the cake. Finish with whole and chopped nuts and a dusting of cinnamon.