I think we have established by now that I am generally afraid of baking cakes. I fear that it won’t rise, or it will fall, or it will organize its temperamental little self into foam, sauce, and jelly-jammy layers because I failed to beat the egg whites just so. I worry that it will stick to the pan and come out in pieces so I have to make a “German Chocolate Trifle” for my husband’s birthday. Or it will be underbaked in the middle and I will not discover, until it is already on my guests’ plates and on its way to their mouths, that my lovely apple upside-down cake is actually apple upside-down pudding. (All theoretical concerns, of course, not that any of these things has actually happened to me.)
Well. This month’s Daring Bakers challenge (or “mob bake,” as my husband calls it) brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “fear of cake.” The way I see it, any recipe whose author admonishes you not to slip up or you’re looking at a trip to the ER definitely warrants an extra dose of serious baking anxiety. Not to mention full body armor.
The recipe in question was Shuna Fish Lydon’s famous Caramel Cake, and the potential pitfalls were so numerous it was hard to know where to begin hyperventilating.
So I did what I always do when I start to feel overwhelmed: I made a list. This list allowed me to give every imaginable hazard and snag along the way its proper teeth-gnashing, palm-sweating, heart-racing due, knowing that I would eventually get to each in turn and no detail would be left unfretted.
I’m just sharing a few highlights, but if you’re thinking about baking the cake, email me and I’ll be happy to send you the complete inventory so you too can experience your profound angst in a highly organized fashion.
Things to Worry About When Baking Shuna Fish Lydon’s Caramel Cake
Worry #1: You will burn yourself (remember that trip to the ER I mentioned?) when you pour water into smoking-hot melted sugar to make the caramel syrup. You must make sure you have not an inch of exposed skin. I found this involves not only long sleeves, as Shuna recommends, but oven mitts, a scarf wrapped around your face, safety goggles, and your daughter’s fleece-lined Crocs or whatever other closed-toe footwear is nearest at hand. But even with all of this, do you feel safe? Me neither. Panic on!
Worry #2: The UPS man will ring your bell as soon as you’ve donned the getup in #1. Keeping fingers crossed worked well for me on this one — this time. Still, you never know when your luck will run out.
Worry #5: Your caramel will burn. I advise getting so worked up about this Worry that you way undercook it and wind up with a syrup the light golden color of something that is best not mentioned in a post about food chamomile tea, which will still give you a very nice, if light-colored and probably a little underflavored, cake.
Worry #17: Your cake batter will separate when you add the milk. Oh sure, you can try making sure the ingredients are really at room temperature and all the other things Shuna suggests, and maybe your luck will be better than mine. And never mind that it came together again in the end after all the dry ingredients were in; it was touch and go the whole time. So I suggest you get an early start on this Worry. No sleep for you tonight.
This ought to give you a few good nightmares
Worry #24: The cake won’t rise. The solution to this is simple, provided you have a window on your oven door: turn the oven light on and plant yourself in front of that baby for the first 30 minutes of baking. DO NOT MOVE. DO NOT LET YOUR EYES STRAY FROM THE CAKE. ONE FALSE MOVE AND YOUR CAKE IS HISTORY. This method, if (and this is a big if) you are disciplined enough to execute it flawlessly, guarantees the cake will rise enough to have the texture of pound cake, and this is not at all unpleasant. (I have a theory, albeit unproven, that if you sit yourself down there for the full 45-minutes of baking time, you’ll get a 50% higher rise. Try it and let me know how it works — but be sure to add leg cramps and a stiff neck to your list of Worries.)
Worry #52: You will over-burn the butter for the frosting. You won’t experience the full effect of this Worry until you’re looking at a pot full of furiously foaming butter and realize you really have no idea what color it’s turning under there. My advice is to just hope for the best (and expect the worst, of course). The fact that mine turned out fine should not deter you from planning ahead for a few exciting minutes of hand-wringing.
Who knew 12 T. of butter could completely fill a 1.5-qt. pan?
Nicely browned butter, the color my caramel should have been
Worry #76: Your attempts to drizzle the caramel over the top of the cake will turn out more like blobs. So you can experience Maximal Worry Effect, I will not tell you that finely chopped toasted pecans are your friend.
Worry #100: Your people won’t like the cake. [I couldn’t in good conscience leave #100 on there. They will love it!]
In all seriousness, despite my inexpert execution and propensity for drama, I am quite happy with the way this turned out. Thanks to Shuna, to our challenge hosts — Dolores (Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity) and her helpers Alex (Blondie and Brownie), Jenny (Foray Into Food), and Natalie (Gluten-A-Go-Go) — and to DBs’ fearless and tireless leaders Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis (La Mia Cucina), for another fun and delicious (and very Daring!) challenge. Now, what better way to spend a Saturday than making the rounds of the other mobsters Daring Bakers’ gorgeous caramel cakes?
Instead of chopped pecans, I went with almond flour 🙂
Worry #2 is cracking me up. I really did consider wearing goggles, though.
Baking Soda says
Fear not! Your fears are mine! What is it about cakes that frightens most of the bread bakers and vice versa? Just between you and me… I practice worry 24 actually, and that makes me shudder to think what my cake would look like when I don’t! I mean they come out flatter than I like already! Do you think I should go for the full 50 minute watch?
Love the nut addition. (Leave it up to you to choose which nut addition..)
Oh geez, I don’t think I’d even attempt it, you’ve scared me to death! That would be the sort of thing I ‘d be happy to order in a restaurant, not attempt at home… :-).
It lookes fantastic, though! Your list obviously worked, ha ha.
Cake may not rise is NO.1 worry with me too:) But if all that worrying will end up in a delightful well risen cake like yours – it must be worth it!
Loved the sharing of your ‘fears’- so funny. I think we all feel like that! Looks like it turned out great despite them 🙂
I love your list of fears Susan. I loved this months challenge (and I have to admit it didn’t scare me, honest). Your cake looks fabulous 🙂
The butter worry was the one I struggled with. I love the whole list though. And the chopped pecans was a brilliant idea! I’m sure they cut the sweetness a bit.
Hehe – I, too, experience angst in a very organized fashion. But it looks like your worries were for naught – that is one fantastic looking cake!
I love that you have as much or more worries than me.
I did make a counter stool fence around me and the stove to keep puppies away while making caramel syrup.
Your cake really does look lovely, the nuts are a nice touch. 🙂
E L R A says
They look superb! People will love your cake.
Ha ha! This is hilarious! I wasn’t worried about this challenge until I read some questions from readers on Shuna’s blog… suddenly what I thought was just a cake became this half day mini-panic fest. Your cake looks fantastic! My turned out too… are your cake fears eased for future cake baking?
It sure made you work hard…this mob cake Susan. Boy, doesn’t it look good & doesn’t it look PEFECT!! Ha ha…loved your post, & sat dreaming of the drama that happened between # 24 & #52 for some insane reason…LOL!!
Sort of like when my husband & I walked out of everyone of our scuba diving classes: we’ve just learn another 101 ways to do yourself in. As always Susan, fun, fabulous post. Great idea on the nuts! Wish I’d thought of that one too!
Judy (Judy's Gross Eats) says
Well, actually, Worry #2 happened to me yesterday when I was making the caramels. I had just started heating the sugar/Golden syrup combo, when the DHL guy knocked on the door. I had enough presence of mind to turn off the burner, but when I returned, large sugar slabs were floating in the syrup. I just stuck the lid on so I couldn’t see them and continued. The caramels turned out fine.
Love your cake with the nuts.
I loved your worry list!!! I guess I don’t worry enough. Mine did separate but I thought that was normal and just carried on! Your cake turned out beautiful!
Oh number 24 definitely does work. And not just for cakes either. Everything is better if you grab a cup of coffee and sit on the kitchen floor to watch the food cook. Glad you liked the cake, it looks really wonderful.
“One false move and your cake is history” hahahahaha I always look forward to reading your posts. Despite all the possible places where it could have gone wrong, I think your cake turned out splendidly!
You know, I have to say that I’m startled that a little ole cake scares you, yet you fearlessly take on the most complicated breads! Ah, human complexity is a wonderful thing, especially when combined with a sense of humor like yours. Thanks for sharing your stress with us.
Maybe because you worried so much you have a lovely cake to show for it. And after expending all that nervous energy, you need this cake to boost you up, I think.:)
I’m tempted to mail you for the list just to know what else is on it.
Btw, as far as I’m concerned worrying seems to be part of the job description of being a DB.:D
“I’ll be happy to send you the complete inventory so you too can experience your profound angst in a highly organized fashion.” bwa ha ha ha
You had me giggling at the start then the full belly laugh came on right about then. Your cake turned out lovely, and perhaps your organized angst had something to do with it. 🙂
I love the pecans around the outside–what a great idea! I bet they were great with the caramel and browned butter flavors.
Shaheen @ Ambrosia says
I have the exact same fear of the cake not rising. That’s why every time I bake, I first test the potency of the baking powder/soda. Even if its a new package, I just can’t help myself!
I have that cake-not-rising fear too, but with good reason. I am a terrible, terrible cake baker, and my cakes never do rise. I like making caramel, though.
Love it…mob bake…and your cake is gorgeous, too! Fraid that burning the sugar was my fear, so didn’t let it color up enough. Imagine, two years of mob bake…wow.
Great post, I love it! Your cake looks lovely too. The chopped pecans just make it look more perfect.
I’m surprised Grumpy hasn’t come up with “mob bake” himself!
*lol* wonderful cake and funny list. Some of the worries are mine too. 😉
Great job! You managed it even with the troubles you experienced.
OMG! You crack me up! I never thought of that worry list until I read yours and told myself—“yeah…amen to that!” And “mob cake”? My husband agrees. 🙂 Your cake looks wonderful.
Haha loved your post! All that worry for nothing! Your cake looks beautiful! Nice job.
maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) says
as always hilarious post.
Great post! I have a fear of homemade caramel, too. Boiling sugary stuff is very scary indeed.
Hilarious… though I have to admit, Worry #1 was my close friend as well. Your cake turned out wonderfully, despite all odds!
Loved your post soooo funny. I had some worries too but I guess I was not the only one when reading the recipe I was thinking: if the other ones can make it I can too!
Your cake is gorgeous and sumptuous too. Bravo!
Am I the only one who thought of the movie with Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Polly Bergen (or Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange for you younger readers) when I read the title of this post? 🙂
Gretchen Noelle says
100 worries?? And I thought I was bad? Your cake turned out wonderfully!!
By now I *know* you can bake a cake but I always laugh at the way you approach each DB cake session. Susan, your cake turned out beautifully! And I love the added pecans!
Your post is greaat!! And so is your cake, it’s so pretty you did a fantastic job. I have this vision of you in your get up at the stove with the caramel …Love it!!
Looks like we had very similar lists, only mine was just in my head. There were a lot of concerns with this one, but it looks like you pulled it off just fine!
I’m so glad your worries this month were largely unfounded (although as a risk-averse list-maker myself, I enjoyed your stories of them). Thanks for joining “the mob” this month. My people will contact your people… 🙂
I love your list. Gave me a good laugh. I had no idea cake could cause such stress! I pretty much only associate cake with happy thoughts. How could it be any other way? It’s cake! Who doesn’t love cake!
Great blog. 🙂
the chopped nuts are a good idea. Everything looks great.
well, after that one, my guess is you’ll never be afraid to bake cakes anymore. Thanks for a big laugh, Susan!
Jen Yu says
You are so funny. I have to say that everytime you mention your issues with cakes, I am astounded b/c I always assume if you can bake bread (which you do – and BEAUTIFULLY so) then you bake cake because the converse is not necessarily true for me! I think your cake is lovely and I think you are incredible 🙂
Petite Kitchen says
You’re cake is beautiful, woman. I hear ya on the “need” for protective gear–Sweetie thinks I need body armour just being in the kitchen at all. I have burn scars to prove it. Baking is dangerous. We should get hazard pay out of it.
LOL..mob bake! That’s too funny.
I can’t stop laughing at your post but I have to admit, I’m a little relieved. I always think of you like as the most sophisticated baker and feel very intimidated looking at your breads. But I adore baking cakes and don’t fret them at all….they are as soothing to me as the breads are to you I guess. 🙂 Speaking of which I did manage to conquer some of my fear of breads. I posted something that I can finally send to yeastspotting 🙂 Yah!
Beautiful cake, btw.
Hi! I just joined Daring Bakers myself. YAY! I had to laugh at your fear of cakes, because I am terrified of bread! You are extremely gifted with bread and I am so jelous. I’m working on getting over my fears, and can’t wait to make some of these recipes. BTW, your cake looks fantastic!!!