Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Melissa + Google + 1 year taught me: The Perfect Chocolate Cake

Ever fought with a kitchen appliance? I spent my first year of baking in battle with a toaster oven. I would burn the top of my cakes trying to cook the inside because the temperature could not be adjusted. Then I covering the batter with tins or aluminium foil for the majority of the baking time and uncovering around the last ten minutes for a golden-brown crust. Yes, I can be a bit slow and stubborn but this is the only time I will admit it. When I realized I didn't want to stop baking, I finally invested in a proper oven last year. It was Easter and so naturally, I spent the entire day baking bread, cakes and buns.

One of these cakes was supposed to be a birthday present for my dear Congolese sister. You have to understand. Finding a chocolate bar that doesn't taste like brown lard (Mom, forgive me) is very hard. Finding a real chocolate cake, even harder. Cheese, butter and chocolate are not originally part of Chinese culture, and I accept that. But is that really going to stop a foreign student  from wanting a rich, moist chocolate cake for their birthday? And so the pressure was upon me. Google provided me with 'The Best Chocolate Cake'  from and 'Moist Chocolate Cake' by both with amazing pictures, clear directions and awesome reviews. How was I to choose? Well I didn't have espresso and I preferred baking with butter so Foodess it was. But even after all that research I ended up with

Who keeps records of their traumatic moments?
Show me yours and I still won't have one to show you.

Half of the cake remained in the tin and had to be reattached with frosting. See, had I read the comment section carefully, which I did after, I would have realized that it was not optional to bake two separate layers. Because this cake really rises. The vinegar I used in the buttermilk reacting with the baking soda should have been a hint. I had really let my friend and myself down. It tasted moist as promised and that was the only thing that saved it from hitting the bottom of a trash pan. (Cake pops hadn't been popularized in China yet).

I promised myself to make it up to her and I had a year to practice. I did cake after cake, all far from good. I thought I had inherited a baking curse and in some way I had. I either put way less sugar, didn't wait for the vinegar to coagulate the milk, had faulty vinegar but still went ahead, didn't sift and mix in the baking soda evenly and the list goes on. It was the curse of messing with the recipe. Self, if you are going to alter stuff, at least avoid the main ingredients.

But the curse was about to be broken. I woke up fresh on a Saturday morning not knowing what would happen but just that P.O.P was gonna hold it down that day. I also spent the previous night arming myself with Cake FAQs  from KitchenTigress, who by the way is true to the name. If you visit her website, you better be serious about baking and learning the right way to bake or else.

I followed the recipe as closely as I could (oil instead of butter, could you blame a girl?), properly lubricated my tins, equally distributed the batter and digested my heart while waiting. Actually, I busied myself with a new project. Fondant roses. Have you tried manipulating fondant without any tools what so ever? If you are not living a minimalist lifestyle, expect to feel like you survived a bar fight.

I have Desserts101 to thank for this tutorial. Not bad for a first timer if I must say so myself. Totally worth spraining my fingers and hurting my shoulders. I am buying the tools next time.

As soon as the inserted tooth-pick came out clean, I removed the cake from the oven and used Melissa's technique of slightly air bouncing the tin until the cake loosened from the bottom. Then I used KitchenTigress' tip of placing the cake face-down to fill in the cracks. By the time it came to frosting, I had 2 perfectly level, crack-less cakes. No rehab necessary.

Then I put together all the other skills that Google, Pinterest and Youtube taught me during the year, along with a Vietnamese angel and came up with this. 

A cake I could be proud of!

Is this blog post a shout-out? Maybe, but I think it's more of a thank you to all who contributed to me getting here. I grew up always wanting to do things my own way but since I have become more open to receiving help from others, I have stopped, you know, roasting things I didn't mean to roast. Hey, Google is there for a reason. There isn't an answer you can't find or a forum that wouldn't help you out. Being a student out here in China, all I have is Google especially when time zone difference prevents me from calling Mom. So to the hundreds of people who helped me bake the Perfect Chocolate Cake....

Thank you and God bless your beautiful Chocolaty Souls!