Baking a cake standing up

Last year I was still somewhat out of commission after knee surgery when Susanne’s birthday rolled around, and by “out of commission,” I really mean, “still taking sponge baths.” This year I’m mostly back to my old form—I’ve returned to a bowling league, have kept up my routine at the gym, and can squat again when I need something from a low cabinet, which is pretty much the only time I squat—so I figured cake making would go easier this time around.

I should know by now not to make assumptions regarding the ease of anything. And still, I persist in my idiocy.

For her part, Susanne had requested a Schwartzwald Kirschtorte (say that 10 times fast), a.k.a. a Black Forest cake, but she’d thrown in a couple of twists: she wanted a layer of chocolate ganache in the middle of the cake layers, instead of the usual whipped cream and cherries, and she wanted, on advice from her mother, the cherries that go atop the cake to be dipped in chocolate. In the spirit of the upcoming Vancouver Olympics, I’ll explain the level of difficulty this entailed. Now your standard Black Forest cake, with its spongy chocolate cake layers, has a rating, under the old figure skating scale, of 3.2 out of 6 total, but because it also calls for whipped cream and systematic pricking with a fork so that it will uptake the kirschwasser liquor, has a final technical difficulty of 4.1, or in the new International Judging System, 8,237 points. Because I also had to make a ganache, dip cherries previously cured in liquor, and use that liquor as the base for a homemade liquored syrup, my new difficulty rating was a 5.8, or in the IJS, let’s see. . . carry the one . . . computing . . . 13,482 points.

But I was up to the task. I was certain of this.

While the recipe called for 7″ cake pans, presumably because the Germans enjoy smaller-sized desserts, I only had one 8″ cake pan and 3 9″ pans. What was a baker to do? I went for the 9-inchers, because 9, being a greater integer than 7, must be better. I whipped up 6 eggs, my arteries screaming no at me, blending in sugar and cocoa, and arrived at a splendidly smooth batter, which, upon pouring into the pans I could see rose to a withering height of . . . three-quarters of an inch. Hmm. I crossed my fingers and hoped that the cakes would rise in the oven.

After dutifully rotating the cake pans at the halfway mark of baking, I answered the timer’s bell and saw that indeed, they had risen. They were now one inch tall. I considered marking their progress on the kitchen wall, but instead I grabbed my car keys, wallet, and phone, and headed to the grocery store, as I was now out of eggs. And I figured I should pick up some extra whipping cream just in case.

Twenty minutes later I was the proud owner of assorted dairy products, and ready for round two of cake madness. I quickly washed out the cake pans, re-buttering and flouring them, in something like double speed for this redux. I started cracking eggs again and was dismayed that I’d bought some kind of weird-shelled eggs—each insisted on leaving a little bit of itself in the bowl, so I had to fish out chips every single time.

One mixer made a new batch of chocolate cake, the other started the cream whipping process, while I melted 72 percent dark chocolate in a double boiler and made a simple syrup on another burner. Pant, pant! I was a whirlwind of confectionery! A force of baking nature!

Two more cakes popped into the oven. Chocolate was melted carefully, while the syrup boiled and oh no, started to smoke. The kitchen quickly filled with the acrid, eye-stinging fog, so I tossed the offending concoction and started again. Again. Opening the back door helped a bit, though it was mighty chilly outside.

Okay, the chocolate was ready, so I dipped cherries in the double boiler, thinking to myself that since we picked these cherries ourselves last summer, this cake was officially six months in the making. They looked cute lined up on the wax paper, drying slowly as if there weren’t a flurry of activity just a few inches away from them. I added some cream to the rest of the melted chocolate, to start the ganache portion of the program.

Finally, the layering and stacking and glazing and frosting were finished. I looked at the creation. Four hours, a dozen eggs, 20 tablespoons of butter, 3 cups of cream, 4 cakes layers, 12 ounces of dark chocolate, and many cherries later, I had this:

Black Forest cake

I was so tired and hungry from all of the cooking, I almost dropped my face into the thing and ate it all, but figured it wasn’t worth the effort to make it all over again. A few hours later, several of Susanne’s friends came over to share cake and wine in front of the fire. We oohed and ahhed over the creation and by the end of the evening, it had disappeared into our collective stomachs. Susanne enjoyed the cake but noted twice to various people, including my mother-in-law, that she only got one piece of cake out of the whole thing. So it looks like I’ll be performing again, but this time it will be the short program. A tasty, short little program.

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