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…).

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43 Responses

  1. alivicwil says:

    oh no! cheeky mum :)glad you finally got your cake to work!!

  2. Lara says:

    Hah, that’s a classic story :)I’ve had similar experiences, but then I found this article which I think explains it:

    When you’re making a recipe from a cookbook and the result is nothing like the picture… it might be to do with the flour we have here versus that they use in the US! It’s a very interesting read anyway…

  3. pip says:

    Good on ya Mum!Oh… she’s cute, isn’t she?! She’s looking a little sheepish, i think?!

  4. Ana says:

    Mums and their cooking “secrets”! 🙂 I dont know what mine does but all her cooking is SO much better tasting than mine. So its good to have her visit (or to visit her) so that I can go back to childhood – via tastebuds.The cake looks so yummy!

  5. shauna says:

    Hehehehe…. she looks so cheeky in that photo! I gotta ask, would you mind sharing the recipe? 🙂

  6. Juni says:

    I’m so glad you finally found out what was going on. What a story! 🙂

  7. Cass Ward says:

    That’s too funny. Mum’s are pretty sneaky aren’t they

  8. Michelle says:

    So glad you got the cake worked out. Looks delicious.

  9. Kirsty says:

    She does look pretty pleased with herself for besting you all these years. Cheeky.

  10. Donna says:

    Ha, I don’t think she looks guilty at all 😎 The cake looks delicious though!

  11. read me... says:

    Horrah! I am so glad that your 10 year cake making agony is finally at an end!! Mum’s like to keep a little trick or two up their sleeves, cheeky indeed!

  12. Jackson says:

    Haha! I’m glad you got the cake mystery all settled 🙂

  13. Anna @ D16 says:

    Oh gosh, that’s hilarious! My cakes never come out as well as my mother’s do even with the same recipe. Perhaps it IS sabotage!

  14. rowena says:

    Oh, that is hysterical. And yes, she totally has an evil grin.I am not brave enough to bake a cake from scratch. Cookies yes, cake, no.

    Maybe if I were to get a gorgeous stand mixer that would be my incentive. Time to send out some feelers.

  15. Jen says:

    Dare I ask? Have we been good readers? Do we get to try out the recipe? Or is it a firmly-held family secret? 🙂

  16. Concha says:

    what a great story 🙂 Mistery solved!

  17. Jen says:

    Ah, but now WE want the recipe too, please! And no instructional sabotage! 😉

  18. Selina says:

    PMSL. Naughty, naughty Mum!

  19. Catherine says:

    I’m so glad it worked for you. I too have tried recipes that failed to match the original, but who would have thought 15 minutes could make such a difference.

  20. rachel says:

    i actually tried that recipe a while back after finding it on your blog (being a bad blog reader who takes recipes without commenting). it turned out really good, probably because i’m not much of an instruction-follower and kept checking it before the time was up [which is why i was drawn to a recipe called “mum’s super easy chocolate cake”; i figured i couldn’t easily mess up “super easy”].anyway…i’m glad you’re posting again, and a belated thanks for sharing the “no-fail” recipe.

  21. Frogdancer says:

    I loved this post! The photo of your Mum was the icing on the cake.(hahahaha!!)

  22. tania says:

    hee hee hee!lovely cake!

  23. Becky says:

    It’s like that with my mom and her pies! I’ve made them with her and I just can’t do it. It’s not a recipe thing because even when I make them with her it doesn’t turn out.Thankfully, my daughter has the skills that skipped me. That’s what I would chalked it up to – skills that skip a generation.

  24. jLo says:

    The look on your Mum’s face made me laugh out loud. Hilarious!

  25. Brandy says:

    THAT is an AWESOME story!I’m SO glad you got to the bottom of it.

  26. Lara says:

    I believe your mum. She is vague. You have to give her that.

  27. Paisley Jade says:

    Haha – I am going to post the best chocolate cake ever tonight on my blog… funny story!

  28. Nicole says:

    Fantastic! At least you have a fancy-schmancy Kitchen Aid mixer now:-} Gotta try that cake! Yum…

  29. Amanda says:

    That post made me laugh so hard! Mum’s have a way of doing that and that photo was the ‘icing on the cake’ – AND I have to tell you I am more than a little bit jealous of your Kitchen Aid mixer… I’ve got a 70’s Kenwood with plastic bowl too – my Mum has a white glass bowl which I covet.Glad that you are back and posting again!

  30. Judy says:

    My gosh! That was funny!

  31. Philippa says:

    Oh that made me laugh out loud – but now it’s got me wondering about some of my mother’s recipe’s that I can’t quite master. I’ve always put it down to our dodgy old oven that never seems to get ot the top of the list from replacement, but maybe…..

  32. cranky says:

    As soon as I started reading, I thought “it’s something about the oven – temperature or time, I can’t tell, but – THE OVEN.”Glad you got it worked out.

    I have a great chocolate beetroot cake recipe – a bitch to cook but tastes great! Let me know if you want it.

  33. cranky says:

    Oh, and I use a 1950’s pink mixmaster with original pink milk glass bowls – perrrrrrrrrfect! 🙂

  34. sunny says:

    awww..this story made me smile!The fact that there was this miscommunication or something – somehow…

    I totally would not have caught the timing in the oven either….or make the connection that a crispy cake might need to be baked a shorter amount of time.

    YAY for solving the cake mystery!

  35. Margot says:

    inspiring. looks delicious. and your mum! she’s hysterical with the smile and the glint! Congrats on mastering the cake!

  36. Alison says:

    Ha! This made me laugh out loud. I attempted to bake some of my Mum’s ‘ginger biscuits’ this weekend, which turned out disastrously. No doubt, having read your post, because the flour was a) stale, b) not self-raising flour (they don’t have that in the States?!!), plus my baking powder that I’d substituted for baking soda was nearly 6 years old.I wonder where I went wrong?!!

  37. Amy says:

    That story made me smile :)Thank goodness it’s all sorted out now!

  38. Lisa says:

    So….now you must give us all the cake recipe!

  39. Amelia says:

    I have to laugh because I had the same experience with my mum and her cupcake recipe. I made her come over and give me a master class about 18mths ago and when I got to the part of the recipe (the recipe she gave me, mind you) where it instructs you to add half a teaspoon of salt mum told me that she never puts the salt in. All this time and she’d managed to leave that little tidbit out! It made a HUGE difference to the cupcake batter and I have been much more successful with them ever since. It’s so funny that your mum had also kept a very useful little piece of info to herself. Happy baking!

  40. Adriana says:

    That is the sweetest story. And your mum actually does look a bit sneaky in that picture ;-)You know, I’ve had a similar issue with my mum’s roasted potatoes. I can never get them to go just crispy enough as my mum. You’ve got me thinking about whether she has a secret too…

    I think I need to go call her now.

  41. Sarah says:

    This sounds like my saga with my mom’s chocolate chip cookies… I wonder what SHE does since I’m using her oven, her ingredients…etc. Hers are perfect, mine are edible but not the same!I’m putting a vote in for getting your recipe!

  42. Anne says:

    Hohoho.I know it’s been said over and over but this isvery funny and so typical. My grandmother is a little like that too 🙂

  43. Stephanie says:

    I’ve had similar travails with scones. One, in particular, involved a serious phone call that turned into an hour-plus-long conversation—conducted while the scones were quietly on fire in the oven. Yikes!

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