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  • jdettmann

The Cake Files, Part I

In my family, birthday cakes are a big deal. They’re not a fancy deal, but we get very excited about them. Always have. They are always chocolate cake, and always homemade.* We like to cut them into shapes and decorate them with coloured icing and liquorice and other sweets.

In the lead-up to May Blossom’s birthday, there has been a lot of cake talk. First of all, her Uncle Superchief (my older brother) offered to make it. He suggested it should be in the shape of a rocketship (he is also leading a campaign to restore the suffix -ship to rockets. When and why did they lose that?) with a cat looking out each window (or porthole? Do rocketships have portholes?)

I liked the idea, but since May Blossom is my daughter I think I should be the one who bakes her first birthday cake. And I absolutely reserve the right to call Uncle Superchief, sobbing, at two am the morning of her birthday because I have dropped/burned/used off eggs/left out the sugar or committed some other cake horror, and accept his generous offer.

So for now, I am the cake maker. Fortunately, I am not a bad baker (thought clearly I am not a tidy baker, as the photograph below illustrates). I made a test cake on Sunday, using a devil’s food cake recipe from one of my cookbooks. I won’t name and shame the book, because the cake wasn’t very nice. It has a lovely texture and would have held up well to shaping and decorating, but it wasn’t anywhere near chocolatey enough. It only had 1/4 cup of cocoa in it, which was probably the problem.

I had to make it one and a half times, too, which didn’t help me feel any more kindly disposed to it. But that wasn’t the recipe’s fault. That was the fault of a kamikaze carton of salt and a packet of chocolate that leapt from my overstuffed kitchen cupboards into the cooling mixture of cocoa and boiling water. And my goodness, that shit went everywhere. It was like the Holy Spirit. It was seriously everywhere.

The chocolate knew it belonged in the cake. It was only trying to help.

That cake wasn’t good enough. It tasted boring. It was like a cake would taste if it had been faxed to you. That cake went to live in my parents’ fridge.

The recipe  my mum has always used for our birthday cakes is the One Bowl Chocolate Cake from the New York Times Cookbook. It’s great. It’s easy and it tastes like chocolate, which is what you want from chocolate cake. It doesn’t include anything stupid that doesn’t belong in a chocolate cake, like wholemeal flour or beetroot. That was the cake that was often served with a massive dent in it at our childhood parties, not because it didn’t rise correctly in the oven but because Mum used to bake it the night before the party and leave it, covered in a clean tea towel, on the kitchen bench to cool overnight. And that would be where Snail, our ancient, slightly retarded, uni-lung tabbycat would find it and sleep on it overnight.

This is a cake that can stand up to that sort of abuse and still show up to a party the next day, iced and ready to go. That’s the sort of cake I’ll be making for May Blossom. I’m planning a test run of it this weekend, and will update the Cake Files next week.

*Except for my eleventh birthday, when my mum was overseas caring for her sick dad. My dad bought me a Black Forest cake from the patisserie next to my school bus stop. It was amazing. Then he tried to take me and three friends to the Hard Rock Cafe, but being 1989, it was too crowded. We ended up at Darling Harbour. That birthday was about as good as an eleventh birthday in 1989 could get.

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