Monday, March 6, 2017

Trial and (Baking) Error

Although I do a good job of covering it, I am actually human, and I do sometimes, on very small, tiny, few and far between occasions, make mistakes. For some reason, when I make mistakes while baking, it literally upsets me more than anything else...except for maybe when I make a typo in an email or text message. I will find the nearest rock and crawl under it when that happens. But I feel like my creativity and my very own favorite hobby in the world betray me when I commit a baking fail. Thankfully, even when things go wrong, they still end up being edible so I can drown those weird emotion things back to a more neutral, sarcastic state where they belong. I must preface this blog with the aforementioned information so that I can, 1. Show you my triumph over adversity (I live a sheltered life), and 2. Show you that even a baking fail can be turned into a baking win with the right level of creativity. This blog is a giant "learn from my mistakes," post, so prepare yourself for plenty of self-deprecating wit and chances for you to sit back and feel better about yourself at my expense..but just remember, at the end of this post when you're feeling all high and mighty, I'm the one with all the cake.
And fail or no fail, it looks and tastes like a winner.
I am not Irish. My husband is, and he's also the one with all the luck, so maybe I should have had him at the ready while I was making this clover surprise cake. You may be wondering, "It's clearly a cake. Looks fine. Where's the fail so I can laugh at your misfortune?" Don't worry, we're getting there. I love Saint Patrick's Day. It affords me the opportunity to bake mint chocolate everything, and don't even get me started on Shamrock Shakes. I die. I actually didn't add mint to this cake, but I thought long and hard about it and opted not to because I'm a crazy person (clearly there was no other reason). This is actually a chocolate cake with white cake shamrock center and light cream cheese frosting dyed a color best described as "green highlighter." And while this cake almost didn't come to full fruition, I did manage to make it low calorie. With cake and frosting combined, 12 servings amounts to 250 calories a slice. Still under 300 calories with real frosting...a feat in modern baking! Remember that later while I regale you with how it all went wrong.
Duncan dare you.
So it all began when I bought the wrong brand of cake mixes. I am through and through a Betty Crocker baker, but in my mad sprint through the grocery store, I nabbed Duncan Hines mixes because I swear they didn't use to also be in red boxes. For whatever reason, these mixes have a higher calorie content even when just using the dry mix. So kudos to you if you buy Betty's box cake, and knock an extra ten calories off each serving. But as far as ingredients go, you need:
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 2 egg whites
  • 10 ounces of diet creme soda or diet Sprite/7up
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 2 egg whites
  • 10 ounces diet root beer or Diet Coke
  • Green gel dye
  • 1 10x6 loaf pan and other-sized pan for white cake (more on this in the fail section later)
  • Shamrock cookie cutter (...for reasons to be explained shortly, check the sizing to make sure it's not taller than your loaf pan. Figured out where I'm going with this yet?)
Start by baking the white cake mix. Preheat your oven to 350 and blend the white cake mix, egg whites, and creme soda for 2 minutes. Add a large heaping amount of green gel dye to this mix and blend. Now let me tell you about the type of pan you SHOULD use and not the one I used.
Oh look, a brand new, unassuming loaf pan. I also did not heed my spatula's mantra.
 This 10x6 pan was not the right size loaf pan for my green cake. When my cake baked, it was shorter than my shamrock cookie cutter. Since every Pinterest tutorial ever told me, "Oh, just cut your cake into loaves, and place your cookie cutter into each loaf to cut out the shape," Kate Panic Stage One (also known as the "I've made a huge mistake" stage) began immediately upon noting the first loaf I cut only came halfway up the height of my cookie cutter. To prevent your very own personal panic stages from commencing, use a pan that's going to give you more surface area to cut into, like a 9x13 pan, a jelly roll pan, or maybe even a 9x5 loaf pan that would bake up higher. Grease your pan of choice and dump your batter in. Bake for the required amount of time the box states, give or take 5 minutes. When I bake with soda, my cakes always seem to finish up 3-5 minutes before they would with the standard butter and milk.
I was still so full of hope at this point.
Even here, when I was delighted by how easily my new loaf pan released such a heavy cake. I was so happy I was considering writing a review for it on Amazon. That unbridled enthusiasm has since waned.
 Let your cake cool in its pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. I highly recommend placing the cake in the freezer for an hour. The firmer the cake, the easier time you'll have not necessarily for the cookie cutting, but for removing the cake pieces from said cookie cutter without them breaking. When your cake is fully cooled and partially frozen (also the working title for my autobiography), take your shamrock cookie cutter and cut out enough shamrocks to line up end to end in your 10x6 loaf pan with a little room on each end of the pan for the chocolate cake batter to cover them up.
Not pictured: Kate Panic Stages 2-4, more commonly referred to as the "cursing, crying, and bargaining" stages.
I was only able to yield 3 very fat clovers from my green loaf cake. I ended up having to stamp my cookie cutter down in the actual middle of the cake instead of cutting into loaves since my cake, much like its baker, was vertically challenged. My Wilton shamrock cookie cutter (obtained from Amazon) was only 3 1/2 inches high, and I mistakenly thought it was going to end up being too short. Oh to go back to that wonderful ignorance. After I yielded my three fat clovers, I placed them on a Parchment-lined baking tray and put them in the freezer overnight. Kate Panic Stage 5 then came to pass. This stage of panic is known as the "acceptance and eating of all the cake remnants" stage because nothing says "I've got this" quite like a grown woman eating cake scraps at 10:00 p.m on a Saturday night.
At this point, I was more or less trying to finish this cake in spite of my new loaf pan.
 I recommend letting your clovers freeze completely to avoid over baking, so if you can't leave them in the freezer overnight, at least let them freeze for a few hours. Once frozen, ensure your oven is set to 350 and begin making your chocolate cake. Mix together the soda, cake mix, and egg whites for 2 minutes. Pour about 1/2-3/4 of a cup of batter on the bottom of your very well greased 10x6 loaf pan. Save the look of scorn and betrayal as you know eventually you're gonna make one hell of a banana bread in this pan no matter what it does to this cake.
At least two pieces of this cake will not include a shamrock surprise. So I guess the surprise is that there isn't a surprise in those slices. Irony.
 Now, place each shamrock into the cake batter layer. This will help you stabilize and space them evenly, so you won't have two massive gaps in the middle of your cake like I did. Learn from my inability to think ahead and measure properly. In my defense, I never leave my small measuring tape in the same place. Either way I shake it out, I suppose this was my fault and not the fault of the pan or the cookie cutter or Amazon for somehow not reading my mind and letting me know my Pinteresty baking plans needed work and recommending a smaller cutter or something. It's 2017, and I think I no longer have the ability to live my best life without Amazon recommending me the right products for my existence.
I don't have a panic stage past level 5, but if I did, I'd call it the "heavy sighing and reluctance" stage.
Once you've lined up your shamrocks, gently deposit the rest of the batter on top of the shamrocks and around the sides of the pan. Things definitely won't look even or pretty, but the main goal here is to completely cover the shamrocks with chocolate cake batter so that you can't see any green poking out anywhere. Now, bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean from the chocolate portion of the cake.
You can run, but you can't hide, clovers.
 So it's gonna be pretty obvious where your clovers are inside of your cake thanks to the indentations, but this is what frosting is for. And at this point, I was just surprised when I opened the oven and the cake didn't sink in entirely because that would've been par the course. Let your cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and place in the freezer for 30-60 minutes until fully cooled.
Hindsight: the mint extract would've been good.
 I found a Weight Watchers cream cheese recipe, and I'm at the point in this blog where I'm not even ashamed to admit they've got some really great ideas for low calorie baking. Nothing like a baking fail or twenty to humble me. To make this frosting, you need:
  • 1 brick of Philadelphia reduced fat cream cheese at room temp
  • 1 heaping cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Green gel dye
  • Decorative toppings: Gold sprinkles, gold stars, white and green sprinkles, etc.
  • Optional: 1/4 tsp mint extract. Still kicking myself for not adding this in. It would've made things even more festive for the season.
Mix together the cream cheese, sugar, extract, and gel dye for a minute until smooth. This is not a thicker consistency frosting, so I don't recommend piping with it. It will make enough to cover the entire cake, but I chose just to cover the top since the rich chocolate color on the sides of the cake was too pretty to cover. 
Also, you don't have to make your frosting greener than a John Deere tractor.
I just slathered all my frosting and distributed it evenly on top.
Then I used a spoon to make circular swirls in the frosting before, of course, topping with gold stars. Gotta make those leprechauns jealous, you know.
My husband said he liked the swirly, messy look of the frosting because it was an appropriate decorating technique for a drunken Irish holiday where the more Guinness made available, the less able anyone would be to frost a cake smoothly. I felt like I was taking the lazy way out since this cake had crushed my will to live, so that lifted my spirits to the point where I was ready to slice this cake open and see the level of failure I was working with.
In your face, loaf pan, cookie cutter, and Amazon.
 I was pleasantly surprised when I cut into the cake to see that it looked exactly like it was supposed to when I envisioned it. See, sometimes you just have to have a little faith that you can turn a potential nightmare into an aesthetic dream. My struggles were real(ly silly), but I'm glad I didn't scrap the idea and just make shamrock cookies. Anyone can do that; I'm here for the wow factor, not the meh factor. If going big or going home was an actual sport, I'd never be home, and well, then I wouldn't be able to bake anything because that's where my kitchen is. And after living through Kate Panic Levels One through Five, it was great to sit down and eat a cake with actual frosting and not just Cool Whip. It was my finding the pot of gold over the rainbow moment. For not having a ton of sugar, this was still a delectably rich frosting that went so well with the dark chocolate cake that resulted from the mixing of root beer and cake mix. Things may have been super dicey there for awhile, but Kate Bakes Cakes because Kate knows good flavor combinations. And I promise you this--my next one will be minty, and it will be chocolatey because everyone needs more Saint Patrick's Day dessert ideas for celebratory purposes. 'Til next time, my fellow eaters!
So now that you've laughed at my strife, I get to go eat cake. She who has the cake gets the last laugh! ;-)

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