Musings from Home

Adventures in Cake Baking

For Emerald’s birthday this year, I asked her, as I always do, what kind of cake she wanted. She answered, German chocolate. “With the traditional coconut pecan icing?” I asked. That was exactly what she had in mind. The next question, which in hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked, was, “Do you want it in any particular shape or do you want a round layer cake?

Hmmm, what shape would Emerald choose these days? Why baton-shaped, of course! Doubting that baton-shaped cake pans were readily available, I told her I’d give it a shot.

I have made lots of cakes in my time, including: horse-shaped cakes (two or three times),

castle cakes (twice),

and a guitar-shaped cake.

I even attempted a Barney cake when Emerald was really little and Barney was her favorite thing in the world. [I say attempted because I couldn’t get the purple just right, so it just looked like your standard purple dinosaur, but Emerald didn’t mind.]

How hard could a baton be, really? Batons are thin, straight rods with bulbous ends. Easy peasy, right?

So I looked online and scored a couple long thin loaf pans. I figured I’d make it two layers since it would be rather narrow. I would also bake a rectangular cake, from which to cut the layers for the ends. I Googled “baton-shaped cake” and read some helpful tips from a mom who had made one of these masterpieces before. I had this thing all planned in my head. No problem.

My adventure began at about 5:00 Friday evening. The girls and I whipped up the cake batter, poured it into the well-greased pans, and got the layers baking.

When the cakes were ready, they easily slipped from the pans. Like I said, no problem. Everything was going according to my script. I would have this thing done before the kids went to bed.

I overestimated my abilities, or underestimated the power of Murphy’s Law.

After the layers had cooled completely, and Jim had cut a piece of cardboard for me to assemble this long cake on, I cut the ends out of the rectangular cake, ignoring the online advice to freeze the cake first to lessen the crumbling. I had iced cut cakes before and hadn’t had too much of a problem with that, so this was an unnecessary step, or so I told myself.

Well, it turns out German chocolate cakes are softer than most, and crumble a lot when cut. But that was just the beginning of my problems.

Emerald had decided she wanted the coconut pecan icing on the main part of the baton, but she wanted the ends purple. Again, no biggie. I decided to use the coconut pecan icing as the filling between all the layers. I have made several German chocolate cakes in my time, but I had never noticed the consistency of the icing before. When I put it on the ends of the “baton rod”, it slowly slid down to the foil-covered cardboard beneath the cake. Same thing with the sides of the cake. I’m flexible and creative, right? I can make this work. So I plodded on.

First layer done, time to add the second layer. Remember I said how soft this cake was? Well, as I was icing the top layer, I noticed the ends were pulling away from the center piece and leaning to the side. They also suddenly were not as tall as the center piece. As I worked on ways to fix that problem, I noticed the center piece was also dipping down at the ends. Apparently, the top layers were crushing the bottom layers. The coconut pecan icing was also not sticking to the sides of the cake or the edges of the top. It was slowly slipping to the cardboard below.

The cake was a total wash. It was now nearing 10:00 and I could not figure any way to fix this mess. I started freaking out. Emerald wanted a baton cake. She had told everyone she knew that I was making her a baton cake. How proud she was . . . and I had failed. The late hour didn’t help my emotional state.

Back to the store for supplies. I was going to try again. I had figured out a new strategy. Since having two layers seemed to be a major problem, the second attempt would only be one layer. I also realized that there was probably a reason that most professionally made German chocolate cakes I’d seen had the coconut pecan icing only on the top, and chocolate icing on the sides. So, my new plan was to do the same. The ends would still be purple, as Emerald had requested. And perhaps most importantly, I would freeze the layer I intended to cut for the ends, prior to cutting, to make icing work this time easier .

Armed with supplies and a new plan, I started the second cake around 11:00. I was planning to finish the entire thing before I went to bed in order to surprise Emerald with the finished product when she awoke, but at 1:30 Saturday morning, Jim convinced me that I would be better able to trouble-shoot any issues I encountered this time if I got some sleep and tackled the assembly and decorating with a fresh brain.

In the morning, I told Emerald of my previous night’s fiasco, told her I was trying my best, but I just wasn’t sure I could do this. I told her I was trying again, but if it didn’t work this time, we’d have to buy a cake and decorate it with a baton and her name. It wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was a back-up plan and she was a good sport about it.

With all eyes on me (figuratively, because I sent them all out of the room), I began my second attempt at assembly. I got all the icing ready, put the “ends” layer in the freezer for 15 minutes, and began icing the baton middle. I then cut the ends, breathed a huge sigh of relief when they looked decent and didn’t crumble, and put the baton together. To my immense relief, this time all of the icing stayed in place, as did the pieces. And we had something that kinda sorta resembled a baton. I decorated it up a little and held my breath as I called Emerald in to see it.

All my effort (and previous failure) was worth it when I saw her face light up. You would think that girl saw the most beautiful thing in the world. She was ecstatic! She urged me to take a picture to show her twirling coach (who had asked us to take one). I did as instructed.

We found a spot up high to store the cake, where the cats were unlikely to get to it, and rushed off to twirling class, picture in hand.

When Emerald’s friends arrived later for a sleepover, she excitedly told them I had made a cake in the shape of a baton. She couldn’t wait to show it to them. And yesterday, when she had another friend, who couldn’t make the party, over for a playdate, she enthusiastically showed her the picture, before sharing some of the leftovers.

It certainly isn’t professional looking, but as happy as it made my girl, I don’t care in the least. Afterall, how can you be more successful than that reaction from the guest of honor?

Next year, I’ll think twice before I agree to try a shape for which there isn’t a cake pan (yeah, sure I will). But for this year, it worked out just fine — WAY better than fine, actually. 🙂

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Comments on: "Adventures in Cake Baking" (1)

  1. Good for you.

    All my theme cakes have been either a sheet cake, or cupcakes, with a plastic topper. The year she wanted a Sponge Bob cake, I got fancy and made blue cream cheese frosting for the little plastic figures to sit atop.

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