When my daughter was quite young she was obsessed with dinosaurs. So I wanted to make her a dinosaur birthday cake, a T-Rex cake using a Wilton mold showing a lovely profile of the creature. So you might be asking yourself how exactly does this talk of prehistoric carnivores relate to the art of baking? Trust me it does.
The cake recipe I chose used the creaming method of mixing where the butter has to be at room temperature and softened so that it can be creamed with sugar. I was a busy mom and remember being in a rush that day so I started the mixer with the paddle attachment and then added the eggs right after I began the creaming process.
And if you read my Tips for Success you will discover that creaming the fat and the sugar forces air bubbles into the fat which later on will work together with the baking powder and baking soda in the recipe. The carbon dioxide bubbles that form in the cake batter seek out those air bubbles in the fat and get larger. This team action is what creates that lovely, light texture in a cake and many other baked goods as well.
I finished the batter and baked it off. What I found after it was baked was quite upsetting. The T-Rex had hardly risen and when I took it out of the pan it looked like one of those flattened fossils that are always discovered in the Midwest somewhere. So instead of being ecstatic that I found some bones from the Jurassic period I was mortified. You see I had a reputation as a good baker back then. How could I possibly serve such a thing especially to my daughter, her little friends and even worse their parents??
First, I began thinking of how I could cover the fossil with a lot and I mean A LOT of frosting. Then I realized no way. NO WAY! I had to figure out what went wrong.
So I re-traced my steps of exactly what I did when I put the batter together. I know that I am a perfectionist and obsess over little things in life, but I knew I had to make the cake again. And this time no rushing.
So I softened some butter in the microwave and started creaming it with the sugar again using my paddle attachment in my mixer. This time I let the mixer go on medium speed for about 4-5 minutes until the mixture was light and fluffy. And I noticed something. The butter and sugar mixture was lighter in color. Wow! I could see that the butter had taken in air and went from a yellow butter color to an almost white. That is why it is called the creaming method of mixing! The fat and sugar are mashed together until air is forced into the fat. I was having an epiphany!
So I re-baked the new T-Rex cake and what a difference a little extra creaming time made. This cake was quite high and light in texture. And the cake was a hit! I buried the flattened fossil and no one ever knew.
I made a mistake that day, but I learned from it. I teach my students that they will, at some point, make their own mistakes when baking. Just be sure you learn from them.