The recipe said to use one cake pan. I wondered about that. As I poured the batter into the pan and saw how full the pan was, I wondered again. I went ahead and followed the recipe, and not my instincts.
I should have followed my instincts.
Had my pan had taller sides, it probably would have been okay. Instead, it spilled out over the top of the pan and onto my oven. Nothing like the smell of burning cake wafting through the house late at night.
When I dumped it out of the pan, it started falling apart. I was upset, but decided to sleep on it and see in the morning if I could salvage it or if I should start all over.
I’m comfortable improvising in the kitchen, but not when it comes to baking. Baking is chemistry. And chemistry? Not my bag. I ended up getting exempted from chemistry lab in high school because of my ability to set things on fire and blow things up without being able to explain how I just did that. My love of profanities didn’t help the situation either. When you come close to setting your chemistry lab partner on fire, it’s best to not say “oh shit” and then burst into uncontrolled giggles apparently. (The same can be said for cutting your family’s hair. Whoops is also not a good word to use in these situations.)
My instinct told me to use two pans and I should have listened. From here on out, I will be better about listening to that voice. I even noted in the cookbook to use two pans next time. Chemistry and altering recipes might not be my thing, but I can tell when to use a different pan than called for. I have successfully made cupcakes from a cake recipe before, so I really should have known better.
I decided to try putting the cake together with filling and frosting. This was the first layer cake I’d attempted since the cake class I’d assisted with in February and I felt confident enough in the skills I’d picked up there to try it.
The recipe I was following was Chocolate Blackout Cake from Wayne Harley Brachman’s Retro Desserts cookbook. I love this cookbook. The lemon square recipe in this is my go-to. The cream filled chocolate cupcake recipe? One of my standards. So I trust this cookbook. I think I just forgot that pastry chefs tend to have better equipment than us home chefs and their cake pans are taller. It made a difference here.
I learned in my cake class a good way to keep the filling contained between your cake layers is to pipe a row of frosting around the edge. This cake was being frosted in a ganache frosting. I wasn’t sure how this would work as my edging, so after some brainstorming, I made a chocolate whipped cream and used that to keep the pudding filling in place. It also gave me a good chance to practice using my pastry bag. I still need practice.
Turns out the whipped cream came in handy. After I got the cake together and frosted, it was most definitely what you would call ‘wonky’. One side had a huge divot where the cake had fallen apart and I wasn’t able to patch it with frosting. Buttercream is much more forgiving than ganache when you have a cake that has structural issues. The recipe called for toasting cake crumbs and using them to coat the cake. I have tried toasting the cake crumbs in making this cake before and didn’t care for it. I just let the cake crumbs sit out over night and after a skim coat of whipped cream, I coated it in crumbs.
The birthday boy’s request was for ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate and maybe some fruit’. With that in mind, I cut some strawberries in half and used the very last of the chocolate whipped cream to ‘glue’ them to the sides of the cake. A little time in the refrigerator to firm everything up and voila, chocolate chocolate chocolate cake with some fruit.
The finished product was tasty. I doubled the ganache frosting and used a full batch of the pudding. Next time I might try a double batch of pudding, as I like a nice thick filling between my cake layers. (The recipe in the cookbook calls for 1/2 batch. Definitely not enough.) Despite the structural issues, the cake itself was just right – not too dry, not too moist. It could have used more pudding as filling but everyone seemed to like it just fine the way it was. Thankfully, thirteen year old boys are much easier to please than forty-something amateur pastry chefs. Although I do get a kick out of hearing them talk about how I’m going to make the next birthday boy an even better cake than this one. That’s my kind of trash talk.