I am legally obligated to inform you all that I, UnCivilServant, and a straight, white, cismale shitlord as part of a plea deal to avoid public ruination on the charge of transmisogyny. Turns out when your gay Nazi neighbors start talking about their daughter’s upcoming bar mitzvah, you should not ask if the surgeons were required to model a foreskin for later removal. How was I supposed to know there wasn’t going to be any surgery? Anyway, the other half of the plea deal requires furnishing the event with a cake. So that’s what we’ll be baking today.
Now, I don’t know kosher from vegan, so we’re not going to be all that fussy and if anyone notices, it’s their fault for not putting more specifics in the plea text. Since ‘cake’ is a very general term and I’m lazy, we’re going to go with a simple recipe, a basic sponge cake. A sponge cake is in the same family as the pound cake with one very basic difference. Sponge cakes are leavened with baking powder, while pound cakes are unleavened. Other than that it’s the same recipe. Well, it says it right there in the name, pound cakes have their major ingredients measure by weight, and as such so too do sponge cakes. So a kitchen scale is a must before we move on. I know a lot of people don’t bother to get one.
Not really my fault there.
So what do we need?
- 1/2 pound eggs (usually 4)
- 1/2 pound butter
- 1/2 pound flour
- 1/2 pound sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Oh look, I’ve gone and measured them out for us.
That chocolate bar there? Well, that will be turned into a garnish later on. [REDACTED] is a great local chocolate shop. This is just a basic bar of dark chocolate, and we needn’t worry about it right now. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
So we need to start making the cake batter. I’ve already weighed out the sugar into the bowl for my stand mixer. That’s a clue – we start by whipping the butter and sugar together. I am using the whisk attachment for reasons that will become clear later on. After all, the hardest ingredient is the butter, and that should have softened up a bit by the time you’ve weighed everything out. After abusing the sugar and butter, you get something that photographs a lot like mashed potatoes.
It’s time to add our eggs. As typical, don’t get the shells in. This may be a grudge cake, but even I have standards. Be sure to scrape the sides often to make sure the butter and sugar mixture gets whisked into the eggs. Butter knife and plastic spatula both work for this – just make sure to stop the mixer before sticking anything that isn’t an ingredient into the bowl.
Once fully integrated, we’ll end up with a uniformity our neighbors might not appreciate.
Return the bowl to the mixer and add small increments of flour, making sure it gets as fully mixed in as possible. Then add our vanilla and baking powder and keep mixing and scraping the sides until you get a uniform mass. Hopefully, you’ll have mixed in some air bubbles. Scoop this into an eight inch baking pan. With a half pound cake base, there will only be enough for one pan. If you’re generous enough to want to make a two layer cake, use a full pound base, double the baking powder and vanilla, and split the batter between two pans. Spread it out to cover the bottom of the pan. I ended up with something like so
Drop the cake into the oven and set a timer for thirty minutes.
When the timer goes off, we have to conduct the dreaded ‘toothpick test’. I don’t know why people insist on using toothpicks. Not only are knives reusable, but the results are easier to see, and the damage done will not be visible on the finished product.
Anyway, at the half hour mark, the top looked done, but our cake failed the toothpick test.
As you can see, there is what looks like batter on the knife we stuck the cake with. So back into the oven it goes. Now it becomes a game of waiting a while, stabbing it again, and if it’s still battery, baking some more.
Here’s what it looked like when the cake was finally done
Don’t worry about those holes in the top of the cake. We’re going to frost it – with buttercream.
Oh the screeching from the neighbors. Pound cakes are so often unfrosted. Oh well, that’s what they get for being nonspecific. We set the cake aside to cool and turn our attention to frosting.
What do we need for a basic chocolate buttercream?
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 sticks butter
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
Let’s wash up the bowl and whisk attachment we used on the cake. (I never invested in a second bowl for the mixer, silly me). And then dry them off. Cut up the sticks of butter into the bowl and measure out the sugar and cocoa powder. It will form an uninteresting heap of ingredients. see?
Alternate between slow runs with the mixer and scraping down both the sides of the bowl and the whisk. If you run it too fast, you get powdered sugar flying out of the bowl and it causes a mess. Once it won’t mix any further, start drizzling in a little milk. Until the frosting starts to clump up into a single mass, stay on the lower speeds for the same reason as before. After it gets clumpy, you can increase speed to whip it together. The key part here is to watch the consistency and to add as little liquid as possible to get the desired texture. Eventually you’ll end up with something resembling frosting.
Now we need to wait for the cake to cool off. Ideally it should be at room temperature for the next steps. Why? Because our frosting is made from buttered sugar, and it will melt otherwise. Now, find the bread knife. You should have a bread knife from when we made sandwiches. Hold it parallel to the surface the cake is resting on and slice off the top. We’re not splitting it, we’re making a relatively flat surface. For instance, this:
This is not the surface we’re going to frost. Once we have the top level, we flip the whole darn cake over. There’s a reason for this. The part of the cake in contact with the surface of the pan will be tougher than the interior or top. This happens with all cakes to varying degrees. We’re using the fact to our advantage to make it easier to frost. These surfaces are less prone to tearing when you’re spreading frosting over them. Trying to plaster cake divots with buttercream is less fun than it sounds. So having it not rip is a good thing.
Anyway, frosting a cake is an art – one I have not mastered. I can get it to the point where no one will comment on it at your typical get together. I don’t attend fancy cocktail parties, and if I did, I’d expect them to be catered by professionals. Anyway, after some effort, the cake looked like this
And so we come back to that bar of dark chocolate in the first picture. It was sitting in my cabinet for over a week, and was very much at room temperature. Room temperature being unfortunately close to eighty. In early October. Curse you unproven pseudo-scientific theories about anthropogenic climatological effects!
Anyway, since it is soft, we can take a simple knife, say the one we tested the cake with, and start shaving curls off the side of the bar. Make sure you have a plate to catch them with, and be careful about the warmth of your hand melting the chocolate. Well, here’s what I mean…
We take those little dark chocolate curls and shavings and distribute them haphazardly over the top of the cake. Dub it “art” and the neighbors will be forced to applaud it. It will bear some resemblance to this here.
I hope Xe likes it.