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Emergency bakes: Cakes for the time-pressed

How to whip up quick, delicious bakes when you're short on time and ingredients

Photo: Pamela Timms
Photo: Pamela Timms

This recipe has recently joined an informal collection of mine labelled “emergency bakes". This ever-expanding file contains recipes for cakes, pies, puddings and biscuits that can be made when some or all of the normal requirements for baking cannot be met. This can include quick bakes for when you have limited time or it’s too hot to spend time in the kitchen, but you still need cake; bakes that require little or no equipment but you urgently require home-made cookies (my chocolate chip cookies can satisfy such cravings in next to no time); delicious bakes that can be made with whatever you have on hand or with ingredients sourced from the corner shop (my aam papad and oaty traybake is hard to beat); bakes that don’t require an oven or will behave themselves in an oven that doesn’t work very well (hello banoffee pie); cakes to make when people are expecting cake from you and you’ve completely run out of steam.

Last week, the last of these was my problem. I was in Delhi to shoot photographs for my forthcoming Indian baking book. The friends I was staying with had every right to expect delicious baked goods to be brought home at the end of each day. However, the reality is that cakes, biscuits and pies are in no fit state to be eaten after a long, hot day of being primped and preened for photos, so each night I returned empty-handed.s

One day, after I’d recovered from the photoshoot, I decided to make a cake in my hosts’ kitchen. After a quick recce of the facilities, I knew I was in emergency baking territory. It had to be quick (no AC in the kitchen); easy (after three long days of baking, my energy for baking was depleted) and require very little in the way of ingredients or equipment (the scales weren’t working and the temperature inside the oven bore no resemblance to the numbers on the dial on the outside). A quick trip to nearby Khan Market was all that was needed to buy flour, sugar and seasonal soft fruit. An hour or so later, we enjoyed a simple but delicious summery cake. It was pretty good for breakfast the next morning too.

Quick Summer Fruit Cake

Serves 8-10

If you have some ground almonds to hand, you could replace some or all the flour with it. You could also use mascarpone instead of yogurt.


1 K cups maida (refined flour)

2 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

1 cup yogurt

1 cup caster sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

K cup vegetable oil

600 gm summer fruit of your choice—apricots, peaches (stones removed and quartered), cherries (pitted), figs (stalks removed and quartered)

Icing sugar for dusting


Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm baking tin. If you don’t have any baking tins, use any ovenproof dish roughly this size

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the yogurt, sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest together until the mixture is smooth. Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir gently until all the ingredients are combined. Stir in the oil and then add three-fourth of the chopped fruit. Scrape the batter into the baking tin and level the surface a little. Scatter the remaining fruit over the top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If you have an oven that only heats from the bottom, place the cake on a higher shelf to avoid burning the bottom before the cake is cooked through.

Cool the cake in the tin for 15 minutes, then turn out on to a cooling rack. Dust with icing sugar, then serve with a dollop of sour cream. It also makes a great breakfast cake—sometimes there’s a cake emergency in the morning too!

The Way We Eat Now is a column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.

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