I've been making cakes in a professional capacity for five years, and prior to that, more than I care to remember for family, friends and just me. By now I must have made thousands. I always said I could make my famous chocolate cake blindfold, and as for a good old Madeira, well, I can do that in my sleep.
As it turns out, even professional cake makers have off days, and mine came a couple of weeks ago.
You've probably been there. That place when your mind wanders off down memory lane and you forget where you are. Well, I was in my studio with two different cake mixtures in two different Kenwood mixing bowls. Chocolate in one (the one with the handles for heavier quantities) and Vanilla Madeira in the other bowl (no handles, for lighter mixtures). Everything was weighed out - two gorgeous Mason Cash bowls with cocoa powder/flour mix in the beige bowl, and just SR flour and a hint of baking powder in the blue. My butter and sugars were both creamed to almost white. Nice and fluffy. The eggs had been added and there was zero curdling and I was ready for the dry ingredients in both.
So far so good...
The cocoa mixture was supposed to go in the handled bowl, and the SR Flour in the other. See how methodical I am?!
And then, as it was close to my 40th birthday, I was listening to the 25th Anniversary, "Live at the Albert Hall" recording of The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom and I share a birthday, you see. It had its premiére on my birthday in 1986. So every year, I listen, remember how much I love it and pretend I can sing soprano. I've seen it four or five times and have artwork of it on my walls at home.
And as I listened and warbled, my mind drifted to when I was younger and how I drew the original album's artwork on my Art Portfolio. I loved the single rose and the mask. I wanted to be Christine. I always identified with the Phantom and sympathised with him and thought Raoul was a bit of a wet mop. Give me dark and mysterious (and mentally unstable!) any day.
As my mind wandered, I went from school to Sixth Form, sitting around the Common Area, drinking vending-machine hot chocolate from the machine in the dining room - the on the left though, as that was the more chocolatey-tasting one - and my thoughts then went my first proper boyfriend who was neither dark nor mysterious, but at the time I thought he was the Best. Boyfriend. Ever. As you do.
And then I looked down and I had added my dry ingredients to my Kenwood bowls, and the batters were promptly spooned into their respective tins, but after a quick taste test of both batters, the vanilla batter tasted lovely and sweet. And the chocolate one was a bit stiffer than usual and tasted very rich. Odd, I thought. I put them both in the oven, and it was only as I was getting ready to wash everything that light dawned and I saw the problem. The Kenwood bowl with the handles should be smeared with the remains of chocolatey cake batter, and the non-handled one should be providing me with delicious vanilla batter to lick. Except it was the other way round and it dawned on me; in my reverie, one of the cakes now had too much sugar/butter and too little flour, and the other had too much flour/cocoa and not enough sugar and butter. And there was nothing I could do except watch and wait.
Once out of the oven, the vanilla one was obviously a massive fail. It kind of did what a soufflé might do and rose very quickly but then imploded in on itself. The chocolate one at first glance didn't look all that bad, but when I tapped on the top, it sounded a lot like a loaf of bread rather than my lovely moist chocolate cake.
Then, once cooled, I cut them.
See the massive hole and the raw cake mixture around it? That's not ideal. And also the crumb is very loose and did I mention it was raw in the middle? Some might be tempted to cut out the raw bit and pass it off as a Bundt cake, but a quick nibble of the crust revealed the cake was overly sweet. Nice if you have a sweet tooth, but not good enough.
See, now I love chocolate and I love chocolate cake, and after slicing this, I thought, "well actually, it might not be good enough for my customer, but I wonder if it salvageable as a 'take home and stuff in my face with a cup of tea' sort of cake?"
Turns out, it was very dry and also very bitter. I use a high quality cocoa powder, and trust me, it needs the correct amount of sugar to balance the bitterness. This cake was sadly lacking in the sweetness department.
So, I did what any self-respecting perfectionist would do and I started again from scratch. And I'm happy to report that the second time around, I paid full attention to every step of the process, and it resulted in lovely, moist, perfect cakes. I have kept the chocolate cake though as if I crumb it up and mix it with some chocolate buttercream ganache, it will make lovely truffles or cake pops. The vanilla one went in the bin, sadly.
The moral of this story is simply this. If you are an amateur baker, take heart. Even professionals make mistakes so do not beat yourself up about it. If you are a pro, I'd suggest that a mistake here and there reminds you that sometimes being able to do things blindfold might not be a good idea. Neither is thinking about olden days when you should be concentrating on the job at hand! And no matter how loudly you sing, you will never be Christine Daae...