I am the friend or family member that always offers to make a cake when someone is having a birthday or party. I am the one who obsessively photographs her baking creations. I am the one who hounds and interrogates those who sample said baked goods. "Would you like a piece of cake?" "What do you think?" "Why are you making that face?"
It is only fitting that I should fall flat on my face with some regularity, right? Last week it was Molly's eighth birthday, so I offered to make some sort of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. I decided to try a recipe for Chocolate Cream Cake: three devil's food cake layers with whipped cream between, frosted with a chocolate buttercream.
I got home from my Natchitoches trip with not a moment to spare before starting the cake that was needed the same night. All seemed to be going well. The cakes came out of the oven and were so moist that it was difficult to move them. The whipped cream was made with a little gelatin to stabilize it. I began assembling the cake with the first cake layer, then a whipped cream layer, &c. Let me add that at this point, unfrosted, the cake looked really wonderful. I applauded myself and predicted that this would really be the best, most impressive cake that I had made to date.
I made the chocolate buttercream and began to frost the cake. I frosted the top of the cake and then moved to the sides. It was very difficult to frost the sides, as the whipped cream kept seeping into my frosting, along with some chocolate cake crumbs, and worst of all, the cake was beginning to bulge out a bit on the sides. Wendy was watching me, and we both started laughing, but as I kept frosting, the laughter died and the cursing started. By the time I'd finished frosting the cake, I kept repeating aloud, "Oh my goodness. This is so ugly. There is no way I can take this cake to the party." It was really nightmarish, but nothing else could be done, and we were already late for the party.
Wendy hopped behind the wheel of my truck, and I sat in the passenger seat with the cake stand on my lap. Then we pulled out of the driveway, and I saw a couple of small cracks appear in the frosting on top of the cake. "Oh no, Wendy! Look!" Every jostle only widened the cracks, and by the time we reached the end of my block, we had the beginnings of what would be a full-blown fault line right down the center of the cake.
It was at this point that I began to take pictures of the cake, holding the camera with one hand, and the Mariana Trench Cake with the other. I was in slight shock and yelled to Wendy that she'd better step on it, because I believed the cake was about to split in two and crumble into my lap.
The ending is somewhat happier. I shared my sob story, over-emphasizing that moving the cake in the car was the cause of the cake's ugly demise. Lacy was good-natured about it, setting the cake on the table and announcing, "When Molly was born the earth shook, and so we're having an earthquake cake." Aunt Sue really thought the cake was supposed to look like that. The big 8 candle sank ever so nicely into the whipped cream. Everyone said they liked the cake, and Aunt Sue asked for the recipe. Granddaddy said that ugly cakes taste better, and he is never wrong.
It was Wendy who started calling me Ace. I will at least acknowledge that I learned something from the experience. Next time I will do a better job of leveling the cake layers, since I didn't do that at all this time. Stacking cake layers with rounded tops probably contributed to the top layer splitting. It might also have worked better to divide the cake batter into two pans instead of three and then halve the two cakes into four layers. I actually only have two identical 9" cake pans, and the third cake pan always produces a cake with a slightly different shape and requires a different baking time than the two matching pans. Unwise to mix and match when it comes to cake pans. The cake recipe actually called for a packaged mix to be used for the cake batter. I gasped in horror at the thought, but a cake made from a mix does have a more uniform crumb and would be less prone to splitting. I think I'll also try sticking the cake in the freezer after it's assembled but before frosting it. I don't know what it would hurt to have some extra firmness in both the cake and the frosting.
Mostly I was reminded that one should never never never try a new recipe for the first time when it's to be shared or taken somewhere. I hate that I always choose to debut new recipes in front of a mass audience, like at Thanksgiving dinner. Church potlucks are an exception. You can always expect an unintentionally-purple-colored chicken salad to be lost amongst an array of equally untantalizing dishes. "Looks like Ina Joe Smith brought her Bisquick sausage balls again! Some poor fool must have raved to her about those awful things." What was I saying about pride?
Molly's Birthday flickr slideshow