I really am. Apparently, I have an above average IQ. Really, I do. And I am good at stuff. For a start, I can write. I can cook. I can crochet. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of completely useless information and a working knowledge of genetics. I even like to think that I can partake in a little witty repartee.
However, I have a nemesis skill. Do you have one? A skill that you know you can do, that you are more than capable of delivering but every single attempt is hampered by a series of moments of your own mind-blowing stupidity. I like to do things well. And I do stupid really, really well. My nemesis is baking.
How is it that someone who loves to cook, loves a challenge in the kitchen and has served delicious, somewhat complicated meals on multiple occasions can turn into a complete idiot just because those same kitchen skills are now being turned to baking?
So, it was Moo’s birthday recently. Every year, I bake her a cake. Up until last year, it was Nigella Lawson’s buttermilk birthday cake with buttercream icing, fresh raspberries and raspberry jam covered in chocolate ganache. I baked it for seven years on the trot. Each time was stressful as ganaches split, different ovens baked at different times, etc etc. But I did get the recipe down and loved making that cake. Feedback was very positive too. Last year, Moo decided she wanted a chocolate cake covered in pink icing. So I baked a chocolate cake and covered it in pink fondant. It was traumatic but not too bad. This year, however, things went horribly, horribly wrong. A two hour bake turned into a six hour test of my sheer determination to bake a sodding cake.
Moo wanted chocolate cake again, but not a round one. She wanted a square one and she wanted flowers. Luckily, I have my dear Baking Goddess as a friend and, as it is her profession, she whipped me up a ‘few’ flowers. I say ‘few’ because I was expecting five or six and got around 40. I love her. She also told me about the CakeOmeter as I panicked about how to turn a 20cm round cake into a 23cm square cake. Pure genius.
So off I went to Waitrose to get my ingredients after having used said CakeOmeter to find out how many I needed. Came home with Moo, who insisted on helping me thereby not really helping the stress levels, put all the ingredients into the KitchenAid and got my tins ready. “Bake it on 16o degrees in a fan oven. It will give it a nice, even bake.” says the Baking Goddess, my own personal Mary Berry. Once the mixture was ready, I go to pour it into the tins. Hang on. There’s not enough for the two tins. What the . . . ?
Bugger. The CakeOmeter calculation was for one tin, not two. And I don’t have enough ingredients to make another batch. So I slap my forehead, then slap the one tin into the oven and run to the supermarket to get more ingredients.
Come back from the supermarket and check on my one layer of cake. Something isn’t right. Why are the edges cooking really fast but the middle is raw? What happened to my nice, even bake? I look at the oven. Oh good God. I’ve put it on fan assisted oven, not fan oven. The elements are on. What the heck? So I quickly switch it back, knowing I’ve now got a very high chance of producing a dry cake. Oh well, at least the second layer will be perfect.
Go and mix up a batch of batter again. Get my second tin ready. Reach for my bowl on the KitchenAid and it’s stuck. Really, properly stuck. I turn and turn but the bastard thing is not budging.
“MR G!!!! HELP ME!!!” Mr G comes into the kitchen and tries to get the bowl off. He can’t. It’s wedged on. So we end up lifting the entire KitchenAid, which is unbelievably heavy and cumbersome, and tipping it upside down so that I can pour the batter into the tin. Upon putting the KitchenAid down, Mr G says “Have you tried turning the bowl the other way?”. You know what happened next. He twisted the bowl the other way and it popped right out.
(At this point, I feel compelled to tell you that I am degree educated. I worked in the City and ran a successful business. Not to mention, I’ve outsmarted doctors on a regular basis when it comes to Moo’s care.)
During this whole fiasco, I am clearly swearing quite a lot. Moo asks to lick the spoon when I finish making the batter. When I ask what it tastes like, she turns to me and says “Oh Mummy, it’s bloody yummy.” Yikes.
The first layer of cake is already out of the oven at this point and cooling in its tin. I put the second layer in the oven. I turn out the first layer onto a cooling rack and there is only the slightest crack so it might not be dry after all. Send a photo to the Baking Goddess for a professional opinion and she concurs. Whoop! There is hope.
I turn my attention to the icing. Ganache and I haven’t been friends in recent years and I nervously start to make it. However, the baking gods are starting to take pity on me and it doesn’t split. Hurrah! Things are on the up. I get out my sugar paste icing that I bought from the shop. The lady in the shop told me how much to buy and I did as told. I start to roll it out. Holy moly! That is some seriously hard work. Bakers who do that every day must have guns of steel. I roll and roll and roll. I use the Baking Goddess’s tip of using a piece of ribbon to measure how much icing I’m going to need. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. I don’t know if I have enough. So I roll and measure, roll and measure. Fingers crossed.
By this point, my second layer has been baking for 15 minutes of a 30 minute bake. I go and check on it. It’s raw. WTAF??! Check the oven. Somehow, I’ve knocked the oven off fan oven and onto fan assisted grill. My bloody cake, the second perfect layer, has been grilling for 15 sodding minutes! Switch it back onto the fan oven and smack my head again.
(Upon hearing all the swearing and crashing in the kitchen, Mr G comes in and asks me why I just don’t buy a cake instead of going through this every year. He is a Bakery Buying Manager, after all. Words were exchanged. Not nice ones.)
I get on with making buttercream, making the sugar paste as big as possible and chilling my ganache on top of the first layer in the fridge. Once the second layer is out and cooled (which took a lot longer than the 30 minutes), I put it on top of the bottom layer and start to ice it. The buttercream was not too dramatically awful but, upon laying the sugar paste on top of the cake (which was big enough, phew!), one corner rips wide open! Panic! Luckily, my baking helpline came through with good advice and, having provided me with so many flowers, I could hide any multitude of sins by just sticking a flower on top of it.
In the end, the cake looked gorgeous, as you can see. It turned out delicious too and not dry at all. Yippee!
Mr G asked if I’d ever bake again. “Definitely,”I replied, “I want to get better.” He looked at me as if I needed admitting. He might have a point but I’m too bloody minded to give up.