When he read my recipe for chocolate and beetroot cake, a friend said, "That sounds amazing. I'm going to need to get a cake tin, aren't I?" and, as silly as it sounds, I never for a moment imagined that anyone wouldn't already have one. Okay, probably not a ridiculously over-spilling couple of cupboards' worth, like I have, but a loaf tin or a muffin tray, at least. Now that I consider it though, why would anyone have a cake tin if they don't already bake?
The last thing I want to do is put anyone off at the very begining, by making them feel that there's no way they can join in the fun, until they go out and spend a fortune on equipment. The fact is that you really don't need much at all to bake a simple cake. I'd like to encourage and inspire everyone to have a go, whether you've been baking for years, but just fancy trying out a new recipe, or you're a total novice who's never baked a thing in your life.
When I was growing up, our kitchen scales broke when I was 5 and weren't replaced until long after I'd learned to cook without them. I still often bake without scales, which is why I tend to think in Imperial rather than Metric measurements; it just seems to make more sense, when all you are armed with is a tablespoon. A slightly heaped tablespoon of dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa...) is roughly an ounce, and as long as all your ounces are to the same rough measurement, there's no reason why your cake won't be delicious. With butter, it's just a simple matter of division. The standard size of a packet of butter is 250 grams and there are 28 g to every ounce; you can round it up or down, but I always go for 25 g because it's marginally easier to calculate. So, now that we've established that a 250 g packet of butter has roughly 10 oz in it, we can work out quite easily how much each recipe calls for. If the recipe asks for 5 oz, that's half a packet of butter, if it needs 4 oz you'll need 4/10ths, etc, etc. Some brands have the measurements marked on the packet already, so then it's just a matter of cutting down the line. It really is as simple as that.
You don't need an electric whisk either, a wooden spoon (or even a metal one) will do just fine. Steer clear of all-in-one sponges though, as you're more likely to overwork the gluten in the flour and end up with a heavy, bready cake. As long as you stick to the old-fashioned method of beating the sugar and butter together, then gradually adding the egg a bit at a time, before folding in the flour, your cake should work perfectly.
So far, the only equipment you've used is a couple of spoons and a butter knife, but what of a tin? Well, like a lot of people, when I was young, we often had sponge puddings, either steamed or just baked in an oven-proof dish (like a pyrex casserole or a pie dish, or even in little ramekins), that would usually have fruit at the bottom, or sometimes jam. My grandmother often used to make upside down raspberry puddings (or blood clots as we affectionately referred to them), which were basically a layer of raspberries placed in a buttered ramekin and topped with basic vanilla sponge. Once they were cooked, she would turn them upside down, whack them on the base with a spoon and out would pop a delicious blood clot ready to be doused in custard. Or, as my grandfather would say, pus.
You can easily make a sponge topped pudding (perfect for an Autumn night), but there's also absolutely no reason why you can't line your pie dish, casserole, or anything else you've got as long as it's oven proof, with baking parchment or buttered greaseproof paper, before pouring in the cake mixture. Once it's baked, you can turn it out on to a wire rack, remove the baking parchment and leave it to cool, just like you would if you'd baked it in a tin. Okay, so you won't be left with a perfect shaped cake, but you won't notice once you've sliced it. Frankly, with home baking, as long as it tastes like cake, who really cares what it looks like? You don't really need a cake rack either, just wash and dry one of the shelves in your oven - it will do exactly the same job. Thinking about it, the only thing I would recommend is a sieve - which you're more likely to already have than a cake rack anyway, but if you don't, and don't want to fork out for one, just gradually drop your flour off the spoon from a bit of a height to aerate it. If you don't have a big enough bowl for mixing, then use a saucepan, and if you don't have a saucepan, go out and buy one immediately - that's ridiculous!