Baked’s Sweet and Salty Cake

I love to bake. No surprises there. This topic seems to pop up all the time, no matter who I’m talking with. Well, it doesn’t come up so frequently in class, but it can’t contain itself in more informal settings when just chatting with people. It’s an important part of who I am as a person, and so it just comes up naturally. I may not document everything I make, but that’s mostly because I usually bake at night, and my roommates and I seem to make every crumb disappear by the time morning and the good light rolls around. Nevertheless, I am baking and making things all the time, and my internship supervisors caught on to that fact very quickly last semester. As an early Christmas present, those two lovely ladies gifted me with a  copy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. Needless to say, I was speechless and beyond excited when I opened the box to find the one cookbook I had been coveting beyond all others.

When I got home that night I sat down and went through the book page by page, putting sticky notes on every single recipe I wanted to try. In the end, I think there were more recipes selected than not! However, I found that I have to carefully plan ahead when I want to make something from this book, because chances are a recipe calls for something I don’t have on hand all the time, such as dark brown sugar, dark cocoa powder (but not anymore!), fleur de sel, sour cream, or lemon zest. I only have so much storage space (and money!) to stock everything all the time, so unfortunately this isn’t a spur-of-the-moment-baking type of book.

Because of this little hurdle–and the fact that most of what I want to make can’t be ready immediately–it took me until my birthday to finally break in my gift. I had intended to make the Sweet and Salty Cake at home over winter break, but after rereading through all of the steps and realizing the intensity of the project, I decided it wouldn’t work for an at-home recipe. However, it would be PERFECT as my birthday cake.

In recent years my favorite part of my birthday has been baking my own cake. Last year’s “Chocolate LOVE” was such a rewarding (if filling) experience. I don’t normally choose such time- and labor-intensive recipes, but my birthday is the perfect excuse to do so. It serves as a day that I can take for myself to do something new and exciting. I get a chance to bake something I wouldn’t normally have the time or funds to bake, so it’s like my present to myself. Some people buy bags and shoes, but I buy ingredients!

I didn’t have the entire day this year because I did have to go to work for a few hours, but I got home in the early afternoon and respectfully kicked my roommates out of the kitchen so I could get to business. I taped my printed out recipe to the cabinet doors and turned on my Keith and Damo playlist (sound familiar?). I also turned on every light in the common room, because I’m also a person who loves–no, NEEDS–light go leor (hence why I’m loving my two giant bedroom windows this year).

I have NEVER spent so much time mixing up a batter before. I’m sure if I had a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer this process wouldn’t have been so intense *hint hint nudge nudge*. Unfortunately I only had my dying $5 Wal-mart hand mixer at my disposal. This poor appliance is seriously on it’s last legs; it just doesn’t have a strong enough motor, and it can’t even mix up a buttercream anymore. I don’t know if it ever could, actually.

Despite my lacking appliances, the batter came together, albeit after a very long time. I didn’t time it, but I was already becoming exhausted after just this first phase. But who could blame me. Upon its completion, the batter filled my entire largest bowl. Wow.

I still haven’t even come close to baking without getting flour on every single surface, but the mess wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Something this cake required, though, was cleaning as I went, which definitely helped with keeping the mess in line.

This picture was the only one I took of the process because everything else was so time-sensitive that I didn’t want to juggle both my camera and the boiling caramel sauces. I’m not quite at that level of expertise yet. I also got rather caught up in the excitement that I sort of forgot about my camera for the most part. I legitimately haven’t been this excited about something probably since meeting some of the CT lads a couple of years ago (I was even more excited than when I got my internship or met Cassandra Clare in December). I was *that* excited, and my suitemates definitely noticed and commented.

The caramel sauces were terrifying and HOT. I bought a candy thermometer at the beginning of the semester, and this was my first chance to use it. However, it seems that there was not enough sauce in the pan for the temperature to properly register. Which meant that I had to tip the pan to create a deeper pool of caramel and thus expose myself to the heat of the pan and burner. Yay for oven mitts! During all of this I was terrified of burning the caramel. I had been reading about caramel and how the temperature can jump really high really quickly, and I was worried my improvised way of cooking it wouldn’t allow me too see exactly when it hit the correct temperature. In the end I probably could have let both batches cook for another minute or two, because the final products were lighter in color than they should have been. Oh well. Better to have ever so slightly undercooked (but still delicious) caramel sauce than burnt and ruined caramel sauce.

My mixer literally could not handle the ganache. Thankfully a major disaster was averted because a friend of a friend had another mixer I was able to use. What a difference a working mixer makes. I tell you, I really did not want to give the functioning one back after I used it. Think she would have noticed getting back a dying mixer?

I also encountered an issue when assembling the cake. The caramel and ganache didn’t seem to want to stay between the layers, so a lot of it came out the sides. I ended up just spreading the escaped fillings on as part of the crumb coat, so very little of it was actually lost. After I put on the crumb coat I stuck the cake in the fridge for a while to set up, and my suitemate’s reaction when she opened the fridge and saw it was priceless: “I didn’t know you were making a MOUNTAIN!” This cake was literally a mountain. There’s no other way to describe it, it was a giant mountain of chocolate and caramel deliciousness.

Putting on the final layer of ganache was messy, to say the least. At this point, the ganache was getting really melty because there was no room to keep it in the fridge, and the oven had been on for most of the afternoon so the kitchen was a sauna. I lost a bit of it to the kitchen table, but hey, that’s keeping with birthday cake ganache-ing tradition. Last year’s wasn’t even close to a pristine assembly either.

There was a lot of tasting along the way, and my suitemates and I certainly did a number on the leftover bowls of batter and ganache. At one point my roommate actually asked for a moment alone with the spatula I gave her. Love it.

After many hours of slaving away in a hot kitchen, my cake was finally finished. I would have loved to have taken proper-ish pictures of it, but I don’t think my suitemates and friends would have appreciated waiting until morning to dig in. Pictures without natural lighting it is, then!

To quote my suitemate again, it’s a “MOUNTAIN!”

I was also LOVING my new cake stand/spinner. It made frosting so much fun!

Fast-forward to the next morning when I was able to take more pictures by my window:

Another birthday success, if I may say so.  And this year I didn’t have to pawn of the leftovers on my Irish class! It pays to have dessert-loving suitemates.

One final note. How is it possible to write almost 1500 words in a blog post in an hour or so (WITH distractions), but be incapable of writing a 1250 word paper in less than an entire day? Beats me.

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