Nan's simplicity cake

For many years it has been my mission to spread this 

recipe to as many people as possible. It began life in a humble school fund-raising cookbook as an apple cake.  

My clever Nan soon adapted it to a chocolate cake. 

I shared the recipe with my friends, who started coming 

back saying "I made this with pear instead" or "I tried 

this with orange and rosewater." As its fan base has 

grown, so has the list of variations. 

The recipe below is for a ring-shaped cake, but I also make it as cupcakes or muffins, as a flat dessert cake in a quiche dish, and double it for a large birthday cake. Several variations are delicious served as a hot dessert with cream or custard. It be transformed into healthy-ish lunchbox treats by substituting wholemeal flour and adding a stack of fruit. You can add extra liquids or extra dry ingredients and somehow it always seems to work. It has been made successfully with gluten-free flour (adding a little more liquid). And you don't even need an electric mixer. 

Seriously, this recipe will change your life! If you like it, please pass it on, and if you invent any amazing new variations let me know and I'll add them to the list. 

A printable pdf version of the recipe can be found here.

Base recipe

90g butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 ¼ cups self-raising flour

½ cup milk

1 teas vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 celsius
  2.  Grease and line cake tin
  3.  Melt butter in microwave in a large mixing bowl (approx. 1 minute)
  4. Add all other ingredients (in listed order, stirring to combine each ingredient)
  5. Add desired colours, flavours or additional ingredients (see below)
  6. Beat with a wooden spoon until well combined
  7. Pour mixture into cake tin
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through


Chocolate  Add ¼ cup of cocoa (or to taste). Top with chocolate icing or a sprinkle of icing sugar.

Chocolate cardamom  Add ¼ cup of cocoa, a small handful each of chocolate chips and chopped unsalted pistachios, and ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom. Sprinkle with icing sugar when cooked. For a dessert cake, cook this in a quiche dish, and serve warm with whipped cream and liqueurs.

Jaffa  Add ¼ cup cocoa and the zest and juice of one orange or 1-2 mandarins.

Cherry lamington cake  Add ¼ cup cocoa (or to taste), ¼- ½ cup of desiccated coconut and a small handful of chopped glace cherries.

Marble cake  Divide mixture into 3 bowls, mix cocoa into one, red food colouring + strawberry flavouring into another and leave last bowl plain. Spoon colours alternately into the cake tin.

Apple  Pour cake mixture into lined tin. Core and slice an apple. Place slices on top of mixture, poke apple till it sinks, sprinkle with cinnamon. Delicious served hot with custard. Cinnamon and nutmeg can be added to the cake mixture if desired.

Pear  Line cake tin with baking paper. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar and arranged sliced fresh pear in base (cored but not peeled). Add ½ - 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake mixture, and pour it over the pear. Delicious served warm with whipped cream, drizzled with maple syrup.

Rachel’s pear and ginger As above, replace cinnamon with ground ginger to taste.

Peach or apricot  Line base of cake tin with tinned peaches or apricots. Can be served warm with custard or ice cream.

Rosie’s plum cake  Cook in a quiche dish with tinned or stewed plums on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar after it is cooked. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Carrot cake Use brown sugar if preferred. Add 1 cup grated carrot, a handful of walnuts and/or sultanas, and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Carrot and pineapple  Add grated carrot and finely chopped fresh or tinned pineapple.

Pineapple Upside Down  Line tin with baking paper. Sprinkle base of pan with brown sugar and arrange pineapple and glace cherries (optional), pour mixture over. Fresh pineapple, chopped quite small, is particularly good. Delicious served warm with custard.

Coconut  Add desiccated or shredded coconut to taste. Top with pink icing, sprinkled with coconut.

Jo’s lemon and poppy seed cake  Add 1/3 cup poppy seeds to cake mixture. For syrup – combine juice of 1-2 lemons, ½ cup of sugar and a little water in saucepan, heat till it becomes syrupy. Pour over cool cake. Decorate with lemon zest.

Orange and poppy seed  As above, just substitute orange juice.

Orange / mandarin and coconut  Add zest and juice of one orange or mandarin and ¼ cup coconut (or to taste).

Orange and pistachio  Add zest and juice of one orange and small handful of chopped unsalted pistachios.

Banana  Replace sugar in recipe with brown sugar (optional). Add 1-2 mashed bananas, a handful of chopped walnuts or sultanas, and cinnamon to taste. Wholemeal flour can be used if desired.

Banana and Coconut  Add 1-2 mashed ripe bananas and a generous sprinkle of shredded coconut,

Banana and choc chip Add 1-2 mashed ripe bananas and a generous sprinkle of choc chips.

Lime and coconut  Add juice of 1-2 limes and ½ cup shredded coconut to mixture. Top with lime icing (juice of one lime, with enough icing sugar to achieve correct consistency), lime zest and toasted shredded coconut.  The coconut can be toasted by dry-frying in a fry pan for a few minutes.

Rachel’s passionfruit and coconut cake Add passionfruit pulp and shredded coconut to cake mixture. Make a passionfruit and sugar syrup to drizzle over cooked cake.

Rachel’s coffee cake Add dissolved coffee to taste to cake mixture and icing.

Jam swirl Line cake tin with baking paper, spread a generous amount of jam over the base. Swirl a few more blobs of jam through the cake mixture then pour it into cake tin.

Sue’s orange and rosewater cake Add zest of 1 orange and 1-2 teaspoons of rosewater essence (or orange flower water). Top with lemon icing – icing sugar, lemon juice and melted butter.

Healthy-ish lunchbox treats

Make the recipe as above, but use wholemeal self-raising flour, less sugar and a bit more milk if needed. Make a double batch of the basic mixture, turn half into muffins and half into a slice cooked in a 20cm x 20cm tin, then freeze them until needed. Cut slice into pieces before freezing.

    • Cupcakes and muffins – banana + sultanas, orange and coconut, carrot and sultanas, carrot and pineapple.
    • Slices – apple, pear or pineapple. Place sliced fruit in the bottom of the lined pan and pour mixture over. Use plenty of fruit – eg. 2 pears or 2-3 apples.


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