Another year, another birthday, another cake

After the triumphant success of my Victoria sponge cake (which I can confirm tasted pretty damn good after I made a second one and ate almost all of it), I was feeling pretty confident about tackling another cake.

The next recipe in HtE was for… birthday cake and as coincidence would have it, it was my birthday.

‘Birthday cake’ brings to mind those dense, synthetic cakes from the supermarket that are absolutely covered in icing. I detest birthday cakes.

Even as a kid, I would come home from birthday parties and give the slice of birthday cake from my party bag to my brother because I couldn’t face eating it. And back then, I had no standards.

Boring, bland sponge smothered with icing is a big turn off for me. Unlike… well, anything chocolate.

So you can imagine my delight when I scanned my eye over the recipe and discovered that a Nigella birthday cake is chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache.

She is clearly a woman after my own heart.

The recipe said this cake was easy to make, and with a free afternoon ahead of me, I thought I’d have it done quickly and painlessly.

That was until I put the sugar, chocolate, condensed milk and hot water in a pan and created this swampy mess.

A swift stir of the melted concoction improved things but it was only once I poured it into the flour and cocoa that the familiar chocolatey smell made me feel like I was onto something good.

The recipe recommended pouring into one large cake tin and sawing the large sponge in half once cool.

If this kind of thing spooks you, certainly use two sandwich tins

I used two sandwich tins.

After 25 minutes in the oven, I put my mountainous-looking sponges on the side and left them in their tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Once cool, I blitzed the chocolate in the processor and warmed the double cream to make the ganache.

I was supposed to leave the cream and chocolate sitting together for five minutes, but I only managed three because I’m impatient.

After sandwiching the two sponges together I smothered the whole thing in ganache, transforming it into a shiny, luxurious pile of deliciousness.


My only problem was that the bottom of the cake was not sitting flat on the plate, thanks both sponges having such a high dome.

And then, for some completely unknown reason, I decided to put the cake in the fridge.

I look back at this moment and wonder what was going through my head at that moment. I’ve thought it over and over and all I can only really say that I think I was worried that the ganache wouldn’t set.

Whatever the reason, it resulted in having a much drier sponge than desired.

I’d like to say that I just shrugged my shoulders, recognised my mistake and took it as a lesson learned for next time.

But that’s not what happened.

I was enraged that at any point I thought putting the cake in the fridge was a good idea. How could I have been so stupid?

My swearing turned the air blue.

I was moments away from breaking down in tears and throwing the entire thing in the bin and setting fire to it.

This is not a rational or adult reaction to have to making a chocolate cake with a slightly dry texture.

I don’t know why, but in the kitchen making even the smallest error seems to result in huge disappointment.

Actually, disappointment doesn’t really cut it. It’s the feeling of failure. One mistake renders the whole thing a dud. Anything less than perfection feels like failure.

I don’t even know why I’m striving for perfection given that the whole purpose of this project is to learn how to cook. If I made everything perfectly then there would be no point in doing it.

There are so many psychological things going on here… *calls therapist*

Nowhere in the recipe did it say “Put the cake in the fridge” yet I still decided to do it.

Why did I think I knew better?

The flip side of this argument is having a disaster on my hands even when I follow the recipe precisely. Case in point: lasagne-gate. Neither the method for making the roux or layering the lasagne seemed right to me. And when it all went wrong I was angry at myself for blindly following the recipe and for not doing what I thought was best.

At this point I’m wondering how you know when to go with your gut and when to put all your faith in the recipe.

So far, I’ve done both and kicked myself each time.


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