Olivia Dish

Cake: It’s What’s for Dinner

In Cookbooks, Homemade, Sweets on January 2, 2010 at 11:27 am

Turkey cake at Publix

My friend Smilen Seychees and I were talking about Cake Wrecks. Smilen, a photographer, said “I’ve got to send you pictures of two cakes I saw in Atlanta.”

And here’s the ham

The cakes were fabulous—and kind of ridiculous.  And after watching Food Network contests, seeing how much people handle those cakes, I don’t want to eat them. My ideal is made-from-scratch, for eating not ogling.  After months of craving, I baked one to start the new year.

My mother baked cakes when we were growing up.  She let us measure the ingredients, handle the mixer, spread the frosting on the layers.  I am wondering now if I grew up in some kind of golden age of cake baking.  Cake had ceased to be a political issue that could send you to the guillotine.  Cake had not yet become the guilt-laden child-killer that is banned from schoolyards everywhere.

After some worry, myself, about calories, fat, and sugar, I decided to hell with it and (rather appropriately) made the devil’s food cake I love, based on a recipe from Good Enough to Eat by Carrie Levin and Ann Nickinson.  Though not that different from other recipes, this one always delivers: the cake is moist yet light, chocolaty and not too sweet; the frosting, which includes cream cheese, tastes like something other than sugar.

cake layer one

Assembly begins…so far, so good

Over the years I’ve modified their recipe a little (find my version here).  I’ve lowered the oven temperature from 350 degrees to 325, in an effort to keep the layers from rising up in the middle and splitting.  For the frosting, I’ve reduced quantities—one 8 ounce block of neufchatel instead of 2 blocks of cream cheese, 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar instead of 4, 1 stick of butter instead of a stick and a half. This seems to give me just the right amount of frosting.

Frosting the cake

Going commando? No wax paper to protect cake plate…

Though I detest food guilt, I have to say, cutting back on the frosting calories eases my conscience.  (As does skipping a big dinner , having just a little soup, and making cake the main attraction—an idea I got from working with Chef Kathleen Daelemans.)

My friend Dizzy Frummunger, hearing that I was about to assemble the thing, came by for cake with a side of soup.  Poor Diz, his mother never let him help with baking cakes when he was growing up.  So a year ago, I encouraged him to frost a cake I’d baked.  When my mother and sisters heard the story, they reacted as if he were a recovering victim of child abuse.

He still seems amazed by the process of cake baking and offered to take pictures as I smoothed on the frosting.

Perfection, however short-lived…

“Is it lopsided?” I asked Diz.

“No, it looks delicious,” Diz said, as if these were somehow mutually exclusive.

Smugly, I thought, this cake proves that the best way to avoid a cake wreck is to make an honest cake.  It was beautiful.

First we heard a rumble, then the ground buckled…

Did this cake sense my self-satisfaction? As if on cue, it opened up down the middle, looking like an aerial photo of the San Andreas fault.

“Quick, get a picture,” I said.  “The cake is breaking apart.”

The flash went off just as the cake split itself (neatly, at least) in half.

I worried that I’d undercooked the layers.  I peeked into the crevasse.  Nothing oozing, at least.  Diz and I sliced wedges from the eastern half.

All’s well that ends well

“It’s so light, but not dry,” Diz said, his mouth full of cake.

It was perfect.  Except for the spontaneous dividing.

Maybe the cake was trying to tell me something—half for me, half for someone else.  Perhaps I had created the new diet sensation, the self-portioning cake.

Fantastic, except it’s hard to find someone to take the other half on New Year’s Day.  Damn those resolutions.


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