Perfection is Hard to Live Up To

I recently borrowed a book from the library called The Perfect Cake. It’s part of a series from America’s Test Kitchen which includes The Perfect Cookie, which I reviewed already. Four hundred pages of cake recipes, some simple, some rather more involved, and all looking divine in the many (many, many) photos.

Like other ATK books, The Perfect Cake starts out with some fundamental information on baking. Among other things there are handy tips on preparing the pan properly (nothing worse than baking a wonderful cake only to discover that you can NOT get it neatly out of the baking tin), checking for done-ness, types of frosting and advice on essential utensils and equipment for a baker’s kitchen. There is also a chapter on “Cake Building Blocks” which walks new bakers through basic ingredients.

As they say in the beginning of the book, “Like all baking, cake making is a science but it doesn’t have to be intimidating.” Personally I have always never found baking intimidating. Baking relaxes me, it brings back wonderful family memories and it makes me happy. A colleague once commented that they could tell when my stress level was up because I brought in lots of baked goods to work. Let me be clear, they weren’t complaining about being the recipients of home-baked goodies, they were just kindly concerned with my blood pressure. To me, the most stressful thing about baking is narrowing down what recipes I’m going to try next. That all being said, this cookbook did cause me some stress.

51v9Qmq53aL._SX260_The first couple of recipes I tried were very good. The Easy Chocolate Snack Cake was just that. One bowl + basic ingredients + simple instructions = Tasty Moist Chocolate Cake. I also made the Lemon Bundt Cake for my mother-in-law’s birthday. I hadn’t made a bundt cake in years (I can’t really say why) and this one have given me reason to make them more often. Very lemony and with a rich texture similar to a pound cake. It came out of the pan easily and, once cooled, I decorated it with the lemon buttermilk glaze and zest. Two thumbs up from the entire family.

I was thinking, “Wow. This book really IS about perfect cakes.” when things went south with the Strawberry Cupcake recipe. I was taking part in a bake sale in support of the local humane society. The recipe sounded wonderful, using the juice from actually strawberries (reduced to a syrup) for flavouring rather than cheating with artificial products.

I followed the recipe and everything seemed to be going well although the batter was very thin. I triple-checked the recipe quantities and then noticed in the recipe there was a special notation the “…mixture will look soupy”. Fair enough. I divided the batter evenly into the cupcake liners and popped it in the oven for the recommended 15 to 20 minutes.

Nothing happened. No rise. Nothing. When removed from the oven, the cupcakes were flat and with a texture that resembled a sodden sponge. I took a tiny taste and, to be frank, spit it out. And there went my cupcakes, into my green compost bin. Major fail. And on the night before a charity bake sale!

A few bad words and a deep breath later and I quickly whipped up a Hot Milk Cake. This old school recipe used to be in every community cookbook and is one my Mum has used for many years. A short while later I had a baker’s dozen of light, fluffy, vanilla cupcakes. I topped my cupcakes with a strawberry mousse and was able to sell them the following day…and help my colleagues raise over $300 for the KW Humane Society!

In spite of the cupcake fail, I’m still impressed by this cookbook, especially given how delicious the snack and bundt cakes were. I certainly won’t be buying The Perfect Cake but it’s worth a borrow. Just go with your gut instinct if something looks a bit off because it might be time for some improv!

– Sandi H.

Dorothy’s Hot Milk Cake

½ c milk
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350F.

In small saucepan, melt butter in milk. Set aside off heat.

In mixing bowl, beat eggs until thick. Add sugar & vanilla and beat again.

Alternate adding the milk mixture and the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Divide between 2 – 8” round cake tins (greased) or 12 cupcake liners. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake passes the toothpick test.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan before removing to a rack to cool completely before decorating.

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