Dear Brother-in-Law’s birthday is this Saturday and he has requested a German Chocolate Cake. No problem right? I know a ton of people who make them (who, might I add, are not on Rachael Ray’s Most Wanted list). They obviously have something figured out! However, this is not a feat that I have yet attempted. In fact, successful cake making has eluded me for several years (okay, twenty-five). I have made the odd decent dark chocolate cake. You know, where you can eat the edges but the center is still gooey? I also made a half way decent pound cake one time (“half way” meaning a little on the powdery-dry side, “decent” meaning the home whipped cream that I put on top).
Tackling the project with enthusiasm, I started the baking process where I always do: www.recipezaar.com. If it wasn’t for you, my friend, I don’t know where my marriage would be. I did a quick search for German Chocolate Cakes and found a nice, modest list of recipes. I was a little surprised at how involved they were, but considering the caloric infamy of German Chocolate Cake, I was not entirely surprised.
I decided to check with Dear Sister-in-Law to see what the family tradition was in this case. Does mom have a top secret recipe? Weee-eeee-eeellll……….. not per se…….. but Duncan Hines does!!!!!! Apparently, common lay folk like myself can simply purchase a little box of magic for $1 at the shop and turn out a lovely confection creation, courtesy of culinary prowess beyond my comprehension (plus the added factory-processed gift of high fructose corn syrup and “mono-triglycerides” whatever those are). In fact, “family tradition” stipulates that Duncan Hines provide the icing as well! Hmmmm… I must have grown up in the wrong family.
It took DSiL a minute to sell me on the idea of “cheating”. I have never actually used a cake mix before (perhaps this explains my cake debacles of the past, as I do not wear the fair badge “Rachael Ray’s Most Wanted”). My mom and “Nanny” always made the most amazing cakes from the barest of essentials. Why shouldn’t I be able to do the same? After pointing out that the cake-in-the-box and the frosting-in-the-can were the traditional providers of Keller Family birthday happiness (not to mention the fact that these little cheats would save me hours in the kitchen on a Saturday), DSiL had me convinced- Duncan Hines it is!
I headed back to my computer and prepared to kill all the tabs containing my carefully sorted German Chocolate Cake recipes. As I flicked through the pages, I paused to read some of the baker comments along the side and found myself laughing at the friendly baker whose boyfriend “loved the frosting so much he couldn’t stop eating it, even though he’s really allergic to pecans and literally passed out in the end. He said it was worth it.” Or the determined baker who said she “tried over seven recipes on her husband before discovering this amazing, delicious cake.”
In that moment, I realized why I have continued to make cakes, birthday after birthday, determined to learn the tricks and master the art. Baking cakes is not just about tickling the tongue. It is an experience in culinary artistry, an opportunity to combine the basic elements of chemistry and physics with the delicate nature of the palate. Baking gives amateur kitchenistas everywhere a chance to brave the journey and raise ourselves up with the greats. Most importantly, it’s a blast.
Even if the cake flops, you can still lick out the batter bowl!!