What a busy, busy weekend! And the week has continued in the same busy fashion... I am going to need this weekend to recover.
Saturday was my nephew's 2nd birthday, and my step-sister threw him a party. He is very much into tractors right now, so that was the party theme. My mother and Caroline created this cute cake for him, and he was very happy to see the vehicles on it. (Every time he see's a tractor, and some other assorted large vehicles, he yells out tractor and gets very excited. It's incredibly adorable, but I will admit to a bit of a bias, as his doting aunt.)
He got these tractor cookies, too. I'm told they were a lot of work... I know from experience that they were quite tasty.
Sunday, of course, was the superbowl. Given that I'm not a sports fan, you'd think that I wouldn't give a flying fig. But, I did have a party to go to where I could tune out the game and tune back in for the commercials. The hostess's birthday was on the 1st, so I wanted to bring her a cake as a surprise. She consulted me about what to buy or make beforehand, and I had to spoil the surprise to stop her from making the cupcakes she had planned.
I had stumbled upon this photo and recipe for a zebra cake a few weeks ago and had been itching to try it out. I thought the superbowl party was the perfect opportunity to use my friends as test subjects, um, I mean, beneficiaries of my baking talents... The original recipe I had found called for olive oil and Sprite, and I was not too sure about that combination in a cake, so kept looking. I settled on this one instead, since the ingredients looked more normal to me.
I ended up having to borrow a round cake pan. I don't know how I can have at more than 4 different bundt pans and not have a single normal round pan...
I don't know that I've ever actually baked a cake from scratch before, being such a fan of the modified cake mix methods of The Cake Mix Doctor. I was tempted to just use a white cake mix and a chocolate cake mix*, and pour the batter in the pan per the zebra cake instructions, but that would have resulted in way too much cake. (Yes, I also realize that I could have used a single box of white cake mix, and added cocoa powder to part of that mix...hindsight and all that...) I also thought that baking the cake from scratch went hand in hand with my resolve to eat fewer processed foods.
Anyway, after getting home from my nephew's birthday party on Saturday night, I made a quick trip to the grocery store and got to baking.
Per the recipe, I started out by mixing the eggs and the sugar together until most of the sugar was dissolved. Then the oil, milk and flavor extracts were stirred in, followed with the dry ingredients (except for the cocoa powder). Very soon I had 2 bowls of batter ready for pouring.
In order to achieve the stripes on the inside of the cake, you need to pour alternate between pouring small amounts of each batter into the center of the pan. This will create concentric circles of batter. It looks pretty snazzy in the pan, if I do say so myself, even though I think I should have poured a bit more batter per circle.
My circles were decidedly off-center, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it. It still looked sort of impressive, though not quite like the photos in the links to the recipe. This cake rose a crazy amount over the top of the pan, mounding in the center, and it developed a gaping crack at the top. I will admit that I improvised with the borrowed pan - it was only an 8" and not a 9" as called for. I am blaming that for the huge crack and the fact that I had to bake it an additional 20 minutes before it was done. (I may have also mixed too much air into it trying to get rid of the flour lumps.)
After baking, my apartment smelled wonderful, and I was full of pride about my scratch-baked cake...until we cut into it at the party. Luckily, we didn't make it a giant deal with candles or singing. Lucky for me, if not the birthday girl, at least. This cake tasted terrible. The texture was fine and it was moist enough, but it had no flavor. None. Okay, maybe a little bit, since it actually tasted like cornbread to me. I might have enjoyed it with a generous smear of butter and a bowl of chili, but cake this was not! I knew it wasn't going to be an overly sweet cake, based on the description on the recipe site, but that site also stated that it had a good mix of vanilla and chocolate flavor. People had commented on that site saying how perfect the recipe was and that they even used the plain batter for cupcakes. Liars! I don't believe it!
So much for my lofty baking ambitions... What a let-down. Next time, I will have to enlist the help of my good friend Betty Crocker.