A friendly piece of advice — never bake a cake in a hurry.
During the pandemic, I have gotten into the habit of cooking dinner once a week for my boyfriend and I and preparing a dessert. In a routine way, I set aside 90 minutes (give or take 15 mins) one evening each week to undertake this culinary task and on most occasions end up casually combining ingredients in the beginning, but rushing and throwing everything on the table at the last minute. While the tactic of crudely thrusting things into the right place may work for a tossed salad or stew, this modus operandi is not the best course for a cake.
When baking, recipes often give you two time estimates for your concoction: one – for the hands-on time it takes to combine the ingredients, and two — the time it takes for the mix to bake. Also, if you are cooking dishes like cheesecake or bread you will get time estimates for the duration that you will need to let the ingredients sit in the refrigerator, cool down, or just air out. In my short, intense baking experience, I have found most of these numbers to be great, big lies.
I am a novice baker/ cook-er/ kitchen person, so naturally it will take me a longer to complete the tasks, however, I also feel that the time estimates are a bit on the short side. Also, if your kitchen is just a smidge cluttered, locating the ingredients, clearing space for the action, and washing the utensils will incur an additional several minutes. Another reason I cannot rely on these numbers is because I do not possess all of the time-saving equipment like a mixer (or even a whisk, wooden spoon, or spatula for that matter) to get the job done efficiently. Okay, so maybe the estimated preparation times are not “great, big lies,” however, when it is I who is the one doing the baking, I am better off just doubling all hands-on times in my head.
If you are impatient, like moi, you may be tempted to bake a cake at the last minute to surprise your partner with your culinary expertise. I have tried this on two occasions, and it does not work (please see Exhibit A and Exhibit B).
When baking a cake, timing is unduly important. For example, the amount of time you spend whipping cream is an important factor in how fluffy your frosting will become. Also, allowing your cake to cool completely before frosting and chilling it before serving will add disproportionately to the flavor and consistency of many cakes. For example, in the two-layer lemon blueberry monstrosity that I attempted in Exhibit A, the top layer almost slid off completely as the warm cake started to melt the frosting into a ‘slippy’ mess.
When it comes to making cakes, it is probably of no surprise to anyone that patience is a virtue. So, if you are a going to bake a cake at the last minute, you’re probably better off throwing together a mug cake (more here), rather than attempting anything that includes more than 4 ingredients.
C’est la vie! And, bon appétit!