Traditional Chinese kitchens do not have ovens. So when I first got to China, I would hear many of the expat women trading war stories about the toils of baking in toaster ovens and locating baking powder, chocolate chips, and other supplies. In my household, my husband does all the savory cooking, and I only ever baked on a whim, usually when I stumbled across a recipe that contained the words chocolate, peanut butter, and low fat together (yeah right).
So when I first began making friends with these ladies, they would look at me rather oddly and apologetically, and say, “It’s really too bad you don’t bake, because if you did…” It seemed I was missing out on some exclusive expat fellowship that happened only in the company of toaster ovens, but given that my sweet tooth is much less pronounced than most, and I’m not that into typical girl-talk either, I kind of shrugged my shoulders, and made do.
In fact, I made it a whole year, fairly satisfied with Chinese bakeries, the occasional McFlurry from McDonald’s, and mooncakes. And then last Saturday, I decided to try baking a lemon cake in a crockpot. It was more the chemistry experiment side of it that inspired me rather than the sugar, but I wanted to see what I could do when life handed me lemons…and no oven!
So armed with some fairly decent-looking (unfortunately imported, though) lemons, and the Chinese version of a crockpot, I made my first attempt- a three-hour bake on high, using some parchment paper (or a cheap Chinese version of it) to line the pot, and this recipe. Even I, who am not a baker, thought the batter looked way too soupy (and contained way too little flour) to turn out as a proper cake, and sure enough, it was only custard-like when I removed it around three hours later, but still pretty tasty!
Now, perhaps I should have gone with my gut, because for my second attempt, I used the blog recipe that inspired the whole lemon cake quest in the first place, and adapted it a bit for my lack of ingredients and a longer cooking time for the crockpot. The adaptations were that I used vanilla yogurt instead of plain, and then only an 1/8 tsp of vanilla extract, the zest of two lemons, which I think is much more than the 2 tsp recommended (I tasted the batter and wanted more lemon!), no nutmeg because I didn’t have any, and instead of coconut oil, butter, which was a scary amount of butter, so I’d be open to other suggestions on that substitution. Again, I used the parchment paper to line the pot, and after four and a half hours of cooking, the cake came out with a squishy center, and a crusty bottom. I made the cake topping and the glaze as per Jane’s recipe directions. It’s so sickeningly sweet, and dense, but all in all not a bad second attempt!
For my third try, I’m thinking of doing the foil under the cake pan, and paper towels on top method crockpot baking method, because there seemed to be just way too much moisture on the top layer of the cake, and it’s really hard to get it to cook through, more or less, evenly. I also think I’d try a cream cheese and powdered sugar frosting, and omit the topping and glaze suggested here, because it was just too sweet for a recently turned-onto-baking girl such as myself!
Have you done any crockpot baking, or do any of you baking experts out there have any tried and true advice?