Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Cake That Almost Killed Me

I'd like to start off by saying I'm not entirely incompetent in the kitchen. I've been baking since I was 9, and in charge of my own kitchen for 19 years. About the only jobs I had before I graduated college and got a teaching job was working as a cook. One boss even told me I should go to culinary school.

I say this, because the rest of this post is going to convince you otherwise.

I wanted to make a German chocolate cake. This is how the story begins. It doesn't even begin with wanting to eat the cake. I didn't care about eating it. I wanted to bake it. Not from a box: although it would probably have tasted better and been easier, it wasn't the quick throwing in of water and eggs I want. I feel the need to create. Something fabulous.

I found a recipe and started setting things on the counter. It was a long list. Longer than most ingredient lists of things I cook. 21 to be exact. And I had almost all of them.

I did not have evaporated milk. I googled and figured out I could cook regular milk down. Sounded simple enough. Workable, I decided. I was not going to the store.

The recipe also called for Baker's Sweet Chocolate. I had semi-sweet. That would work, right? Close enough. There was enough sugar in the frosting to put this diabetic into a coma just making it. Semi-sweet was probably better anyway.

And it called for buttermilk. Seriously. Does anyone keep buttermilk in the house anymore? My mom told me a trick years ago to just add 1Tbs of lemon juice to one cup milk and you've got buttermilk for recipes. Another problem solved.

I'm rolling right through this recipe now. Butter and sugar beat, egg yolks and vanilla thrown in.

Cake flour. Whoops. I have regular flour. I've got bread flour. But I don't make cakes from scratch that often so no cake flour. How different can it be, right? So all-purpose it's going to be.

Sifted. Apparently this is important. You gotta sift all the lumps out or the cake will turn out all horribly.

I have no sifter thingy. But I have a colander. That should work, right? I throw the flow in the colander and start to sift... and realize the colandar is wider than the bowl. Flour proceeds to fly everywhere.

(I should stop here and remind you I can really cook. I can make the meanest jambalaya you've tasted... to die for. And chocolate chip pancakes that'll melt your heart... really. I cook. A lot. Usually well.)

The rest of the ingredients go in without incident. Mix 'em up and move to fluffin' the egg whites.

I might add here that I'm not the best egg white fluffer. For some reason, they don't usually peak that well. And this recipe had warning bells and flashing lights around the egg white fluffin' part. Make sure there is NO yolk in there!! Make sure the egg whites are room temperature, but not too room temperature they've gone bad. Beat them and then fold them immediately into the batter. If you wait, they'll droop and you'll have to start all over. Fold ever so gently or it'll ruin the batter. Slowly fold, and gently. Don't whip. Don't beat. Don't even stir. Gently... carefully... softly...

You've got to be kidding. I've gotten sweaty and my heart is pounding that I'm going to ruin it here, now, after my entire kitchen is coated in a fine mist of flour and I've triumphed over my lack of ingredients.

Softly, gently, nervously I fold. Softly, gently, nervously I pour into pans. It requires three 8" cake pans. I have one. But I have two 9" pie pans that are 8" on the bottom. I can put them together and even out the sides and WA LA! Three layers of 8" cakes. Gently, softly, I pour and put in the oven.

It has taken a ridiculous two hours. Two hours!! I could have assembled a three course meal in that time.

I arrive at the frosting side. I sigh. This is the easy part. I've got my evaporated milk I've handmade (how many people can say they made their own evaporated milk??). The rest is easy. I put the milk and butter in a pan and go to gather the shredded coconut (which I bought just for this occasion) and the pecans.

I'll stop here for a sec for some important backstory. My mom sings. In a choir. An important choir that went to NYC to sing at Carnegie. Big stuff. Anyway, big stuff costs big money, so they had fundraisers - like sixth grade band students. They sold pecans. For several years, they sold pecans. I had so many packages of pecans I didn't know what to do with them all. I put them in everything. Cookies, stuffing, trail mix. I froze them by the bag full. Pecans... not a problem.

Except.... I realized tonight, furiously going through my freezer.... I used them in everything. I used them all. There were no pecans.

You've got to be freakin' kidding me. There are no pecans in the house. This isn't something you can google and figure out how to substitute, either. It's not like you can take peanuts and add lemon juice and boil for ten minutes and get pecans. No, if you want pecans, you have to go buy them.

I call the kids. Put on your shoes. Put up the puppy. Climb in the car. Mommy is crazy enough that she's going out in rush hour traffic to get pecans.

Covered in flour.

Which I didn't realize until I got out of the van at the store and looked down at my dark purple shirt, which was more... white.

We got the pecans and went home.

I cooked them. I chopped them. I set them aside.

I set the milk and butter to cook and added the egg yokes. EXACTLY LIKE THE RECIPE SAID!!

You know what you get when you add egg yokes to some liquid warming on the stove? 


That's right.. the frosting now consisted of butter, milk, and scrambled eggs.

I was out of butter. My milk was carefully evaporated and I wasn't going to do that again.

I strained out the eggs and started over. I cooled the liquid. I separated more eggs. I'm running close to four hours now. This is the craziest cake I've ever made, and only about a quarter of the ingredients are actually what the recipe calls for. This can't be good.

I put the now cool liquid slowly into the egg yolks and whip with a wisk until I'm sure there are no breakfast food present. I put it on the stove and heat again. I throw in a little more sugar, and extra egg yolk, and some spreadable margarine (I'm out of butter) to thicken it up. It looks a little soupy for frosting.

I cook it. I stir it. I cook some more. When I'm sure it's going to suffice, I add the coconut and precious pecans and pray. I set it aside to cool.

My husband calls. He's on his way home. It's getting dark outside. It's past dinner time. I have no dinner, and only three separate layers of dry cake waiting for frosting. I pull out frozen chimichangas I bought last week for emergencies. This is beginning to feel like an emergency.

I throw them in the toaster over and start to clean. By the time he gets home, the counters look normal and clear, the dishes are done, the frozen dinner is ready, and a lopsided if not decadent cake stand waiting for him.

So we eat frozen dinner and gourmet cake. And everyone agrees:

It's delish!! Much better than boxed cake! Fabulous!!

Still... I think next time I'll get a little help from Betty Crocker...


  1. That was the best description of making a cake I've ever read.

    I absolutely hate when I'm in the middle of a receipe and realize that I'm out of brown sugar. I really need to get to know my neighbors.

  2. it was well worth it! the cake is FAB-U-LICIOUS!!!

    may I suggest updating your pantry?

  3. LoL! You are determined. I probably would have thrown the batter away after one hour and started to eat the semi sweet chocolate just to feel better!

  4. A friend once made me a German chocolate cake for my birthday. After this post, I have a new appreciation for the effort she put into it.

  5. This reminds me of the homemade carrot cake that almost did me in. Now, I make everything from scratch... I scratch that box right open.

  6. Lol, I read about your German Chocolate Cake adventure yesterday on Facebook so I HAD to stop by and see how it turned out. Very brave, taking that on. I'm a big fan of cutting corners so I would have supplemented a lot, too, but I don't know if it would have turned out as well :) Good job!

  7. Funny! I love a good baking story. Particularly when it's a mad dash with a delicious ending. And it wasn't me that mad dashed. :o)

    Thanks for visiting my blog so that I could find yours!

  8. Great cake baking story. LOL, I have a pb ms about baking a cake. :)

    I'm so excited about ordering your book today!