I like to think most days I could turn out a decent cake without too much trouble. Particularly if I follow a recipe.
Yesterday, however, proved to me that some days its just never, ever, ever going to happen, no matter how many times you try to do it over.
I had a very specific cake in mind to bake. A favourite for the G’s that is a part of their family memory back to school days when they lived on the farm. It’s called Kath Lyon’s Carmel Cake, even though it tastes very little like caramel (apparently), and is more of a marble chocolate delight. I had asked for a copy of this recipe to re-create it on a special moment, and a family birthday seemed like the perfect day to do it. I contemplated it for weeks. I agonised over the icing, wanting the cake to be just right. I thought I had my timing right, waking up on Saturday morning, knowing it needed time to cool before I would be able to ice it for the birthday gathering later that afternoon. I was putting a little bit of pressure on myself: I was making a cake that every one else knew, and held fond memories of. I had no clue about what the end product should be like. I wanted to bring back good memories and turn the cake into a modern success. Unfortunately not so lucky.
And so this is the story of how with the best idea’s and intentions sometimes you just have to let it go and try again later. It’s also a lesson in reading your recipe correctly the first time…..and trusting your instincts when things are not turning out as they should.
This is the recipe that I received….
Kath Lyon’s Caramel Cake
cream 1/4 lb butter with 1 teacup sugar. add 1 beaten egg. melt in a saucepan 1 tbsp golden syrup with 1 c milk. add 1 tsp baking soda and add this to the creamed mixture. sift in 1 1/2 c flour, 1 tsp bp. pinch of salt. add a few drops of vanilla ess. pour half of the mixture into a baking tin and scatter with a handful of raisins. into the remaining mixture add 1 tbsp cocoa, stir and pour on top of the raisins. bake in a moderate oven for about 30 mins. ice with chocolate icing.
and this is the lessons learnt…..
You would think at the ripe old age of 35 I might have this one in the bag by now…..its not ideal when you are half way through making the 3rd lot of batter, with one lot already in the cake tin, and you realise that you didn’t add any raising agent, even though the recipe calls for baking powder….Fail!
Having spent time living in europe and cooking from european recipes, when I saw a small c beside the “milk 1c”, I read it as centilitre. After all earlier in the recipe list we had “1 teacup of castor sugar” (I could only assume this was 1 standard cup)…… turns out “c” means cup! I’m still a little confused on then what teacup stood for, but this part of the recipe was probably the cause of the EPIC fail!
The first batch of batter was very thick, but not unusual for some cakes I’ve made. The thing was there was such a small amount that halving it to create the second flavour would not have even covered the bottom of the cake tin, and I knew that couldn’t be right. So I decided I needed to make a second lot of batter for the top half in order to be able to create the right effect.
So I started on the second batch and it dawned on me that c meant cup, not centilitre…..and so following this idea, the second batch of batter was the consistency of pouring cream….way too runny in my mind for what cake batter should be like. At this point I should have phoned a friend (read the original baker of this recipe) for help. It was also about this time the other half started to suggest that we might need to buy a cake if we would have any hope of making the party in time. But I’m no quitter, I really really wanted this to work. Time for batter number three…….
Lesson Three: sometimes you really just need to abandon the sinking ship
Batch three…the arm was getting very very tired of trying to cream butter and sugar by hand. Frustration levels were reaching a pinacle in my efforts to produce a cake worthy of this family gathering I was attending. I was very lucky that I had still enough of the required ingredients in the pantry to be able to persist with these efforts. It was also about this time that I discovered the baking powder fail in the first batter mix. Needless to say I thought scraping it out of the baking tin, stirring through the baking powder, and returning to a cleaned and regreased tin was, at this point, an acceptable option. I was NOT making batch number four if I could help it! This final batter mix seemed to resemble the first, even though I compromised with a bit more milk and I proceeded as the method advised. The only difference being the chocolate mix was on the bottom and the vanilla mix on the top but I didn’t think that it would matter too much. Into the oven we go….fingers crossed…….
Lesson Four: Cake should not look like its turning into honeycomb when it is baking
Baking is a science, and the alchemy that occurs in the oven is often something to marvel at. When I started seeing the baking soda creating a honeycomb like effect in the baking tin though, I knew I was in trouble. I thought maybe it would set. I might be okay….please let it be okay! I’ll make the butter cream icing and when I turn around at the 30 minute mark advised for baking then the cake will have miraculously turned into what I was picturing in my head….NOT!!! 40 minutes in..the cake was still like liquid and I started to realise this was never going to happen. Emergency phone call to the other half down the shops…
And so the beautiful Nutella butter cream that was the only successful part of the baking, was used to disguise a store bought mothers day cake, and turn it into a birthday cake. This jimmied up cake was a success with satisfied grins all round from the 4 y.o. to the 62 y.o!
The moral of the story? No matter your experience levels, no one is perfect, and sometimes the kitchen disasters make for the best stories later on. I sure did get a lot of laughs out of explaining this to everyone last night. And I thought it was only fair to share with you too…after all no matter how skilled we are at what we do, we are all human, and the failures are the lessons that often go on to be the basis of successes.
By the way, I am still determined to bake this cake, and get it right…..do you think I’m foolish enough to try it for the next family birthday? I think a practice session might be in order before then….and a baking lesson too…..
Happy Cooking, and Happy Eating
16th May… a post script to this saga. Pam made the cake for the birthday boy and i’ve shared the recipe for those of you that might like to see how the cake should have been! check out Kath Lyon’s Caramel Cake.