Sheet cakes are my favourite for a quick and easy cake because there is no trimming, no icing, no stacking and they are charming in their simplicity and nostalgia. My grandmother Betty used to make red cake – she never added “velvet” to the name as that was far too fancy for the simple sheet of red sponge topped with a thin layer of “white frosting”. She would ice it directly inside the baking tin and cover with a sheet of foil and stick it on the back seat of the car (or on my lap) and take it to whatever event we were going to. That’s exactly how my jam sheet cake should be handled. Made fresh and fast in a rush to get everyone and everything ready in time and still not arrive empty handed. And it tastes better eaten outside, as do most things.
cake flour 350g, or plain flour but not self-raising
baking powder 1 tbsp
fine sea salt ½ tsp
caster sugar 300g
egg whites 5, at room temperature (save the yolks for chocolate chip cookies!)
whole milk 240ml, at room temperature
vanilla extract 1 tbsp
almond extract ½ tsp, optional
unsalted butter 190g, softened and cut into 1cm cubes
good jam 300g, preferably not too set so it soaks into the cake a bit
desiccated coconut 30g
Leave everything out for about an hour before you begin for the best results.
Butter and line a deep baking sheet (24cm x 32cm) with baking parchment. Heat the oven to 150C fan/gas mark 3½.
Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Whisk in the salt and sugar. Set aside.
In a jug, whisk together all of the remaining ingredients, except the butter. If you have a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and add the soft cubed butter, a piece at a time, to the dry ingredients. Beat on a medium-low speed until a sandy mixture forms. The flour gets coated in the fat, creating a really lovely fluffy and rich cake texture.
Turn the mixer down to a low speed and in a slow, steady stream add half the whisked wet ingredients. Mix well. Then add the other half in a slow steady stream again. Once it is all added, turn the mixer speed to high and whip until light and fluffy (takes about 2-3 minutes). This can also be done with an electric whisk or by hand with a wooden spoon and a bit of elbow grease. It is imperative that the ingredients are all as close to the same temperature as possible.
Pour the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth the top. Tap twice on the countertop then bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden and springy to the touch.
Allow the cake to cool completely. Sheet cakes are great for picnics and the tin works as a perfect transportation device. Spread with a thick layer of your favourite jam and sprinkle with the coconut as you would hundreds and thousands.
Claire Ptak is chef-owner of Violet Bakery, London E8