Baking Dilettante by Kim Schultz

Posted by on Oct 27, 2011 in Blog | 6 comments

I am burning a birthday cake. The smell of sugar turning to carbon is filling my house, despite the exhaust fan and two windows I have thrown open in an attempt to avoid setting off the fire alarms while Baby 2.0 is sleeping (please, anything but waking a sleeping baby). If I press my nose to the oven’s window to view its lantern-lit interior, I can see drips of cake batter crisping themselves to lava-like chunks on the bottom of the oven.

You see, I tried to get a little fancy. It’s birthday time here, and I had paged through my latest glossy Martha Stewart magazine and kept coming back to this recipe: Salted-Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake. I try to resist the perfection that is Martha, but some of my favorite things are in that title: chocolate, caramel, salt. I’m a middling foodie; I’ve made cheese and cream puffs and beef Wellington. Of course, I didn’t have three 9-inch cake rounds, but I had two 9-inch cake rounds and a 9-inch springform pan. So that should work, right?

It might have worked better if I had made sure that springform pan was completely secure before I filled it with batter, definitely before I put it in the oven and it began to fill my house with Eau de Scorched Earth. It leaves me with the question: did I just not take enough time to adequately prepare or is Martha’s Salted-Caramel Chocolate Cake simply beyond my abilities?

It’s a question that—generalized beyond cakes—seems to come up a lot for me in the fall. This is the season for things kicking into gear: school year’s started, work projects are trying to get done by the holidays, where the heck is my blog entry and how much did I write this week, and oh by the way, once I get done making those Halloween costumes, Thanksgiving will be arriving. Inevitably, something gets shoved to the back burner, and I think: maybe I bit off more than I can chew. Maybe this task is beyond me and I shouldn’t have even tackled it.

But fall is the time for new school stuff, brand-new notebooks and a pocket of unsharpened pencils. It’s the time to see what you’ve got and where you’re going. It’s the perfect time to try something new. I’ve done NaNoWriMo before, and while I made a pact that I’m not starting a new novel until I finish revising my current one, I had that wonderful glimmer of an idea this week that said, this could be a really good novel. So now I’ve got to get my current one put to bed so I can get to work on the next one, even if it does seem like more than I can chew, because I have a lot of stories I want to tell.

Cake’s done. Crispy bits in the oven aside, the actual cake smells wonderful. Baby’s still sleeping. Time to write.

Kim Schultz used to write about cell phone test equipment, particle counters, and nuclear waste disposal facilities for money, but now writes aridly acidic prose for her own amusement when her children are asleep. She’s the vice president and volunteer coordinator for SDWI and is working on her novel, really.


  1. ashley says:

    So how was the cake? I want to make it next week for my birthday but haven’t found any reviews online yet.

  2. Kim says:

    The cake was fantastic, actually. It’s super-rich (that icing takes a pound of chocolate, no joke). I didn’t let the caramel cool enough before putting it on the cake, so when I poured it out over the layers, it ran everywhere.

  3. Kim says:
  4. ashley says:

    Thanks Kim! Would you use a different, less rich icing next time? I wondered about the richness.

  5. Kim says:

    I might just go with a straight buttercream instead of the heavy ganache. It’s quite a lot of chocolate in one cake. But the caramel is delicious and worth the hassle–we’ve been eating the leftovers with Granny Smith apples.

  6. Lana says:

    I love Martha, but sometimes I find Martha recipes to be a bit uneven. It sounds like yours was an equipment failure, but sometimes the directions are missing something, or they just don’t turn out. Also, I have a LOT of baking pans, but even I don’t have three 9 inch cake pans.

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