Posted by: Hannah | 05/13/2015

in which i bake a cake

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.



  1. There’s a cake that I bake that our family has fondly named “Ugly cake”. Because no matter what I do, it NEVER comes out of the pan looking pretty. Ever. My solution is to just cover up the ugliness with frosting and be done with it. The good news is…it’s delicious!

    Also: I feel your pain when it comes to birthday cakes. I’ve made plenty in my day, too, and anticipate many more. The things we do for love…

    • My mom counted once how many birthday cakes she made for us all over the course of her life… it was a sobering amount of cakes.

      Did I mention I also don’t have any piping bags or tips and instead use a sandwich baggie with the corner snipped off for decorating? Yeah.

      • Dude. I’m pretty sure you can get at least tips (which you can use with a baggie!) at the Dollar Store.

  2. PHOTOS, I NEED PHOTOS . Else the above did not happen!! Reminded me of the daughters 1st birthday cake. I hired a great big number 1 tin. Baked it. It took about an 18 egg Victoria Sponge. I cut it in half. Added jam and butter cream to both halves. Then went to put them together. I’d covered the same half. I’d not turned one of the cakes over so the top of the 1 didn’t match. So because I’d covered what was now the top in buttercream, I had to re sandwich it together properly and cover the whole damned thing in buttercream. During handling, bits of the sodding cake had dropped off. By the time I finished, the cake was about a foot high, mainly buttercream. It was the sickliest cake On. The. Planet! There is a photo on the blog somewhere! Bloody cake.

    • Oh GOD. I’m laughing, but it’s sympathy-laughing, because I can totally see myself doing the same thing.

  3. I hate fondant too, but I sometimes use cake mixes (sorry). I also have really bad carpal tunnel and tendinitis, so my decorating is very basic. Happily, my kids are fairly undemanding. I had something similar to this process happen, though, the other night trying to steam clean the rug upstairs with my baby Bissell green machine. I had congratulated myself on stowing it neatly in the upstairs closet, and then realized I had put the cleaning solution, bristle brush and DIRECTIONS somewhere else entirely. All the things are just so annoying sometimes.


  4. I swear things like this happen to me at least 1/2 the time when I’m making something. I feel as though evil spirits are coming and removing various equipment and/or ingredients I KNOW I have so I’m left feeling like I’m completely losing my mind.

    Most recent example: made a chocolate lava cake thing that calls for ramekins. I’ve made this dessert numerous time. Numerous. This time? No ramekins. I tore the kitchen apart. We don’t use them for anything else. WTF did they go? I punted using bowls. Fast forward to a month later when H and I tackle a small part of the overwhelming project known as “clean out the damned garage” and there were all of the ramekins, shoved on a random shelf with things like bird seed and window cleaner in the garage. Who on earth put them there? I’m starting to believe someone in my family is deliberately gas lighting me…

    • This is EXACTLY the kind of thing that would happen to me, too.

  5. Cake! I have to mentally prepare for cake battle at least a week beforehand. Regular fondant is evil and not tasty; Have you ever tried marshmallow fondant? If you are already making frosting you have to cook, (how buff are you!), you might consider looking up a recipe for this type online. (I found a great one on Because, comedy. Plus it doubles as play dough for kids, so the day kiddies could play with the scraps.

  6. Hahahaha, I have looked at that recipe so many times and have decided it’s too much work for me. Plus, I’m the only one in our household who eats sweets so I would have to eat the WHOLE THING. Major kudos to you for making it! 🙂

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