Food, Lifestyle

C(ooking)logs: Vanilla cake with whipped cream and berries

During winter break, I prepared a plain two-layer vanilla cake layered with whipped cream, jam and fresh berries. I originally wanted to make the cake to practice my baking, but things soon took a turn for the worse. Although I began with high hopes, disaster struck in the kitchen by the end of the baking session.

slice of vanilla cake on a plate
Vanilla cake. Baking can be challenging, but being able to identify your mistakes and view the experience as a learning moment can help you improve. COURTESY OF SARAH R VIA FLICKR

I dedicated a couple of hours one early Sunday morning to start the batter production. At 5 a.m., I took all the cold ingredients — eggs, butter and sour cream — out of the fridge to rise to room temperature.

While those ingredients were relaxing on the countertop, I took out bowls, a spatula and a whisk to start combining the dry ingredients. Flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt were united to create a single mixture. It was actually a relaxing process. The satisfaction was equivalent to playing with sand or dry rice.

In another bowl, I whisked butter and sugar by hand. Unsurprisingly, trying to cream butter and sugar by hand is a rather difficult task for someone like me who is built like Spongebob Squarepants. I powered through it and added egg whites, sour cream and vanilla extract.

Little by little, I incorporated the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. A major red flag was how thick the batter was. I initially ignored this, which would later bite me in the metaphorical butt.

When the batter was ready, I began pouring it into two 9-inch round cake tins. In the back of my mind, I recalled buying smaller 6-inch pans but couldn’t find them. The thought of the elusive 6-inch cake tins was still itching my hippocampus, so I checked the pantry one last time, hoping to find the coveted pans. Of course, I finally found them after I had already filled a large cake tin with batter. Transferring the batter back and forth was the definition of “Top 10 Anime Betrayals.”

I placed the two cake tins in my oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I observed the wet batter rise and solidify through the oven door. After the designated 18 minutes, I conducted my fancy test of sticking a toothpick into the center of the cake. So very scientific. However, the next big red flag arose: the cake was suspiciously light — as light as an undercooked pancake — and had no crumbs. Again, I ignored this anomaly and chilled the cakes in the freezer.

At this point, I must have painfully turned a blind eye to all of my baking mistakes, carrying on in blissful ignorance. I was speedrunning the entire process without a care in the world. Determined and proud, unwary of the fact I was not a pastry chef, oblivious to the chemical transformations that occurred in the suspiciously smooth cake.

In the meantime, I whipped the cream, sugar and almond extract for the filling. Again, I did this by hand. I could feel the lactic acid coursing through each fiber of my muscles. A grueling experience, but a fulfilling one.

As midday approached, I was ready to assemble the entire cake. This was the beginning of the end.

My prior mistakes came to light. First, I definitely measured the ingredients incorrectly. The main culprit was the flour — I had to recreate cake flour at home with all-purpose flour and cornstarch, but I did not remove enough flour at the end. Therefore, my cake contained too much flour, resulting in a rock-like, stiff pancake.

And still, I removed the two layers out of the cake tins, encouraging myself to decorate it and praying the whipped cream and fruit would save the cake. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.

I began spreading strawberry jam, whipped cream and various berries between the two layers of “cake.” It actually looked very cute and miniature.

That is, until I started cutting slices for my family to try.

I can normally follow recipes just fine, but the sheer denseness and somewhat raw consistency was unendurable, even for my 3-year-old cousin who loves all desserts.

Second, the whipped cream was entirely too strong. I thought I added only a couple drops of almond extract, but the saccharine nuttiness of the extract was overwhelming. I felt like I was consuming whole almonds marinated in corn syrup.

Sadly, the cake did not fare well with the taste testers. I felt very discouraged, especially since I woke up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday to make it. However, I was able to identify my mistakes. Maybe in the future I will try to master the recipe with this experience. Until then, I’ll stick to buying Publix Bakery cakes.

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