Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Oh, boy. Let's begin at the beginning. My father-in-law was in town for work recently and came over to have dinner with Dan and me on Valentine's Day. In honor of the occasion and the holiday, I decided to make us all a chocolate cake. Nothing fussy, no fancy piping or heart-shaped cut-outs or sugary pink decorations. I envisioned something more homespun: two layers of cinnamon-spiced chocolate cake covered in a thick layer of chocolate frosting. I would serve the cake on my pretty scallop-edged plate. We would eat it with mugs of chai tea. It would be perfect.

And then I overfilled both cake pans and it all went to hell. Dear readers, don't overfill your cake pans. Let me be the cautionary tale.

I would hate for your apartment to fill up with smoke about two hours before your guest arrived. You might think the burning smell is coming from bits of old food at the bottom of your oven that you should have cleaned last week, but no, it's the damn cake.

I would hate to imagine you having to pull the pans of half-baked, still-oozy cake out of the oven, finding globs of burning batter at the bottom of the oven.

I know you'd probably want to wait for the oven to fully cool down before you cleaned up the burning mess. Really, I'd hate for you to reach into the hot oven and burn your wrist scraping up cake ash. And yell about it to no one in particular.

I'd hate for you to have to open all of the windows to air out your apartment, especially on a 20-degree day.

Once the oven has cooled off, you'd be smart to put the cakes back in to finish cooking. After you scrape off the batter that leaked over the sides of the pan, of course. Which I'd hate for you to have to do, chipping your nail polish and all.

And once the cakes are cooked through and slightly cool, I'd hate for you to try to unmold them in a hurry, leaving big chunks of cake sticking to the pan. The layers will be so uneven and have so many craters and cracks, there is no way they can be stacked on top of each other, even with the most skillful cutting and shaving with a serrated knife. I'd hate to see the look on your face when you realize this.
And I'd hate for you to start picking at the lopsided cakes in frustration, eating big pieces which make the layers look even more ragged. There is nothing worse than feeling gluttonous and like a failure. But at least the cake tastes good. A little too keep eating it.

Chocolate frosting might save this fugly cake. You would be smart to make some and set it aside in the refrigerator to thicken up. But don't leave it in there for too long--I'd hate for it to harden and turn grainy, leading to further frustration and freak-outs. (Luckily, re-cooking it over a double-boiler will do the trick, leaving the frosting shiny and satiny-smooth.)

You may quickly realize that slapping frosting on a busted cake won't really save anything. And I'd hate to see you contemplate throwing both layers in the garbage.

No, you will not throw it away. Instead, you will serve it forth by cutting the cake in the kitchen where no one can see. You'll cut slices only from the center of the cake, making almost passable squares that no one will question. And you will take a bite and say, "This tastes exactly like a boxed Entenmann's cake. All that work for a boxed Entenmann's cake."


Barbara said...

I'm so sorry that I am laughing my ass off right now, but this post is just so well written and funny. I love the whole "I'd hate for you..." parts. That's really good. :)

I've done the exact same thing you did, though, once. I made -- or tried to make anyway -- a lemon cake and it literally fell apart in the oven. When I took it out and taste tested it, I discovered that it actually tasted fine but looked terrible. I stood there, crying my eyes out and wolfing down huge chunks of cake, going "It's so good but it looks so ugly. I can't serve this to anybody. I'll just stand here and eat it and feel sorry for myself."

I've never tried to make that same cake again.

Wikes! said...

I am so sorry. I've been there done that where one thing goes horribly wrong and all the improvising tricks in the world does not stop it from snowballing. At least you have a good story from it and a couple of baking lessons.

Tracy said...

This was brilliant. I was smiling all the way through. :)

Casey@Good. Food. Stories. said...

Oh noes... I did this with gingerbread once, and believe me, I'd hate for you to smell THAT burning. At least it was cake and not an expensive roast!

Unknown said...

Sometimes you write better than you cook.
This is one of those times :)

Janice said...

You showed much fortitude in the face of crisis! I have to say it looked delicious in the picture. I'm glad you can laugh about it now.

Lisa said...

Thanks, all! I'm so glad you enjoy reading about my occasional mishaps. It makes making mistakes much more bearable.

Anonymous said...

You could show the matchbox of a kitchen where all those good things come from sometime.

Unknown said...

I was contemplating publishing mishaps too. People can learn from them as much as from other posts. Hilarious narrative.

Beth said...

the good news is there's a dramatic difference from the first photo to the last. given that first one, i'm so impressed you were able to save the day!

Daniel said...

I think this post should have noted that someone wanted to throw this cake away because she was so flustered by how it came out. I had to tell her that was a waste and it would still taste good no matter what it looked like. We've been eating it ever since.

Lisa said...

Tender Branson: You should! People love mishaps.

Beth: Aw, thanks. If the cake didn't taste good I would have been screwed, but luckily it was edible.

Daniel: Busted!


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