Flour Power

Self-rising, or as the British like to put it, “self-raising” flour, so dear to the hearts of cooks in various parts of the United Kingdom, can be a fly in the batter (so to speak) if used unwisely. A major nuisance. Fortunately, it’s not on our list of daily concerns, although this kind of flour for baking runs rampant in books and newspapers printed in Great Britain as well as some parts of Canada, Australia and even Portugal, a spot favored by vacationing Brits.

Self-rising flour is a mixture that contains both baking powder and salt, with perhaps a soupçon of rice flour to promote dryness. Why do people buy it? If it is purchased to save time, you must know that it’s not that quick. More likely, its proponents are conforming to a certain tried-and-true recipe that lists self-rising flour and heaven help them if they switch. They are right.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that both self-rising flour and bread mixes containing dried yeast particle were introduced in England in the latter half of the 1800s, having somehow managed to survive in spite of their short shelf lives. (The chemicals used in baking powder and self-rising flour will not retain their strength forever; it is important not to buy more than you can use fairly quickly. Very little upward lift can be expected from half a bag of self-rising flour that has been sitting around for months.)

The books tell us that one cup of self-rising flour contains about 1½ teaspoons of baking powder and ½ teaspoon of salt. The “King Arthur Flour” cookbook suggests that you can make it by adding 1 tablespoon of salt and 5 tablespoons of baking powder to each 8 cups of regular flour. They add, “blend and store in an airtight container — and be sure to label the container!”

The most reliable bit of information came from Judy Gorman’s “The Culinary Craft.” She says, “It is best to use self-rising flour only in those recipes that have been formulated with it in mind. Otherwise, you end up guessing how much salt or leavening agent to leave out and the results are apt to be disappointing.”

The March ’09 issue of Gourmet magazine features a recipe on page 4 for a Key Lime Coconut Cake. Irresistible! It specified fresh Key lime juice and zest, something that is unfortunately not available in Maine just now — but I found that green limes are a fair substitute.

Consider this recipe “adapted” then, and when you are able to find some Key limes, please take them home and try this recipe again! Either way, it’s delicious.

Allene White lives in Brooklin.

Key Lime Coconut Cake

  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. grated lime zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1¾ cups self-rising flour
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice, divided
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. rum, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Toast the coconut in a small baking pan in the oven, stirring once or twice, until golden — 8 to 12 minutes. Cool. Leave oven on.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir together flour and ½ cup of coconut — reserving remainder for the topping.

Stir together milk and 2 tablespoons lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into the egg mixture, alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour.

Spoon batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden and tests clean. 40 to 45 minutes. Cool to warm, then turn out of pan and discard parchment.

Whisk together the confectioners sugar, the remaining 2 tablespoons of lime juice and rum (if using) and pour this over the cake.

Sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]