Music: There Goes the Fear – Doves
Looks spectacular, doesn’t it? Well, I didn’t make it. The greatest patisserie in the United States did. I wanted to make a chocolate cake with Whoopie Pie frosting that looked like that for my father’s birthday. Instead, I made this:
Wah wah. (It really was delicious but it was an absolute failure, aesthetically). The frosting wasn’t thick enough (in my defense the room was rather hot and the butter in the frosting melted). Also, the top layer broke in two in my hands as I was about to gently place it on top of the cake tower. When I was adding the top layer of frosting to the cake, the thin frosting sank into the crack of the split top layer like molten lava causing the two parts to shift apart like tectonic plates during an earthquake (so many natural disaster references in one sentence!) and slowly fell from the top. Finally, after many attempts to keep the two parts in place, hoping desperately the frosting would set while my hands held them together, we devised a plan. We cut two chopsticks in half, inserted them into four corners of the cake, tied some string around two of the sticks to bind the two parts together and VOILA, a “fix” was born. In the end it sort of looked like the two towers of the Manhattan Bridge suspended over the East River and I thought about rigging some sort of string device between them to make the “fix” seem intentional.
Abraham Lincoln said “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” No, Mr. Lincoln I am not content! I’ve decided to dedicate this Sweet Thursday to failure. Talking about your cooking failures is cathartic (even publically…on your food blog). You realize that even your culinary heroes have make mistakes. Mistakes that clearly did not deter them.
A story: I have a friend who really gifted and is one of those people in life who pretty much always gets what he wants and is always good at it (it’s irritating). However, on one rare occasion, he failed. He wanted to make dessert at our house one night and put all our new glass tumblers in the oven (with some sort of soufflé inside them). While waiting for our dessert to finish we suddenly heard all these “pops” from inside the oven (I mean, I could have told you glass was going to break in the oven but he convinced me it would be fine). Turns out every single one of those new tumblers had cracked, exploding their insides to every orifice of my oven. This certainly was a food failure. Regardless of this, he went on to be part of the Pastry department at one of NYC’s top rated restaurants (Babbo…can I say that??).
So, yes, I made a really awful looking cake (that, again, tasted magnificent) but I will not always do that. I will someday make an amazing looking cake that, at first sight, without convincing, makes everyone want to eat it. It just takes practice. This cake required innovation and feats of engineering. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted but I learned what not to do next time.
What you’ll need for the Chocolate Cake: (this is a basic chocolate cake recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book) I’ve tried hundreds of chocolate cake recipes – including one I threw out before this cake – and this by far is the most superior. It is really moist and chocolaty. (I swear, it was like I was running a test kitchen for one birthday cake).
3/4 cup of room temperature butter, 3 room temperature eggs, 2 cups of flour, 3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tsp. of baking soda, 3/4 tsp. of baking powder, 1/2 tsp. of salt, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tsp. of vanilla, 1 1/2 cups of milk (I used whole milk).
- Preheat over to 350 degrees.
- Grease bottom of two 8” or 9” round or square pans.
- Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper.
- Grease sides and top of waxed paper.
- Lightly flour each pan.
- In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with hand mixer (or stand mixer) for 30 seconds.
- Add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time.
- Beat for 2 minutes.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Beat in vanilla.
- Alternatively add 1/3 flour mixture and milk until all is well combined.
- Beat on medium for 30 seconds more.
- Spread into prepared pans.
- Bake for 4o minutes.
- Cool cake in pan (on wire rack, preferably) for 20 minutes.
- Remove layers from pans and peel off waxed paper.
- Cool completely before frosting.
Because I was trying to make a three layer cake, I cut one cake in half. I cut the top of the second cake off and put it aside. When I looked over at the discarded cake top I was immediately reminded of my Grandmother Lucca. She made wedding cakes for a living. She would have cake tops laying around her kitchen. My cousin Monica and I were talking about being young and stealing the cake tops away, then garnishing them with leftover frosting. For some reason, they always tasted better than the actual cake.
What you’ll need for the frosting: this is a combination of a buttercream frosting and a whoopie pie filling. Whoopie pies come from Maine where my grandfather grew up…they certainly remind me of him so I wanted to make a REALLY big one for my fathers birthday (and clearly this didn’t turn out so well). Admittedly, I experiment too much. But next time I know what to do in order to stiffen this frosting up because it was a GREAT combination.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened, 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, 2 cups of Fluff, 2 tsp. vanilla, 1 tsp. of heavy cream.
beat together with mixer for 1 minute until smooth. I used a pastry bag to frost each layer.