I love to bake. Back home I’d bake breads, cookies, cakes, casseroles, enchiladas, vegetables, and pastas. Perhaps because where I lived there was winter 6 months out of the year, I embraced this method of cooking which had the dual purpose of warming up the house. Here, where it’s 90+ degrees every day, warming up the house is unnecessary (and unwanted). Rather, the cooking methods are ones that don’t make the living space unbearable: fast and hot for meats and starches, or low and slow for rice and soups. In fact, many homes don’t even have ovens; ovens like the one in my house end up used for pan storage rather than food preparation.
However, thanks to Gene’s chocolate chip cookies at my site visit a few weeks ago, I knew that baking was possible, it would just require a little ingenuity.
When a few members of my cohort announced that they were throwing a Valentine’s Day pool party, I jumped at the chance to bake for my friends. For this first round, I stuck with a simple banana cake recipe, knowing that it would be a little easier to fudge if I ran into problems.
I woke up Saturday morning before the party, double-checked my shopping list against the recipe…and realized that I needed to get on this cake NOW. The recipe recommended an hour freezing time. I had 2.5 hours to get this thing pulled together. I left my host mom and sister at our house to go to the store to get the few ingredients I lacked (where I ran into them 15 minutes later doing their own shopping), and dashed home to get started. Of course, there aren’t measuring cups in my home, so I just kind of guessed. And I didn’t even know how to turn on the oven, so I had to ask a neighbor to come over and help since my people were still grocery shopping.
I’m not going to go into details, but the cake was only okay, and the frosting was severely lacking. I didn’t have the full hour to freeze it; I barely had five minutes. I didn’t have enough butter for the frosting, so it tasted really sugary. Still, I wrapped it up in aluminum foil and took it to the party, where it was met with warm reviews. The rest I gave to my host family and neighbors, who also enjoyed it.
Then our Peer Support Network announced a potluck that they were hosting, and I knew it was my chance to redeem myself. I looked up a recipe for chocolate cake, and found one that claimed to be The Best Chocolate Cake Recipe Ever. After making the banana cake, the only new ingredients I needed were baking powder and more powdered sugar. This time I was even going to use measuring cups, since one of the girls in my training site brought some…but of course, I got too impatient to wait for her to get back from grocery shopping, so I just went for it again. This is how my interaction with the recipe was:
- “Preheat oven to 350.”
Okay, at least I know how to turn on the oven now. That’s like 190 Celsius? Which is maybe about here on the gas dial? Cool.
- “Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or lightly buttering and flouring.”
Cake pans…those don’t exist in my house, but I guess these little Pyrex pans are about the 9″ rectangular equivalent?
And obviously, I can butter and flour since there’s no baking spray.
- “Add flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk through to combine or, using your paddle attachment, stir through flour mixture until combined well.”
My coffee cup is about a cup, right? Nah, must be only 3/4 cups, I’ll add a little more stuff. But this spoon is about a teaspoon…
Espresso was too expensive to buy for this one recipe, but maybe a little instant coffee will give the mix the same boost? And stand mixer? Psh. I wouldn’t even waste the money/space in the US…although an electric hand mixer would be great right now.
- “Add milk, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla to flour mixture and mix together on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed and carefully add boiling water to the cake batter. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute to add air to the batter.”
Ahhh, how do I control the aim of my milk in a bag?! Does that egg have a squashed mosquito on it? I’ll leave that one for later… Is this “medium speed”? Can my arm even go at “high speed? I am not feeling at all confident about this..
- “Distribute cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.”
Who knows what temp I’m at; better set a timer for 24 minutes. (24 minutes later) Who in the world has an official “cake tester”? I’m just going to use this fork. Oops, looks like another 7 will be good (it was). How did I fit these two pans in this tiny oven in the first place?!
I just now noticed this note in the recipe: “The cake batter will be very thin after adding the boiling water. This is correct and results in the most delicious and moist chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted!”
I did notice that it was very thin. My younger host sister was watching at this stage, and commented as well. Since I didn’t see this note at the time, I added some more flour and cocoa. The cake still ended up super awesome.
The one change I would make for next time would be to cut the buttercream frosting (I used the same blogger’s recipe) in half, because I still have a ton left over! Otherwise my cake received rave reviews both at the potluck and from my family and neighbors…I’ve even had several requests for birthday cakes!
*It’s a piece of cake to bake a pretty cake (warning: link contains inappropriate language), but it’s hard to make something that looks inherently like poop look pretty when it’s not literally placed on a pedestal.