A piece of cake

I approached it all wrong. I knew it from the second I stepped into Tesco.

Ingredients list in hand, I realised that not only have I never heard of bicarbonate of soda, but I felt I should be looking for it in a lab and not a supermarket.

I ignored my gut instinct – which was to just a buy a Black Forest gateau and save myself the emotional turmoil – and gathered my wares.

Back in the kitchen, the cook book I had chosen to use (The Essential Baking Cookbook) lay awaiting my perusal. Having sat on my bookshelf unnoticed for years, it was only now that I noticed the star rating on each of the recipes.

How the epic cake journey began.

It’s a simple system, but one that succeeded in crushing out any optimism I had held about my baking endeavours. My Black Forest gateau had been awarded three stars and was therefore deemed very difficult to make.

I pretended I hadn’t noticed and began step one. Preparing the baking tin was a full-scale project in itself. Once that was out of the way, I began measuring out the ingredients, and mad-scientist mode was fully engaged.

I tipped the flour, both self-raising and plain, into the scales and held my breath so as not to choke on the cloud of airborne powder that engulfed the kitchen. Next came the cocoa powder and the vanilla essence, neither of which – I was disappointed to learn – taste as good as they smell.

After resisting the temptation to hoover up the entire tub of whipped cream with a spoon I set about mixing. Here I found that in the little-understood world of bakery the word “mix” ceases to exist and is replaced by the word “cream”.

Unfazed by this momentary confusion, I preceded to cream together – with a fork- the butter, sugar, eggs and so on… It turns out take-away menus are more commonly found in my family kitchen than electric beaters or even an unassuming whisk.

I battled on, furiously rotating my mixing fork with one hand and clutching a glass of Merlot in the other. I’m not sure which came first, my arm wearing out or the mixture becoming “well-combined and smooth” as the book dictated. Either way I was ready to move on.

The next step was ridiculously long-winded and confusing, but I caught the words ‘flour’ and ‘cocoa’, so into the bowl they went. At this point I was impatient, hungry and losing the will to bake, so I tipped the sticky mixture into the tin and lashed it into the awaiting warmth of the oven.

Ahh. I sat down and relaxed. Just me, a spoon and the delicious left-over cake mix. Gazing proudly into the kitchen at my hand-crafted mess, I spotted a small red tin sitting on the counter.

Voila! The finished product, Malteasers and all.

Unable to remember what it was, I went to investigate, that’s when I realised I’d forgotten the baking soda. I contemplated opening the oven and sprinkling some on top of the cake in the hopes that it might absorb somehow, but then decided against it. How important could it be?

Beyond caring, I poured another glass of wine and set about making my chocolate topping. Strangely, this involved no icing sugar and only melted chocolate and margarine. I whipped this up like a pro, and settled down to watch the oven timer.


I felt genuinely nervous as I tentatively opened the oven door and pulled out the tin. In disbelief I saw that the cake had, against all odds, risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

Eager to complete my masterpiece, I cut the cake in half, layered on the cream and Malteasers (my alternative to cherries) in the middle and finally the chocolate on top.

I turned my back to get my camera so I could capture the moment like a proud parent. This pride was short lived.

I turned around and was faced with some sort of demonic melty disaster of a cake. The cream and Malteasers were pouring out the sides like entrails, and the chocolate topping had all but dissolved.

Unperturbed, I conducted a little cake makeover and by the time I was serving it up it looked almost presentable. The general consensus from friends and relatives brave enough to taste my gateau was that what it lacked in appearance it made up for in taste and character.

Although I’m counting that as a success, I fear my fleeting dream of becoming a cake connoisseur may never come to fruition.

Photo credit: Saoirse Ivory.

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