This one doesn’t start in the kitchen. It’s around 1 a.m. and the room is dark. My partner and I’s eyes are glued to the television, desperate to know who’s about to be the winner of a Shrek-themed episode of Cake Wars. It’s the third episode we have watched that night, and alas, I sleep through the final round.
This admittedly embarrassing binge-watching of Food Network’s “Cake Wars” has become the routine for us lately. After much market research—really, just a Google search—for questions such as “What the heck is swiss buttercream frosting?,” my partner and I decided that maybe it was time for us to try baking for once.
Neither of us had done any baking past a five-ingredient cookie recipe or brownies from a box. Somehow, watching a 35-year-old Mean Girls heart throb and Cake Wars host Jonathan Bennett tell a group of bakers terrible jokes as they bake ridiculous cakes inspired me to whip up something in my own oven.
“Ok, we can definitely make that,” my partner and I often say while watching the show, referring to cakes with familiar flavor combinations like chocolate and peanut butter or red velvet. Plus, cake-making could be a fun alternative to real jobs.
While they may seem related, baking and cooking are not the same. Many people are good at one or the other, and few are good at both. If baking was a person they would be high-maintenance and would take their sweet time with everything, whereas cooking is a little more relaxed and go with the flow, as there is room for change and creativity.
To make sure we were totally prepared for this culinary challenge, my partner took some good time in one of his classes to google “chocolate cake.” We delicately and thoughtfully selected pretty much the first result.
We looked up “chocolate cake,” and chose the first recipe we found. The cake was a Mexican chocolate cake. It was loaded with sugar and cocoa and had just a dash of cayenne pepper for zing and cinnamon for zang. Though neither of us are vegan, this recipe is.
The directions were easy enough, and gave me a chance to show off my advanced home cooking skills such as: put all of the ingredients in the bowl. That technique took me years to perfect, so if you don’t have that skill right away don’t be hard on yourself!
I knew that switching from cooking to baking would be really odd for me, as baking is far more technical. As I went to eyeball two cups of sugar my partner reminded me that I actually had to measure everything so I didn’t end up with some salt-loaded lightbulb-infused Easy Bake oven creation.
We then carefully slapped some oil into a cake pan and threw it in the oven. The cake was slow and steady—it took an extra 20 minutes to bake than the recipe said. We stood over the oven, giving it some good verbal encouragement.
“Did we mess it up?” I asked after my partner tested the unfinished cake it for the third time.
“I’m about ready to eat it raw,” my partner replied.
When it was eventually done, we began to debate whether or not we wanted to try to stay on the vegan theme for the cake covering.
We settled on a glaze recipe that only had five ingredients—butter, confectioners sugar, cocoa, vanilla and water. It called for us to sift out the confectioners sugar. As a novice first time baker I can’t say I really had a sifter lying around so we tried to get creative. Using the built-in filter of my partner’s eight cup coffee maker, we tried to sift the two cups into the mix. After 10 minutes of feverish effort, we had successfully gotten one-fourth of a teaspoon in the bowl and another few teaspoons everywhere else—an incredibly inefficient quick fix.
We just dumped the rest, at least a cup and a half, in to make for a very lumpy glaze. Since it was all sugar, it still tasted good.
The cake ended up tasting a little funky, but we aren’t entirely sure where it went awry. The differences between baking and cooking are immense, and I knew this going in. But the beauty of any type of food preparation is it never really goes exactly to plan—even when you plan it to be potentially subpar.
But now, at least my partner and I know our potential future baking career won’t be a piece of cake.