Cake Sabotage

Let me say that again; AHAHAHHHHAHAHAH!

That’s ten years of pent-up baking angst.

We have had an ongoing cake drama, my mum and I – well actually, mostly just me. It’s been going on for nearly ten years. Mum has a fabulous chocolate cake recipe which she has cooked ever since I can remember. It’s light and moist and supposedly super easy; minimal ingredients, minimal fuss for maximum taste. It’s a simple little cake which will suit almost any occasion.

A long time ago I got the recipe from her and have tried to cook it many times with unvarying results – it always sucks. No matter how many different times I have tried, and how many different ways I wooed this little baby, it always came out resembling something more like a dried up slice than a cake. I know it’s just a tiny thing in the bigger life picture, but over a decade it has really bugged me that I can’t master this “simple” cake. How lame can I be?

I tried all sorts of tricks; new flour, warm eggs, cold eggs, old eggs, fresh eggs, sifted cocoa, unsifted expensive cocoa, small tins, big tins, and so on – finally we decided the difference in our success with this recipe must be the difference in our mixing bowls – we both had 1970s Kenwoods, but mum has a metal bowl and I had a plastic bowl. Because melted butter is the first ingredient added we theorised that perhaps it’s the hot butter hitting the cold metal bowl and the resulting cooling reaction that is the KEY step. So you can imagine how excited I was to get a Kitchen Aid with a metal bowl. Mum’s chocolate cake was my first test run of our new toy, but…


I don’t know if you can see it in this photo, but although the cake tasted ok, the crumb was dense and dry. The metal bowl seemed to make no difference at all. I stomped around the house cursing and shouting “Sabotage! GRRR!”. You see, it’s been my secret theory all these years that mum had deliberately altered something on the ingredients list she gave me back sometime in the 90s so I would never make as good a cake as she. This is a great theory which kind of ignores the fact that my mother is not a vindictive, petty minded person even in the slightest. But even so, this supposedly easy “never really fails” cake once again… well… sucked.

Once again I rang mum and tensely read the list of ingredients down the phone so that she could reconfirm (as she has done on numerous occasions over the years) that I had the right stuff. Yep, yep yep. So I suggested that mum could actually make the chocolate cake when she came over today, with my kitchen aid, in my oven while I watched… with beady, searching eyes… determined not to miss a beat.

So today we threw out my old self raising flour and opened a new bag just in case my flour was stale, we watched as the hot butter hit the cold (but not too cold) bowl, we mixed it thoroughly for three minutes and carefully poured it in the ring tin and placed it in a slightly cooler than previously tried oven, taking in to account that our old oven might be just a bit too hot. All this time I was studiously checking off the ingredients and the directions in my copy of the recipe. So far it all matched Mum’s moves.

3/4 of an hour later mum said “ok, let’s look at it.” We carefully opened the oven and mum peered into the blackness, she gently pulled it out and poked at it’s surface and showed me how it sprung back and then she said “Yes, I think it’s done.”

“Really?” I felt a little surprised, “because according to my instructions I would have left it for another 15 minutes. I always cook it for an hour.”

“Oh no! What? No… an hour?? Never! That’s way too long!”

“But it’s tiny! It hasn’t risen up over the edge of the tin yet!”

“But it never does, not if I’m making these proportions, but usually I’m making a 1 and a half times sized cake.”

Which explains the size of my cake! – I was always expecting my cake to match mum’s 1.5 cake.

“But my recipe says cook for 1 hour!”

“No! Not unless it’s for 1 and half sized cake! Didn’t you ever check to see if it was done?”

“Well no! Because I was scared that the rush of cold air from opening the oven door would make the cake sink! And any time I did look, hoping to find it rising over the edge of the tin, it was always so tiny that I thought I had made it sink by checking! So then I would always leave it to cook for the rest of the hour! Always!…


I opened my recipe book and stabbed my finger on the “Cook for 1 hour at 180c”


“I knew it! Sabotage!”

No wonder my cakes have always looked like a little shriveled, dried up thing.

Much laughing ensued — and check out the guilty look on my mum’s face!

and here’s mum poking at the cake saying, “Oh, it’s a good one”.

So hooray! It’s not me! It was the recipe all along (and maybe the plastic bowl had a hand in it too)! I never thought that perhaps mum was altering the ingredients to make a bigger cake… and I never thought to read back to mum the amount of time it needed to cook for, not in all those years. Why it never occurred to me to cook it for less time even though my cakes always looked a bit crispy around the edges, I’m not sure… I think it’s because I’m not a terribly experimental cook, I am a bit of a stickler for instructions.

But I knew it! It was Mum! She sabotaged me! (Though she is claiming that she’s just a little vague – but just look at that evil smile…).