Of Chocolate Cakes, Cabbages, and Kings

"'The time has come,' the Walrus said, 'to talk of many things.'"

Okay, so I'm stumped.  I have tried many times to make Beatty's Chocolate Cake, one of the Barefoot Contessa's recipes.  I saw her make it on her show, and it looked delicious.  So, I made it for Matthew's birthday one year. The only problem I had was that it rose up really tall, and I was afraid it would overflow the pans.  It didn't.  It turned out great.  After all, the recipe has been rated 1,069 times, and nearly everyone gave it five stars.  It's made with a full cup of coffee, and the coffee really enhances the chocolate flavor.

Then, Mae's birthday came around, and she wanted the same cake.  Not wanting to risk a burned cake mess in the oven, I bought some deeper cake pans.  This time when I made it, it rose up tall as before, but then fell in the middle.  Bummer.  I salvaged it by filling in the fallen parts with frosting.  Being a glutton for punishment, I tried it one more time, thinking . . . I don't know what.  Same result.  I looked into what causes a cake to fall.  What I kept reading was too much leavener.  I'm not a food scientist, and so I have felt a little hesitant to try to mess with the leaveners in this cake.  And that wouldn't explain why it worked the first time and not in subsequent attempts.

The other day, I got the idea to test the temperature of my oven.  I was suspicious that the ovens were too hot, and so I preheated them with two thermometers and found that my top oven was 30 degrees too hot, and the bottom oven was a full 50 degrees too hot!  "A Ha!"  I told myself.  I have the capacity to adjust my ovens, and so I got out my instruction book.  (I keep all the instruction books and warranty information on all my large and small appliances in accordian folders at the bottom of my hall closet.)  In keeping with the laws of physics that say that no available hole will go unexplored, George promptly filled in the space when I pulled out the accordian folder for the ovens.

So I adjusted the oven temperatures, and then tested them again.  They were right on.  And so today, for Mae's birthday dinner tonight, I tried the cake for the fourth (and final) time.  "How can 1,069 recipe raters be wrong?" I asked myself.  It seems to work for all of them.  So, I mixed it up, following the recipe to the letter, checked the oven temperature after preheating it, and watched that oven temperature like a hawk during the 35 minutes of baking time.  The cakes rose up beautifully, and after 25 minutes, all was well.  Then the timer went off, and danged, if those cakes hadn't fallen again!!!!!

I'm so mad.  Fortunately, the frosting recipe makes lots of frosting, so I'll just fill in those spots and try to flatten them out as best I can.  It's just so frustrating!  If anyone has any ideas about this, I'd love to hear them.  It is such a good cake, if I could just get it to bake off the right way.

As for the rest of the menu, this is what I'm making. 

Crostini with Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Carrot Soup with Orange and Tarragon
Pesto Pea Salad
Seafood Pasta with Lemon-Saffron Herb Dressing

That last one is a family favorite.  It is so good.  All of these recipes are great because I can make them up ahead of time, and then enjoy the party when everyone gets here.  So . . . I guess I'll get back to it.  I have miles to go before I sleep.

4 comments from clever and witty friends:

Kate said...

Does the cake still taste good. If so, then I wouldn't worry about it falling. You might check if you need to adjust your backing time for elevation. Something to consider.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

How odd that you had that one success and then three subsequent failures even with the oven corrected for temp. Not being a baker I can’t solve your problem but I can sit with you and wonder...

ssauser said...

Does the cake stick to the sides of the pans? I think you should go back to the original pans. If you are afraid of them overflowing, put some foil on the bottom of the oven.

quiltzyx said...

How frustrating! Is Mae a frosting fan? If so, maybe THAT's why they fell - to make room for more frosting!

Other than that, I was going to say what ssauser said - go back to your original pans. That's really the biggest difference from the one that worked & the ones that didn't, right?

Love the shot of George in the closet. He just makes me smile. :D