Need to rescue a dry, overcooked chocolate cake? We’ve all been there, my friend. But it turns out that a crumbly cake is not the end . . . it may only be the beginning.
Let’s be clear: for very good reason, this is not a cooking blog. I am merely an unsophisticated novice baker with a shitty 1970s oven (and as of my 30th birthday, MY VERY OWN KITCHENAID, AAAARRGHHGHaaarAAghr!!! – yes, I now possess the most-coveted kitchen appliance OF ALL TIME, but also a stove with only 2 working rings, a fridge which is incapable of defrosting (or shutting), and no brownie tin. Priorities, people. The KitchenAid is pink). So if you too are struggling with an odd assortment of equipment and chronic Pinterenvy then let’s be friends and rescue each others’ domestic disasters.
I make stuff up all the time when it comes to dinner but I’m wary of going off-piste in baking because of all the precise measurements. So I generally follow recipes to the letter and when they go wrong, I throw things. Driving used to be the catharsis for my inner rage; now it’s baking. Violence is not the answer, unless there are fairy cakes involved, in which case it usually is.
This weekend I made a cake for my best friend’s birthday. It was this BBC Food recipe, which my boyfriend had successfully followed some weeks previously. But unlike him, I made the mistake of putting the oven on fan, and the cake emerged dry and crumbly. It’s supposed to be squidgy and dense. TOTAL FREAKING DISASTER.
Instead of giving up and heading to the party via Patisserie Valerie, I
had a meltdown and then raided my cupboards and started again. FYI: this is a great cake to make with store-cupboard ingredients. Minus the ganache icing, the only fresh parts are eggs and milk and those aren’t unusual things to have on hand. The second attempt, using the regular oven, was MUCH better, so I decorated that and off we went.
But what to do with the leftover dry cakes? You can’t waste good food. Or, you know, just food. Squishing the cake with buttercream to create cake-pops was dismissed as too twee even for me, but then I found a suggestion of adding cherry juice to moisten the cake, which could in turn be vaguely transformed into a Black Forest Gateau. Whipped cream, you say . . . ?
I found this recipe (also BBC), bought ingredients only from the “To Assemble” section (plus 125g plain chocolate), and went straight in at stage 4.
The recipe calls for three cakes, but I only had two. No matter. I still made up the same quantities of everything because I’m greedy and don’t enjoy maths on a Sunday night.
I pricked loads of holes all over the cakes and emptied all 6tbsp of kirsch and cherry juice over them both. Instant moistness! Cake saved! The kitchen stinks of booze! But wait, dear reader, there’s more . . .
I then made the ganache. It’s taken me 3 attempts to realise just how misleading the instructions are for ganache in the original chocolate cake recipe (point 6). Turns out that gently heating only the cream before pouring it over the chopped room-temperature chocolate is considerably less likely to result in a grainy mess topped with a layer of oil (this, apparently, is not how ganache is supposed to look . . . apologies to those who were fed it on the previous two occasions).
I bunged about 2/3 of the whipped cream over the base cake layer, 2/3 of the cherry/jam mixture on top of the cream, and then stuck the second cake on top of that. At this point I just went off on my own little tangent and cheerfully emptied all of the ganache on top of the second cake layer, pushing it right to the sides so that it dripped down onto the plate, the base, the cream, my face etc, and spreading it over the sides of the upper layer.
I had vaguely intended to keep it sort of sophisticated (hah!) and do a nice ring of cream around the top of the cake with the ganache showing in the middle. That didn’t happen because I slapped it on with a spatula, the cake was a bit misshapen, and I wanted to use all of the cream (see aforementioned greed). So in the end I just dumped it all on and sort of fluffed it up a bit with a fork.
Then I stuck the remaining cherries and jam in the middle.
And then I considered pouring the remaining chocolate over the top in an artistic drizzling fashion but decided that was overkill and licked the bowl instead.
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If at first you don't succeed . . . make a second birthday cake and turn the unfortunate crumbly original into a bastardised Black Forest Gâteau. Elegant, it is not. Alcoholic, it most certainly is. Well, I had to use *something* to moisten the damn cake and the kirsch just happened to be handy. (Meanwhile use your initial failure to practice making ganache for the third time AND SUCCEED and nod wisely saying "I am learning from my mistakes for I am an enlightened baker" whilst sagely licking the KitchenAid whisk and getting whipped cream in your eyebrows).
And that’s it! Funnily enough this cake is now much more moist than the one I took for my friend’s party, plus it’s extremely boozy (always good) and looks . . . if not remotely elegant, or even slightly authentic . . . let’s just say striking.
A highly recommended way to save your dry, overcooked chocolate cake and combine two great recipes into one. There is NO SUCH THING as bad cake. Indeed, as with life, what may at first appear a failure is merely a stepping stone to improvement.
I’m getting a bit philosophical now. Best lay off the kirsch.