This past year, I have made countless cakes and desserts, and I while I still have much to learn, I know I become a better baker each time I bake. I have also learned a lot about life from baking. It might sound simple, but it is true, there is a lot to learn from cake and baking in general.
Recently, I realized there are a few tips for baking and life that I would like to share with you. To the budding bakers out there who aspire to be better, this is how I recommend you approach your baking efforts.
Life lessons learned from cake fails: MY 5 tips to bake better
1. If you do not try, you will definitely not succeed
I have learned that I can be quite fearless in the kitchen, I will try a lot of things and experiment with recipes and baking whenever I get the chance. Sometimes, it is hard for me to be so fearless outside the kitchen though. I have learned that there is not much difference, when push comes to shove.
If I do not try a new recipe or experiment, I will never know if it is going to work. It is the same in life: if you do not try, how will you ever know if it could work? It could be learning a new hobby, trying something different at work, initiating a conversation with a stranger, or applying for a job you have your eye on but fear gets in the way. Well, you have to try.
Here is my first example:
Earlier this summer, I tried to make cream cheese swiss meringue buttercream, a modification to my tried and true recipe. Swiss meringue buttercream is a heavenly smooth buttercream, with a meringue base, so it’s not overly sweet and it’s very fluffy and smooth. It is my favourite to decorate with. It’s easy to flavour it anyway you like.
I tried to make a cream cheese , and the batch turned to BUTTERCREAM SOUP.
I tried a number of things to salvage it, but in the end, it was written off as a loss and was destined for the compost bin.
Despite pure failure, I am glad I tried it because now I know. I also have some understanding as to why it failed now, and plan to try a different brand of cream cheese, among other techniques. That version, was not meant to be, which brings me to the next lesson…
2. It is okay to fail, in fact, it is part of the process
The cream cheese swiss meringue buttercream was not in the cards that day, and that is okay. I have learned that it is simply part of the process in coming up with a good recipe – that is what recipe development is all about.
It is the same in life, you learn from failures and mistakes, and that is how we grow. I am always striving to be better and seek development opportunities whenever possible. I enjoy learning from others and receiving constructive feedback.
In pastry school, we were able to experience some recipe development. The exercise involved receiving feedback from peers and our Chef, on how to improve the recipe and make it better next time.
This brings me to my next point…
3. Not all failures are a loss
Just because something doesn’t work the first time around, does not mean it never will. Recipes will eventually work out, if you keep developing them.
In the case of the buttercream, the first attempt was a loss, but I know if I make a few adjustments, the next round should be good.
A more recent failure of mine occurred when I baked a friend’s birthday cake. I wanted to have a chocolate chip vanilla cake filled with strawberry mousse, and cover it in pastel marbled buttercream colours with lots of sprinkles. I had a fun, beautiful vision for a delicious cake.
The cake turned out well, and mousse was okay, but did not set properly. In hindsight, I didn’t have enough gelatine for the recipe and it was never meant to set properly. When I filled the cake, I didn’t build the cake the way I should have either. I was being risky with another experiment, and thought it would work the way I tried it.
After layering the cake, and chilling it for a while, I began to add the crumb coat of frosting (the layer of buttercream that holds the crumbs in place before a final layer of frosting).
The cake started to tilt and slide, it became the leaning tower of cake, sliding all over, and the mousse filling began oozing out the sides. The mousse started to mix with the buttercream. DISASTER ensued. I started to feel like a mess because the cake was a mess.
My plan was quickly heading for the compost bin, and the birthday dinner was hours away. I tried to do a few things to salvage it, but the more I tried, the worse it got.
I grew frustrated with each attempt, and was ready to throw it all away when my boyfriend (bless him) offered some great support. He reminded me that I can make it work. I have made it work before, I just need to think outside the box.
How can I rescue this failed cake…?
I paused. Removed myself from my own cake drama, that was all in my head, and refocused. I forgot about everything I had tried thus far and reset my thinking: I can serve this cake in a different form. Maybe it is not meant to be a full round cake.
4. Being prepared will help you survive almost any (cake) disaster
I decided that my disaster cake would serve up well in a jar. Every dessert tastes good in a jar. I love CAKE IN A JAR! Who doesn’t? It’s a portable dessert!
Fortunately, I have a decent supply of mason jars (apparently for cake emergencies like this) and had enough to turn my little cake into four mason jars of dessert.
Because I have a good supply of sprinkles and had extra frosting, I was able to make the dessert quite presentable in the jar. Normally I would layer the cake and the filling right in the jar, but in this case, I was cutting up the assembled cake and squashing it in the jar, as gracefully as possible.
I always have a supply of extra ingredients on hand too, in case I need to remake something, or need to bake on short notice.
Being prepared and organized always helps in most situations.
I have baked recipes in the past and forgot an ingredient, only to learn it was the baking powder, as I watch the cake fail to rise in the oven. Mistakes happen. Have extra supplies as back-up!
The best part about cake disaster above, brings me to my final lesson…
5. There is a silver lining in everything
I was meeting friends for dinner that night, and initially had planned to bring the cake in a box. We had to wait over an hour before being seated at this particular restaurant, and holding a cake under the table would not have been great.
Being prepared, I had called ahead to ask if we could bring our own dessert in, and we were not allowed. So, I figured we would eat the dessert outside in a park nearby or something, after dinner.
By the time we finished dinner it was quite late, and had I brought cake in a box, it would not have survived waiting in the warmer weather until after dinner.
The silver lining: cake in a jar was actually the perfect way to share dessert that evening. I handed out the jars of cake with a spoon, and my friends were able to enjoy the dessert on their own time. It was a take away dessert!
As I distributed the jars, I shared my cake disaster story and realized it was all meant to work out this way. I described my initial vision of the cake, and explained how I arrived at cake in a jar. It was an entertaining cake fail to share in the end.
Sometimes, everything just works out the way it is meant to. Crappy things happen, they are unpredictable, and you have to be as prepared as you can, but know that it will all work out as it should in the end.
Life and cake have both taught me a lot about one another. Life taught me to make time to do what I love – bake, and baking has taught me how to be more resilient in the face of a challenge.
Naturally, I challenge you to try the recipe you think you cannot do. The worst that could happen: it won’t work.
You will be better off having tried a risky recipe, than not; but please, first, consider the possibility that you might not fall at all, you could fly.
Go forth, be fearless in the kitchen, but be safe too and have fun. It is all part of the method to becoming a better baker.