When I found out he hated pie – hated, mind you – it felt like a sharp jab, WEC style, to the rib cage. But, my heart sank down to my knees when I learned that my boyfriend favored yellow cake over any other kind of dessert. Even worse, he said he loved the boxed-mix cake and canned frosting. He’s a simple guy, with simple taste, he defends. Most desserts are so overwhelmingly sweet that he will take one bite and double over because of a side-ache.
I quizzed every guy I knew after this revelation and found that most of them were fans of the yellow cake, too. What?! How did I miss that memo?
There’s nothing fancy about yellow cake and chocolate frosting – especially when it’s from a box. Sure, it’s reliably always yellow cake with chocolate frosting, but there’s no wow-factor. No marzipan draped over it. No halo of whipped cream. There might be a sprinkling of multi-colored sprinkles. But, that’s ok, I’ve now accepted.
So, in celebration of Jonathan’s birthday a month ago, I wanted to lovingly bestow upon him a yellow cake with chocolate frosting made from scratch. As tempting as the $.79 boxed-mix special at Safeway was, I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and pushed back my sleeves and got to work on the recipe for “Best Birthday Cake” posted by Smitten Kitchen on her site. It was my first cake from scratch.
Everyone’s favorite culinary blogging queen raves that her recipe produces a cake that is “consistently plush.” Maybe when it’s fresh out of the oven it’s “consistently plush”? Perhaps, I’m the exception here, but my cake was dry, crumbly and dense. It wasn’t horrible, but fighting a mass of grainy crumbs isn’t a pleasant dessert experience either. I had banked on presenting a perfectly luscious yellow cake where each bite sits on the tongue like a fluffy little pillow, inducing a dreamlike state.
Instead, after serving a crowd of five my seeming success, I took a bite – and another bite – of my own piece and my spirits immediately sank. No one said anything about the cake. Chewing and silence. And, no one finished it either. It was a disaster. I cursed my ambitiousness, and I cursed that recipe. My mind weighed every possible culprit that may have contributed to its fall.
I am not going to exaggerate when I say I turned into a drama queen over this foible. I shed a tear or two, and I swore I would never make a yellow cake from scratch again. My boyfriend pleaded that mistakes were the only way to learn and that I had to try again. No, I pouted, thinking that I didn’t make mistakes. COMPLETE DIVA.
But, a few weeks later, a persuasive and seemingly reliable source on the science of baking encouraged me to try again. (It also helped to hear my boyfriend say he wanted me to make him another cake.) I had checked out Shirley Corriher’s 544-page beast called Bakewise from the Sacramento County Library. While short on pictures, it provides problem-solving hints for those common baking hiccups. Collapsed soufflé? Lifeless puff pastry? Dry cake? I felt like a girl exasperated by her limp hair who perks up when she sees the Bump-It commercial for the first time. Internally, I jumped for joy: could I redeem myself with Corriher’s Magnificent Moist Golden Cake?
Turns out I only have one strike on my scratch cake belt because this recipe produced exactly what it promised: a moist golden cake. I wouldn’t charge that it’s magnificent, but it’s a major improvement over the first scratch cake I made. The method for achieving this plush consistency was rather unusual in that it instructs you keep the butter below room temperature and that if the bowl should ever get warm during the creaming process you should stick it in the freezer for 5 minutes in order to keep the temperature of the butter from rising. Also, you incorporate whipped cream into the batter before pouring it into the pan. This all contributes in keeping the cake light and airy, according to Corriher’s trials and errors. Overall, this book is quite something for those constantly searching for answers to their baking mishaps. It’s clear after one chapter on cakes, that this is an investment that no kitchen is complete without it.
While I could probably get away with buying the boxed-mix for any future occasions or cravings, the additional whipping and creaming all for a yellow cake is worth the bragging rights and worth making someone feel special on a big day or even just a Sunday. There’s no guy out there who wouldn’t inhale a slice or two with that pizza. He’ll be one happy camper.
Magnificent Moist Golden Cake
Since I don’t have permission to reprint the recipe here, I am going to urge you to seek out Shirley Corriher’s Bakewise at your local library. Here, in Sacramento, the libraries boast an extensive collection of new releases – from cookbooks to DVDs. It feels like Christmas when you find out your favorite new title is available on loan. I’m a zealous advocate for utilizing the library (it’s free!), so take the opportunity to preview a book or movie you’ve been eyeing without spending a dime. Case in point: Bakewise. Check it out!