Last week was Handsome Hubby’s birthday. What do you give a man of modest needs and wants who has everything but the time to enjoy what he’s got? A delicious home-cooked dinner with a cake made from scratch, thought I, a cooking klutz.
The truth is I’m actually a pretty decent cook, but I am sadly severely baking-challenged. So, I spent much time searching for a dessert recipe that was delicious, but also doable.
Death by Chocolate Chip
After much debate, I picked a recipe for a Mocha Chocolate Chip Cake with Mocha Chocolate Chip Icing. Death by chocolate chip! What a sweet way to go!
But then, barely-able-to-bake me made a mistake. Instead of using my tried and true 8-inch cake pans, I decided to get fancy. I decided to make a three-layer cake, using my just purchased impulse buy “tower of tins.”
This rash decision exposed my achy breaky Achilles’ heel – Math. Percentages. Long division. Algebra. Geometry. Trigonometry. AX2 + BX + C =? Who knows? Who cares? It’s an eternal, infernal mystery to me.
Death by Math
The half-baked (well-named, you will see) math dilemma: if I had opted for the two 8-inch tins, I needed 16 inches of batter. The three-layer newbie tins were 8-, 6- and 4-inches. So, I needed 18 inches of batter, two additional inches.
For me, it was a batter matter of great significance, generating a veritable, albeit two-inch, tsunami of trepidation.
I needed to make more batter, right? But exactly how much more? Baking is a precise art. How do you calculate increases in teeny amounts of liquids like vanilla?
Two-inches Too Many
I consulted with three girlfriends – two gifted bakers and the third, a physician who also bakes. (I thought her medical degree conferred and confirmed the needed strong math skills for the complex calculation at hand.)
“Ignore the difference,” advised the first. “Just follow the recipe as is.”
“Unthinkable,” I cried out. Well, I didn’t cry out. I just thought it.
“Increase the recipe by 50% and that should work,” recommended the second.
“Hump,” I thought, realizing this woman obviously wasn’t a very good friend if she didn’t appreciate the fear the word “percent” stirred in my heart.
“Double the recipe and make cupcakes with the excess batter,” advised my MD/baking buddy.
Now “doubling” is possibly the only math concept I understand. One cookie + one cookie = 2 cookies = double deliciousness! So, that was the plan I went with.
Birthday Bake Time
B-day arrived. HH left for work. Yes, work. Work-a-holic HH managed to schedule “can’t miss, can’t reschedule” back-to-back meetings.
I entered the kitchen, prepared for bake battle. I had purchased enough confectioner’s sugar to blanket a Lake Tahoe mountaintop with faux snow and I had bought sufficient semi-sweet chocolate chips to satisfy the needs of Willy Wonka and his Oompa Loopas for a year.
The night before I had even remembered to take out the butter to let it soften. Unfortunately, the butter was unsalted. The recipe called for salted butter, which I never buy. Of course, a savvy, confident cook would have just added a little more salt to the recipe. But “savvy” and “confident,” as you probably have discerned, are not adjectives that apply to bake-lite me. So, like a madwoman, I sped off to the store, narrowly avoiding two blissful Berkeley bicyclists along the way.
The clock was ticking and I already was behind schedule.
I started measuring and mixing, carefully doubling each ingredient. There was so much batter in the bowl that my KitchenAid mixer was actually moaning and groaning, shaking and quaking. Chocolate chip batter was flying in every direction.
Cupcakes vs. Scones
Staring at the massive mess, I belatedly remembered the plan to make the cupcakes with the excess batter. I ran to the garage where I store all the SUSJGACG (seldom-used, should just give-away cooking gear). There I found a tin for scones, but no cupcake pan. It would have to do.
I gingerly poured batter into the scone tin and the cake pans. Twenty minutes later, I took the sconish-cupcakes out. I immediately tore one open and tasted it. To my complete amazement, it was delicious.
Holding one out as if it was an offering to the Gods, I proudly presented a cupcake to my adult child, who certified the creation’s yumminess.
“I guess I didn’t need to have ordered those store-bought cupcakes as a back-up in my Amazon food delivery today,” he commented.
I walked away, simultaneously charmed by his thoughtfulness and fore-sightedness in preparing for the worst and offended by his lack of confidence in my baking abilities.
At the end of 35 minutes, the suggested baking time, I inserted toothpicks into the three cakes to see if they were done. Nope. Five minutes later, still no. Another five minutes on the clock and the 6-inch layer was done. Ten minutes later the medium-size cake was ready, while the batter in the 8-inch pan continued to cling to toothpick after toothpick like fat on my thighs. Finally, many, MANY minutes later, the cake in the large pan passed the toothpick test!
After the recipe-advised 15-minute cooling off period passed, I carefully removed each cake from its pan. The first two cakes were oddly tall but fine and firm. The 8-incher was a challenge to extract from its pan. The sides were browner than ideal, but still acceptable.
But when I set it down, the center immediately started collapsing. First, a little bit. Then, a bit more. Then, it completely cratered out. Yes, Houston, we have a problem!
Matters – and batter – got worse. Batter, in fact, began oozing out from beneath the cooling rack. The toothpick had lied! The center had not cake-i-fied. It was, at best, pudding. But really, it was just a half-baked, mushy mocha mess.
Cake Klutz. Cake Catastrophe
Sweating and sad, I walked away. I needed to cool my heels, nerves, and the surviving two cake layers. I did exercises to relieve my aching back (and heart), answered emails, contemplated ordering take-out or pizza for dinner, anything to avoid returning to the kitchen. Finally, however, I did return to the scene of the cake catastrophe and prepared the rest of the meal.
3 p.m. or so
By now, the cake had cooled. Onward to the icing. I mixed the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, instant espresso coffee granules, and butter together and then stirred in the chocolate chips. The icing was very lumpy, concrete-like. My attempt to spread it was as epically inept as my efforts at making the cake itself. In some places, the cake appeared to have a bad case of acne. In other spots, where the chips had merged together into larger masses, the cake resembled a boulder-strewn moonscape. Again, Houston, we have a problem!
HH arrived home, exhausted from a long day working, only to be greeted by exhausted, batter-splattered me and an equally batter-splattered kitchen. “Why don’t you take a shower,” he gently suggested, “The Kid and I will clean up the mess, ur, I mean, the kitchen.”
As I headed down the hall, dazed, I heard The Kid whisper to HH, “Do you want the cupcakes I got for dessert or should I defrost the cheesecake I also bought?”
Cake Catastrophe Aftermath – one “surviving” cake layer, one sad, homemade cupcake and the tasty store-bought ones as well!
And in case you’re interested, here is the mocha chocolate chip cake recipe from The New York Times. Looking at the newspaper recipe picture, I belated realize that the chips don’t go in the icing, but on top of the cake after it is iced! Oh, well. Betty Crocker, I ain’t! Next year, I will, as they say, make reservations!