The Cake That Almost Wasn't

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

Not every cake I make looks beautiful. And even though it may look that way in pictures, all the baking I do is not effortless. My kitchen counter was the site of a near cake-tastrophe this past weekend.

Jeff's parents' were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and I was tasked with baking a cake for the occasion. Jeff's mother loves cheesecake and his father loves chocolate, so I decided to make two cakes -- a cheesecake that went off without a hitch, and a chocolate coffee layer cake that was, shall we say, a little troublesome. But it was my own fault.

I successfully made the chocolate cake layers -- they were so moist, and I was so pleased with them.

And I pulled off the coffee buttercream with no trouble at all. The trouble started when I started to assemble the cake. I went to move a cake layer, and it broke. No big deal -- that would be the middle layer.

I moved a different layer to my cake stand and made that the bottom layer. I frosted that layer, pieced together the middle layer, frosted that layer, and placed the top layer on the cake.

I covered the cake in coffee buttercream and put it in the fridge to firm up.

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

Meanwhile, I made some chocolate glaze to pour over the cake and dribble down the sides.

I took the cake out of the fridge, realized I didn't have any 8-inch cardboard cake circles, and decided that I could quickly move the cake to a cooling rack set in a sheet pan, pour the glaze over it, and move it onto a 10-inch circle. Big mistake. I knew better.

As I was pouring the glaze over the cake, the cake started sinking.

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

I went to quickly move it, and it started falling apart. I plopped it on the cake circle, desperately tried to smoosh the pieces together, and smoothed the frosting (like you see the bakers frantically doing on those Food Network shows). The cake was a mess! (I wish I had pictures to show you, but I went into panic mode and pictures were the last thing on my mind.)

I tossed the cake in the fridge, unsure of what I would do with it, and whipped up a chocolate sheet cake. While the sheet cake baked, I laid down and tried to think. The idea of bringing a one-layer chocolate sheet cake to celebrate such a momentous occasion really upset me. The idea of breaking down the chocolate coffee cake and turning it into cake pops also upset me.

Then it hit me. I could trim the cake until it looked nice again. Jeff, who knew I was at the end of my rope with the cake, came over and helped me. He shaved the edges down and then rounded the cake while I made chocolate ganache. I refrosted the cake with the ganache, and I couldn't believe we had actually rescued it.

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

I let the ganache set up and decorated the cake (well, Jeff did the espresso beans, and I did the writing).

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

Then we were off to the party with a chocolate-coffee layer cake, a cheesecake, and a chocolate sheet cake in tow. When we set out dessert, the chocolate-coffee layer cake was immediately devoured. By the time I got a picture, more than half of the cake was gone.

Chocolate-coffee layer cake

The lesson I'm taking from this is to trust my instincts. I never should have put the cake on the rack without a cake circle. Even if I had to put it on a 10-inch circle and then clean the circle, that would have been better. And truth be told, I did such a good job dribbling the glaze over the cake that there wouldn't have been much to clean up.

On the plus side, we ended up with a big plate of cake scraps, so I actually got to taste the cake before serving it. That never happens! And I learned that I can take a mess of a cake and turn it around.

This cake is amazing. If you decide to make it, the recipe is from Baked Explorations, and if you follow the instructions, the cake will come out beautifully. (Just make sure you put it on a plate or a cake circle and leave it there.) The chocolate cake is so incredibly moist, the buttercream is just sweet enough and has subtle coffee flavor, and while I covered the whole thing in ganache, I'm sure it's lovely with just the chocolate glaze.

Do you have a memorable kitchen disaster?