Friday, January 17, 2014

First take

It was about a year ago—a year ago this coming week, in fact—that I made my first cake. Solo. No mix. I don’t believe I had ever made a cake on my own, box or not, yet I was determined to do so despite my total reliance on my mother to even cream butter and sugar in the KitchenAid up to that point in time.

Oh, all the sweat and toil I could have been spared...source

The occasion: mom’s birthday. In exchange for providing my brother, myself, and my poor, pasta-making dad with sustenance day in and day out, I would make a single cake to celebrate the anniversary of when my mother busted out of her own mother’s nether regions. A suitably grand occasion for cake-making.

In years past, my dad had always bought a raspberry-chocolate torte from the local grocery store. Dense, but not brownie-level dense, chocolate cake, layered with raspberries and a bitter chocolate ganache. Nothing I could have ever dreamed of making. Yet after a few months of helping mommy with banana bread and muffins and whatever other simple fare we ate in those days, I became determined to recreate it on my own.

First, I obtained the recipes. All online, of course—despite having over a dozen cookbooks in house, I am and always will be a child of the Internet. There was no-creaming-necessary one-bowl chocolate cake. Some kind of raspberry pie filling, uncooked. And of course, chocolate ganache. You cannot imagine how much I felt like an independent woman, perusing the supermarket aisles with my dad in tow while searching for raspberries, mixing together the cake batter, pretending not to notice when my mother strolled through the kitchen, unsure of exactly what little June Baby was doing.

No, not that Raspberry Pi. source

Making the ganache was fun. Was fun the first time, is fun every time. God I love that stuff.

After waiting however many hours it took for my two cake layers to bake, I removed them from the oven and waited what, five minutes, and subsequently attempted to bang the things out of their pans—only to burst into tears a round of cursing upon discovering the inevitable disaster. The first layer split in half, scattering crumbs everywhere and looking nothing like the clean, professional cake Dad always bought from the local bakery. I was starting to wonder if my self-doubt had some serious grounding.

Thankfully, those crumbs tasted good. And if it tastes good, then by Nietzsche’s thirty-third maxim you’d better eat it.

At that point, I stopped giving a flying screw and realized that hey, that trifle dish my mother always uses for Cooking Light tiramisu could come in handy. I basically shoved the two cake layers in the pan, layering the raspberries in between, and dumped the chocolate ganache over the whole business like the nihilistic pleasure-seeker ganache had turned me into. That ganache was an inch thick, I swear—a solid brick of chocolate diluted in liquid fat—and it was delicious. The one show-stopping feature of my otherwise mediocre cake.

Yes, I know, I'm a shitty artist. I know.

The lesson here? Nobody cares so long as there’s an inch of ganache on top. Actually, I’d say the most practical moral-to-the-story in that experience was the clear demonstration of why you should always let cakes cool for at least ten minutes before removing them from the pan, no more, no less, unless the recipe explicitly states otherwise. Explicitly, as in, with a mélange of creative curse words thrown in to emphasize the point.

But more importantly, I made a cake. From scratch. Flour, sugar, oil, water, cocoa powder—no emulsifiers, no preservatives, no powdered fats or artificial flavors (and although I can’t vouch for the naturalness of the vanilla extract, you know that stuff is mad expensive). It wasn’t hard, just somewhat stressful considering mommy dearest wasn’t around to correct me if I confused the baking powder and baking soda, or if I over-mixed, or if there were streaks of flour left in the batter as I poured it in the pan. I just winged it, and the cake came out perfectly.

Okay, other than not letting the layers cool long enough before attempting to remove them.

But you know. Confidence. That’s an important skill in baking—and I say skill because confidence is not something I naturally possess. We all doubt ourselves. And that, too, is useful in baking: knowing when to question yourself, to double-check the instructions, to take half an hour to do something that would take a profession ten minutes in the pursuit of getting everything exactly right. But sometimes, you just have to put it in the oven and hope for the best.

Unless you used a non-sided pan to roast the plums. And juice gets all over the oven and floods the house with smoke.

Or if you burn the pastry cream.

Or if you put boiling caramel in your mouth for some strange reason and run away screaming bloody murder.

Oh God. I could do this all day. 


  1. That last line about you putting boiling caramel in your mouth made me laugh out loud. I've made similar mistakes with pizza.

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I'm glad you can relate. :)

  2. Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post. Thanks so much and let keep on sharing your stuffs keep it up.

  3. This happened with my first layer cake! And then I swore off layer cakes for years. I waited about five minutes after taking it out of the oven as well, then the whole thing fell apart (as a smarter baker would expect).

    I didn't try to salvage it as you did though. Instead I just through the whole thing in a pan, slopped on frosting, then brought it into work with a note "tasty cake that fell apart, still tasty".

    1. That's the spirit :) thank you for stopping by!