Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Can’t Judge a Cake By Its Cover

This the tale of an ugly cake. Perhaps the ugliest cake I’ve ever seen.

It all started one Sunday afternoon. I was ambushed by the overwhelming urge for something sweet. I thought about going out with a friend to Hot Chocolate or Uncommon Ground here in the city for an indulgent dessert, but all of a sudden a storm blew in, complete with thunder, lightning and lots of wind, just like that. Gotta love the spring in Chicago.

I’ve lately been on a quest to use up everything in my pantry since we’re moving soon and nobody likes to haul canned goods around. Having recently taken stock of the random cans of Italian Wedding soup, boxes of stuffing and a 2 pound bag of crawfish boil seasoning, I suddenly remembered seeing a box of Betty Crocker Cinnamon Swirl cake mix tucked away in the back. That initially seemed like the perfect solution, but as one who likes to cook and experiment in the kitchen, a cake mix seemed too easy, the outcome too certain. So I decided to jazz it up a little.

I managed to scrounge up raisins, coconut, dates and whole nutmeg, which all seemed like they’d complement the cinnamon flavor profile of the cake mix well. So I added in about a half cup of each of the first three ingredients, and grated about half a nutmeg seed into the batter. The box offered two ways to make the cake, the normal way with 3 eggs, oil and water or the decadent way with 4 eggs, butter and milk. I chose the latter of the two, figuring the rich batter plus my tasty ingredients would make for a pretty good cake.

Doctoring a cake mix like this is nothing new; in fact some people have even written whole books on the practice, like The Cake Mix Doctor and The Cake Mix Bible to name a few. And it makes sense: essentially a cake mix is a starter kit for a cake with the flour, sugar, salt and leavening agents pre-mixed for you. It’s like a blank canvas ready for color and flavor. And colorful and flavorful I hoped my caked would be.

As my masterpiece was baking, I whipped up some simple icing out of powdered sugar, butter and milk. I’d wanted to bake a round cake so that I could have the gooey icing in the middle between the two layers, but not having the proper pans I settled for a 13×9 inch cake instead. Once the cake came out, I thought I could get the stacked effect by cutting the rectangular cake in half, icing the first layer and stacking the second layer on top.

Here’s where things started getting ugly. I tried to let the cake cool sufficiently before removing it from the pan, but got impatient. I figured that with the amount of butter I used, it should easily slide right out if I inverted it over a cutting board. Wrong. A large chuck stayed in the pan as I flipped it, leaving a big tear the long side. So I patched it back together the best I could, and let it cool further. Then I sliced the thing in half, iced the first layer, messily heaved the other layer on top, iced that piece, all the while filling in the gaping holes and “gluing” the chunks that kept falling off back on, and called it a day.

The cake was ugly, but boy did it taste good. It was super moist, with great texture and crunch from the coconut. The raisins and dates were warm and gooey and seemed to melt into the spongy cake. I had a slice of that cake after dinner all week long, pouring a little milk on top as it b
egan to slightly dry out.

Guess this goes to show that like many things in life, the beauty of this sugary disaster was on the inside.


One Response to “Can’t Judge a Cake By Its Cover”

  1. 1

    DJ B — May 8, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    What this proves is you can halve your cake and eat it too.


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