Last summer, I decided to make a birthday cake from scratch for my boyfriend, John. He told me that his absolute favorite was devil’s food chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and shredded coconut on top. I had never made a chocolate cake or frosting from scratch before. But, I was up for the challenge and I used recipes from a well-known cookbook. The frosting was amazing. Seriously, I could have been perfectly happy just eating that darn frosting! The cake was just kind of “eh.” It wasn’t moist enough or chocolatey enough. Something about it just wasn’t quite right. Being a gentleman, he of course said it was great. But, I knew that it was just ok. This year, I was determined to bake a delicious, moist, chocolatey cake from scratch. My experimenting began this weekend!
I chose Ina Garten’s recipe for Beatty’s Chocolate Cake from the Food Network. It has 5 stars and 1870 reviews. So, I figured it’s gotta be good. Now, I will confess that I did not follow the recipe exactly and I used the frosting recipe that I used last year because it was so scrumptious. Also, I wanted to make a simple one-layer rectangular cake instead of a two-layer round cake (where there’s more potential to mess up the frosting!). I needed to make a few adjustments, but I wasn’t sure what would happen if I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. I always follow the recipe exactly. But, this time I took a chance and experimented a little.
And my experiment turned out great! This cake came out moist, chocolatey, and had just the right texture. It was a big hit with John and his kids. Plus, I learned a few things about baking that I didn’t know before. And I feel a little more confident about tweaking recipes in the future to see what happens. All of my gambles turned out pretty well. And, I found a great recipe for chocolate cake! Highly recommended.
Here’s what I figured out:
- If your recipe calls for buttermilk and you don’t have any, you can make it yourself. Just add a tablespoon of white vinegar (or lemon juice) to a cup of milk. I let it sit for 10 minutes and it didn’t look any different. So I ended up adding another teaspoon and let it sit for another five minutes. That seemed to do the trick.
- The recipe called for two extra large eggs. Oh, shoot! Once I got to that point in the recipe, I realized that I only had large eggs. Oh, geez Louise! Some of the reviewers said they used three large eggs, so I did too.
- I didn’t panic when the cake mix looked really watery! Some of the recipe reviewers said this would be the case and they were right. It looked really watery but I crossed my fingers and poured it in the pan anyway.
- For the first time, I used an oven thermometer (it had been sitting in it’s package unopened for months). Wow!! That was eye-opening. Even though my oven was set and preheated to 350 degrees, the temperature was actually closer to 375 degrees. I lowered it to 330 degrees and kept checking to make sure it stayed around 350 degrees on the oven thermometer, which it did.
- I used a 13 x 9 inch pan instead of two 8 inch round pans. And then I baked it for 30 minutes, as suggested by one of the recipe reviewers, instead of 35-40 minutes as instructed in the recipe. Using a different size pan was taking a bit of a leap of faith! But, at 30 minutes, I inserted a knife in the center and it came out perfectly clean. Done.
- I have no idea if this made a difference. But last year’s recipe used cake flour and butter, while this recipe used all-purpose flour and vegetable oil.
- And finally, I learned the best way to learn about baking is to practice baking. Make mistakes. Take leaps of faith. There’s really no substitute. The more you bake, the more you learn, and the better you get.