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Cakewrecked! or: A Pair of Pictures is Worth a Whole Lotta Words

The funniest thing happened this weekend.  Lunch with my family inevitably involves me offering to Bring Something, usually something that ends up being far more involved and time-consuming than I originally anticipated, and this weekend I agreed to bring black forest cake.  A family favourite, especially for my Dadini, but I don’t recall anybody ever making one from scratch.  How hard can it be?  I present to you two photos that will hopefully suggest how challenging this process is.  In my head, where things are cheerful and I never feel too full and I always get heaps of sleep, this would be a straightforward process.  Bake a rich chocolate cake; slice into three when cooled; top the first layer with liquer/whipped cream/cherries and then repeat with the next layer.  Stack the top layer on, sprinkle with chocolate flakes that magically stick perfectly to the cake top and don’t simply fall off as soon as you move the plate.  In my head, the magical place that it is, thisis what we were baking:


If that photo seems a little wonky or glossy, there’s a good reason: it’s a photo of the cookbook we were using.  Oh, Women’s Weekly Great Cooking Classics, you taunting, painted hussy. Let’s go through what went a bit amiss, in the (probably futile, and I say that quite happily) hopes that I will follow a much more sensible path the next time I am called upon to cook something.

Item one: that whole “grease the pan and then sprinkle flour on” trick? Complete bullshit.  Don’t trust anyone who says it, and furthermore, punch them in the mouth. I had two cake pans, a medium-sized one and a little one, and I did that to the little one, and it completely destroyed the cake I had baked in it.  Turned it into handy-dandy travel-sized irregular cake chunks. Still, as M pointed out, only the top and bottom layers of the cake have to look perfect.  The middle layer can be spackled together with whipped cream and whatever.  An excellent point, I thought, and I am sorry to say that I didn’t take the time to place a bet about how often the word “spackle” would be used over the course of this production.  I could have scooped the pool there.

Item two: when you slice up a cake, even successfully, you are still dealing with warm, soft, springy cake.  Only now there are more of them, and they’re thinner and so less structurally sound.  It’s tempting to assume, if you have, say, sliced the bottom and top sections of your multi-layer cake successfully from the medium-sized, faultless chocolate cake you have made, that it is somehow sturdy and satisfactory and, in short, because you have succeeded thus far you will continue to do so.  This ain’t, as the song says, necessarily so.

Item three: when you have a stable, tasty cake bottom layer, spread nicely with Marsala and whipped cream, piled with cherries, when you try and assemble the next layer (recall: the “spackle” layer), you do not have a smooth, firm surface upon which to spackle it together.  You kind of have to wing it.  I am reluctant to use the expression “smoosh together”, and even more reluctant to use the expression “hastily smoosh it down with extra cream and cherries and marsala, while cackling hysterically at the farce of it all”, but I do not wish to betray truth.

Item four: finally, when it comes time to place the top on the cake, the stableness of the underlying layer is paramount. If, for example, your penultimate layer is a cobbled-together mash of cake, cherries and cream, brushed with Marsala, then trying to lower the top cake lid onto this mash will not bring things into alignment as it would in, say, a sandwich.  It will, instead, slide off in a relaxed fashion until it nearly slides off the plate.   My advice is to prop it up with more cherries, and take a sip of the Marsala.  Actually, if you’ve got any slivers of chocolate cake, I see no reason not to dip it into the Marsala and munch on it.  It’s rather nice.

My final creative twist to this project was to bring a mix of Marsala, cherry juice and cornflour to a simmer in a small saucepan, and this thickened and cooked into a dark red, translucent gel, which I spread over the top of the cake, dotted with cherries and sprinkled with grated chocolates.

Having undergone this rigourous learning process, you will no doubt be anxious to see what I came out with.  Why should I demur further?  Take a peep:


And just so you know, no, I won’t be taking special orders.

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