During the last month of my senior year of high school, I had to spend a month doing a senior project of my choosing. My friend Pamela and I decided to make it a group project so we could hang out pretty much every day throughout May. We could have chosen to do anything—learn an instrument, do an internship, travel—so, for some reason, we decided to spend a month baking and decorating themed cakes. I’m not really sure how we came to this decision. I think it was in part due to our desire to watch a lot of Cake Boss. But it did end up being a lot of fun.
To my mother’s dismay, we completely took over my newly-redone kitchen. Over those four weeks the countertops were constantly covered with the flour, sugar, and pastel-colored fondant decorations of baking experiments gone wrong. Pamela and I worked for hours every day for weeks.
Baking is really hard, as we discovered. Especially when you don’t know what you’re doing. My arms were constantly sore from mixing pounds of thick buttery batter and frosting and carrying dense cakes all over the place. Pamela got really good at making tiny detailed flowers, leaves, and cartoon characters to decorate the finished cakes.
We used up way more ingredients than were exactly necessary during the project. Several cakes were burned. Other times we just got bored of cake and tried making other stuff, including an experiment that involved adding random ingredients to a warm pan in an attempt to make fudge. We never really reached the Cake Boss level, but we made some cool cakes. We definitely learned a lot.
Our tastiest creation was our third cake, a Dr. Seuss-themed masterpiece. We decorated the outside with a “Cat in the Hat” hat; a fish from “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish;” and truffula tree cake pops. Underneath the layers of decorations was rich chocolate cake layered with strawberries and whipped cream.
We based our creation on my family’s time-perfected chocolate butter cake recipe.
What you’ll need:
1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
Set oven to 350°F. Mix cocoa and boiling water in a bowl. Sift all remaining dry ingredients into another medium bowl. Then add vanilla and butter to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Now add the water and cocoa and mix for one and a half minutes. Then add eggs one at a time fully mixing each into the batter.
Grease the inside of a round cake pan and dust it with flour, just enough to cover the grease with a thin layer. Then fill the pan a little over halfway with cake batter. Bake until the cake has risen and a toothpick comes out clean after being poked into the cake.
Bonus Bite: Quick Chocolate Butter Frosting (10 minutes)
For two cups of icing
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt
In a medium bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on a medium speed for one minute. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, cream, vanilla, and salt. Beat on low speed until well mixed then beat on medium till fluffy (one to two minutes).
*If you want to make icing for a two-layered nine-inch cake, multiply the proportions by one and a half.
Alaina Scallan can be reached at email@example.com.