Keep Calm and Carry On Baking

I know some people get worried about cooking for me because of the blog. I always assure them that I only blog about the successes in my kitchen, not the disasters or even near disasters. However, I thought I’d write about the weekend’s near disaster because it might be fun to do so and to show that sometimes when things go wrong, you can salvage it.

It must be something about birthday cakes at the moment. When I asked my son in August what cake he’d like me to cook for his birthday – any cake he fancied – he chose the Hazelnut, Peach & Raspberry Cake I’d made a few weeks before. When I first made it, it was a great success and all the family loved it. After I’d published the recipe on the blog, quite a few people I knew reported they’d tried it, or friends of theirs had made it, and everyone thought it was great. But for some reason I never got to understand, when I baked it for my son’s birthday, I knew along the way it wasn’t working out properly and I was really disappointed with how it looked when it came out of the oven. So, I decided to make another. A little bit of vanity had crept in maybe and I didn’t want to serve up a bad cake for his birthday celebrations! I thought the first one would probably taste okay and I could give some away and perhaps freeze portions of it. When I eventually cut into it, it hadn’t cooked properly and really was fit for nothing other than the bin. The second attempt worked perfectly and was enjoyed on the birthday.

This weekend it was going to be my standard birthday cake, which I first made for grandson Freddie’s 1st birthday (click here) and now he’s nearly 7. It’s basically a Victoria Sponge but there’s an important difference in that three of the four eggs whites are whisked up and some of the sugar added, to make a meringue mix, before being added to the mix. This gives a far superior texture to the cake. Both my son and I have used this recipe a few times since that 1st birthday and it’s always worked a treat. Jonathan was planning to make it again for Ben’s 4th birthday this week, but due to having to work over the weekend asked me if I’d make it for Sunday’s party. No problem, I said. No problem … until I actually started making it!

Firstly, I dithered over whether to make the amount in the recipe or twice the amount for a larger cake. Looking at other similar recipes I saw the proportions were quite big anyway so I’d make just one lot, but felt it could go into a larger tin than my main cake tin, but the big one I have would be too large. So I went out and bought a new cake tin.

I started gathering all the ingredients together to begin the baking. I soon realised I’d forgotten to buy cream for the ganache icing, so made a quick trip to a nearby Tesco Express. Then I got started again and began weighing the ingredients out. I was going to divide the mixture in two so I could put cocoa in half and make it a marble cake as I’ve done before. However, when I got the cocoa out of the cupboard it was well past its use-by date. Grrr! I thought I’d just have to go back to the Tesco, but then decided I’d change plan and put in the chocolate chips I had over from the little cup cakes I made recently.

Back to the baking … I beat the butter and sugar together; I started adding the eggs and flour. It was then I remembered the egg whites waiting to be whisked up! Oh no. I’d already put all the sugar in with the butter; I hadn’t saved any for the ‘meringue’ mix.


It was all starting to feel like a disaster but I couldn’t face starting again. So, I just whisked the egg whites up and added them – without any sugar – to the batter, cutting them in gently to try to preserve some of the air. Then I folded in the chocolate chips.


Into the prepared cake tin it all went – and I crossed fingers and hoped hard it would all turn out all right.

I could see that it looked done after about 40 minutes – sooner than the 1hr 15mins I’d needed before. I carefully removed it from the oven; it was a lovely golden colour, the edges were shrinking away slightly from the side, and a small sharp knife slowly cut into it showed it was cooked through. It was left just a couple of minutes to cool slightly and then removed from the tin. I was slightly worried that it would go wrong again, that once I tried to get it out of the tin it would fall apart, clearly not be cooked properly. But it all seemed okay. I left it to cool on a cooling rack and once it was cold, made the ganache icing.

Once the icing was on the cake I decorated it. I’d bought some partying animal candles but perhaps feeling some guilt at how the baking had gone, made a little more effort with the decorating than I might otherwise have done. I put some sprinkles round the edge – the boys love sprinkles on their ice cream so I always have some. I found some ribbon and put that round too. I had some little ready-made icing tubes left over from the cup cakes which I used to write Ben’s name and the number 4.

It looked good – if admittedly rather amateur, but then I’ve never pretended to be a candidate for The Great British Bake Off. I just hoped it would all be okay on the day when we cut into it.

When I took it over to my son’s, it turned out my message about finding candles (originally they were going to get some) hadn’t got through and Lyndsey had found some Paw Patrol – Ben’s favourite series at the moment – candles. Oh just take mine off, I said, not worried if they weren’t used. Ben, however, had different ideas. He wanted to keep the ones Nonna had bought and use the ones Mummy had got too. And he wanted to put them on himself.

It was a seriously well-lit birthday cake for a 4 year old!

I have to admit it looked a lot more exciting than my original offering!

I was a bit worried that the cake itself would be okay once we cut into it. It was a little sunken in the middle but the texture and and taste were great, so phew! Sigh of relief. And really, when you put a thick layer of chocolate ganache – basically chocolate truffle! – on a cake, it has to taste pretty good.

How did it all go so wrong along the way? Partly it was because I was having a busy day so my concentration wasn’t all with the cake. I think it was also that I’ve made the cake so often I was over-confident and thus didn’t read the recipe at the beginning as carefully as I should have done. But then sometimes, regardless of birthdays and special events, life is just busy. Sometimes things don’t turn out quite as perfectly as we would wish. But fortunately, in this case, though not the best birthday cake I’d ever made, it was still fine and tasted good, and most importantly of all, the birthday boy was very happy.

(For full recipe details click here.}

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

16 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Carry On Baking

  1. Hi Kay, Haven’t we all been there. Something you’ve cooked almost without thinking so many times and the day it needs to be a bit special it all goes to pot. For me it is often when I’m trying too hard – I over-gild the lily and it wilts under the weight. Lucky birthday boy – all that delicious chocolate.

  2. AND, that’s why I don’t bake! But I love the end result. All boy! I don’t really have disasters in the kitchen, unless it’s leaving something on the stove like rice, or something I’m reducing. I’ve lost a few pots because of my distractions!

    1. I rarely have disasters either, but I do wonder why some of the things I cook a lot vary so sometimes they’re great and other times not quite so great even though I done exactly the same as always! 🙂

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