When I was growing up, our mom always baked our birthday cakes from scratch. I always said that when I had kids I would do the same. For the most part, I have. There were a couple of years in there with Harry when I got the grocery store to bail me out – he always had Very Firm Opinions about how he wanted his cakes decorated, and throwing $25 to the bakery so someone else could do it seemed like money well-spent – but as my family grew while my paycheck stayed the same size it seemed prudent to learn how to do it myself.
I’ve since gotten pretty comfortable with producing birthday cakes. I’m not Cake Boss, and because I hate the taste of fondant with a burning passion there is a limit to what I can accomplish, but the kids are happy.
Today is Michael’s birthday, and so I decided to make him the “You’re Gonna Die Anyway” chocolate cake from Eat, Shrink, and Be Merry. (You can find the recipe here.) I’ve made it once before, so I know exactly how sinfully rich and delicious this triple-layer cake is. It’s a lot of work, but the end result is dramatic (even though he doesn’t like it with the suggested fruit garnish), and it always leaves lots for sharing because even my sweet-toothed family can’t eat very much of it.
So. I got my ingredients together and dove in.
The batter was a snap, and I was just starting to think this isn’t so bad, I remember this being much more complicated, when I realized I had to grease the three circular cake pans. No problem! Got my parchment paper and my shortening all ready to go! LET’S DO THIS!!
There were only two circular cake pans in the drawer.
It was one of those moments where you start to think you’ve lost your mind. I had George and Daisy standing, one at each elbow, “helping”. I had every pan in the drawer hauled on and scattered around the kitchen floor. No matter how many times I picked each one up and frowned at it, there will still only two circular cake pans. TWO. ALWAYS TWO. Please don’t ask me where the third one is. I know I had one, because I’ve made this cake before, and yet the third pan has vanished, disappeared somehow, perhaps an offering to Discworld’s Anoia, goddess of Things That Get Stuck In Drawers.
Eventually I did a desperate, crazy thing. I prepped two circular pans and one square pan. I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know what I was thinking. I just did it, and in retrospect that was a weird decision but it made sense at the time? I guess?
I baked all three pans and learned, to my dismay, that my oven really doesn’t heat evenly anymore. One cake was perfect. One had a tiny little fall in the middle, easily hidden with frosting. One – the square one! – had a giant scoop taken out of the middle as if a gorilla had wandered by and grabbed a handful just for kicks.
Cool the cakes in the pans on a wire rack for ten minutes, said the recipe. Only… I don’t have wire racks. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE. At this point I was honestly flummoxed as to how I made this cake the first time, since clearly I’m woefully unprepared for it.
In the end I fashioned a wire-rack-like construction out of butterknives, laid in a row. It worked! I am a genius of jury-rigging things when I don’t have the proper tools. I’m like Ma Ingalls making a lamp out of axle grease and a button.
The effort of figuring all that shit out wearied me, so I decided to leave the frosting for today. This meant of course that I spent the evening and early morning patiently moving three cake layers from place to place in my kitchen, muttering under my breath that we have no counter space and this kitchen is just too small and why did I start this insanity.
This morning I tackled the frosting. In case you didn’t look at the recipe, it’s a long process. Boil cocoa, sugar, and whipping cream. Melt a whole bunch of chocolate. Whip cream cheese and butter. I finally got all the components together and put it in the fridge to set while I finally confronted my folly… two circles and a square.
I used the best layer for the bottom. Do I have a proper cake stand? Of course I don’t! I ended up turning a glass pie dish upside down because all of my plates are slightly concave, and this cake needs a solid base to hold up the weight. I used the second circular cake for the middle layer and I could have stopped there! I could have said “a two-layer cake is plenty!” I could have taken the poor sad square cake with the collapsed middle and disposed of it. I DID NOT HAVE TO DO THIS.
But I did. I laid it on and cut off the corners to match the round layers underneath. I filled in the hole with extra frosting and then covered up my multitude of sins with more frosting. #hailfrosting
The end result is a cake that looks kinda sad, but tastes delicious (I know, because those cake scraps and leftover frosting weren’t going to eat themselves.) Also I now have a list of things I need if I’m going to be making four birthday cakes a year from now until eternity.
Man, I wish I didn’t hate fondant.