Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Weekend Cake Disaster

Bear with me, this will be a little long.

This Saturday I decided to bake a cake; not just any cake but a very involved cake (the recipe was 3 pages long) from a real professional baker's website. I was full of ambition and excitement. It took me a couple of weeks to assemble the plethora of ingredients that no one has in their kitchen arsenal (unless you have questionable sanity). The cake included 5 parts - the cake itself, the meringue buttercream frosting, the toffee drizzle, the toffee crumble, and the little pipings of buttercream/toffee decoration on the top.

My spirits were high as I started the process of making the batter. I hand chopped 8 apples into small bits, cut out parchment paper circles to go in the bottom of my two round cake pans before greasing and flouring them. Feeling very professional I started up my Kitchen aid mixer and started adding the many ingredients. I had even remembered to set out the 9 sticks of unsalted butter that morning to soften. I might want to add here that I am almost blind as a bat. I have to wear reading glasses to see anything in front of my face. I read the directions carefully but slipped my glasses off briefly to go to the bathroom. Arriving back into the kitchen I grabbed what I thought was a teaspoon measure. You can already imagine, I am sure, what I grabbed instead; yep, a tablespoon. I did not catch the mistake and by the time the batter was done, in the oven, and baking had commenced. When I started washing the dishes I happened to glance down and notice the error of my ways. I had put in double the baking powder, double the salt, double the vanilla, and double the cinnamon. I wasn't too worried about the cinnamon part but the salt, vanilla, and baking powder had me concerned. I ran over to the oven and yanked it open and what was before me was a big, hot mess. Batter had lifted up and was spilling over the sides of the pans into my beautifully clean oven! Holy hell!! I grabbed potholders and started to draw the pans out and they spilled everywhere...on my potholders, my hands, the stove element...I invented a few curse words. I got out a cookie sheet and tried to maneuver the overfull pans on it and spilled more hot batter in the process. God help me. I cleaned up as much spilled batter as I could and the house was immediately filled with smoke and the smell of something burnt. I began to sweat profusely.

Moving on. Pans back in the oven, nerves tense, and heart pounding I moved on to start the toffee drizzle. Everything was going beautifully. I had the butter melted, the brown sugar added, pinch of salt and then needed to add 1/4 cup of whipping cream. I had not purchased this item because I knew I had some left from a previous recipe. I reached in, opened the carton only to discover it was molded. Are you serious?! I set the toffee aside...I'll deal with this later. About this time the timer goes off telling me the cakes done. I open the oven, look in and the cake is NOT done and more batter has spilled over onto the cookie sheet. UGH. Clearly this was a recipe that need three cake pans, not two. I reset the timer for another 5 minutes. After that, another 5. After that another 5. I'm getting more and more aggitated. I decide to move forward with the recipe while waiting for the eternal cake to bake. Thank God for a 2nd oven. I put my crumble on a piece of parchment paper and on a cookie sheet in the lower oven and set the timer on the shortest of the time given - just to be on the safe side and had a drink to calm my nerves. Timer goes off on the cake in the oven and I go check again for the 10th time. Cake looks done, so I pull it out. But I'm nervous. Is it even edible? I eye my apples knowing full well I don't have enough to cut up more for a 2nd batch of cake batter. I'm also out of softened butter, pecans, all-purpose flour and I almost used the entire bottle of vanilla with those 2 tablespoons of error. Could this day get any worse? Oh yes, it can. I tipped the pans onto my cooling rack and both cake layers crack in half. OMG. I lean over the kitchen counter until my forehead is resting on it and say a prayer for strength. The oven timer on the 2nd oven goes off signaling the crumble is done. I open the oven and the outer edges are all burnt. Devil get thee out!!! I grit my teeth and pull the pan out, burning my finger in the process. Nearly dropping the crumble and hot pan on the floor, I rescue it but still spill part of it on the floor. Both dogs come running and sniff and walk away. Is this an omen of some kind? My optimism is running thin.

I go and share with my husband and son about the cake screw up. Both of them, always eager for my baking prowess, give me a pep talk and tell me the cake will probably be fine. God love them both. My son comes in the kitchen and uses a fork to scrape off some spilled, baked cake off the cookie sheet and has a taste. "Mom," he says, "this is really good!" I look skeptical and he gets a fork full and gives me a taste. I am shocked. It's edible. I decide for today I am done with this recipe. I pour the partial toffee ingredients into a small plastic container and put a lid on it and leave it on the counter. I pick off the burnt edges on the crumble and put it in a container with a lid. The cracked in half cake layers remain on the cooling rack and I go relax a bit and let them cool. The recipe asks me to cut each layer in half with a serrated cake knife to make a total of 4 layers. I have never done this before. I don't even own a serrated cake knife but in the weeks preparing for this baking experience I have purchased one. Once the cakes are cool I go in and proceed to cut each one in half (remember, they are already in half in the wrong direction). To say this process went poorly is an understatement. Sawed in half would be the best description of what took place. I mean, they looked like I sawed them in half with a chainsaw. Not to be deterred, I carefully lifted each rough cut layer onto a sheet of plastic wrap and stacked them together on the counter. I shall resume this process tomorrow. I went to bed, happy my cakes were not a disaster though they would not look like they did in the picture.

Sunday morning I got up to find a big dent in the top of the upper layer. Apparently one of the cats had got up on the counter and attempted to step on it. No was covered with plastic wrap and it's nothing a little homemade frosting couldn't fill. I read over the frosting recipe multiple times to avoid mistakes made the day before. Glasses in hand I started the process of cracking 6 eggs to rescue only the whites. This part of the recipe was very involved. You had to whisk the whites and sugar over a double boiler until it reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. This was new ground for me! I had to search for a pan and a heat safe dish that would fit, just right over it since I don't own a double boiler. While the water heated up I realized I had misplaced the whisk attachment on my mixer. I searched high and low, getting more and more desperate by the moment, looking for that attachment, forgetting my pan of hot water. So you can imagine my "joy" at discovering the water had boiled out of the pan and the pan was "dry boiling" and starting to smell burnt. CRAP. After cleaning the pan and filling it with more water I finally remembered where the whisk attachment was stored and quickly retrieved it. Back to whisking the egg whites and sugar. Once I got the mix to 160
degrees, it was back into the mixer bowl and whisking on low until I had stiff peaks. I never got stiff peaks. Don't ask me where this process went haywire. I ended up whisking it for double the time hoping for peaks eventually but admitted defeat and added the rest of the ingredients. 9 sticks of unsalted, softened butter went in... 2 tsp at a time, as the recipe stated. The mix was soupy. Dammit. Reading past the instructions for the decorative piping for later I discovered in her notes section that if the buttercream was soupy to put it in the fridge for 10-15 min. Awesome! Into the fridge it went. I waited 15 min...still soupy. WTH. 15 more minutes... still soupy but not as much so. 15 more minutes... no change. We're proceeding come hell or high water. I tentatively start removing the plastic wrap from the cake layers and as I slide my hand underneath layer #1 to put it on the cake plate it crumbles into a million pieces before my eyes. Good God in heaven! Not to be defeated, I scoop as much cake crumbles as I can and dump them on the plate. I take a good spoonful of frosting and slam it down. Smearing with gritted teeth I pick up pieces of cake in the frosting as I smear getting madder by the minute. Unwrapping layer #2, I repeat the process with the same result. Are YOU kidding me?!!! I start to do the slam and frost process again muttering a few cuss words under my breath and realize I forgot to sprinkle the first layer with crumble. Forget it. There is no way to fix that now. I'll just put the crumble on the 2nd and 3rd and 4th layer. Cake is falling apart everywhere. Every layer is losing about 1/2 of the cake in crumbled pieces. I rescue the bigger chunks that have held together, smash them down on the lower layer, and salvage what I can. In the end, after the last layer of crumbs go on and get frosted and crumbled, I am covered in cake crumbs, the floor is covered in cake crumbs, but both dogs are doing the best they can to keep up and lick as much cake off the floor as possible.  I stand back, look at the mess before me, at the pile of dishes in the sink covered with cake crumble and feel victorious.

I never made it to the store to buy heavy whipping cream, so the toffee drizzle never made it on the cake. I also did not try using leftover frosting to make the pretty piping on the top of the cake because the cake had no real edges. I do believe if I added anything else to this disaster I was taking a huge chance of ending up with something that needed to be moved into a bowl. I will say this... my son was the first to be brave and have some cake after dinner. He told me the cake was life changing and the best he'd ever had. I smiled at him and told him to enjoy it because it would never be made in this house again. That recipe, by the way? Don’t ask for it. It went right in the trash!

Here's what the disaster looked like inside and out!

Did not look at all like the baker's version!

You can see my smash and crumble technique really well inside!

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