Caketastrophes: Fixing a Collapsed Cake
A cake's lifespan is short - just a few days normally. Yet, that short amount of time spares none of the dilemmas nor emotion of a longer existence. In fact, the shortness of a cake's life only serves to compound the despair, elation, and everything in between. Of course, it is not the cake that feels it. It's over there looking all smug and buttery. No, it's the cake maker & decorator who wrestles with their sanity and whose stream of conscious thought would confound James Joyce and William Faulkner, alike. (Who's a nerd? 🙋♀️)
Of course, not every cake is rife with drama. The unicorn cake and me - best pals. The unicorn magic never seems to fail and it's a smooth, edifying process from start to finish. Of course, I say this knowing full and well that I have a unicorn cake for this weekend and have now likely jinxed myself to a midnight emotional-breakdown on the kitchen floor. Except, unicorn magic disrupts jinxes so it'll be grand.
The fact is, every cake maker and decorator, or creator of anything at anytime, has those times when all seems lost. You had a vision in your head but now it looks like poop on a stick. Especially not ideal for cakes, ahem. You carefully planned and prepared, but the cake imploded, there's buttercream on the ceiling, and you're sure your lungs are clogged from second-hand icing-sugar cloud inhalation. And in times like these, there are two options steps:
1. Crumple into a pile of tears and shaken fists screaming, "Why?! It's over! I'm screwed!" Get good and snotty. Snort a little. Let your significant other witness the worst part of “for better or worse.”
2. Put on the big girl pants and do what needs to be done.
I have it on good authority that some people can skip step 1 altogether. In fact, there are times when even me, susceptible to Korean Rage and “woe is me” whinging, demonstrates a shocking amount of calm and collection. There are still also times when I storm out the back door and charge up the sidewalk ranting about baked goods, super-fuelled by Korean Rage and that second-hand sugar inhalation. I keep it short – a brief period of being Quirky but Furious – before attacking the problems at hand.
Cake fails. Life fails. They happen to all of us and it’s taken me a long time to learn that the failure isn’t in something not working out the way you planned, but in surrendering to the defeat. Success is about learning as you go, having grace with yourself, and making the best out of the crumbiest situations. Most importantly, it’s about not being afraid to try again. If I had quit after the motorcycle cake catastrophe of 2008, there never would have been an MG Midget cake triumph of 2018.
In our Caketastrophes series, we’ll talk about some common baking woes and how to attack them. First up:
TOTAL COLLAPSE OF THE CAKE
You took the cake out of the oven and it was beautiful, fluffy, and you were the proudest cake mama or papa…until you came back half an hour to find a sullen, sunken crater-cake. But why?
The cake wasn’t fully cooked. All ovens are different. Some more accurate in temperature than others. Some more evenly heated than others. Some just utter pieces of junk. Plus, any changes to the recipe, like addition of fruit or changing the size of the pan used, can change the cooking time. The toothpick test is an oldy but a goody. Pop a toothpick into the centre of the cake. There shouldn’t be ANY gooey batter on it. If in doubt, leave in the oven for another 5 minutes. It’s easier to fix a dry cake than a raw one.
Too much leavener in the batter. Maybe you did the toothpick test and all looked dandy but you still came in later to a crater. If your recipe calls for Baking Powder or Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda), it is possible there is too much of it. How annoying, I know, to have followed a recipe closely and still have gotten cruddy results! With hundreds of thousands of recipes out on the net, it’s hard to vet them all and sometimes you get stuck with a dud. Or, maybe your measuring wasn’t spot on. Too much leavener lets the cake rise in a hurry before the structure of the cake has really set. It’s like blowing up a latex balloon with a super-charged air tank, the balloon expanding faster than the latex can stretch until “POP!” and we’ve all peed out pants out of terror.
Overmixed. This can lead to a tough, chewy cake as well as a sunken one. Yummy! Once you’ve combined wet and dry ingredients, a chemical reaction is taking place between the proteins in the flour and the water in the liquids. Gluten is forming, you know the stuff that makes bread chewy and springy after much kneading. You are also incorporating more and more air into the batter, which can destabilize the structure of the cake also. Basically, mix until combined unless the recipe specifically tells you otherwise. There might be a few small, pea-sized lumps, and that is fine! If you always have trouble with really lumpy batter, make sure you are sifting the dry ingredients.
What cake woes do you need help fixing? Tell me below!