When Good Cakes Go Bad: A Cheat Sheet for the Uninspired

by Linsey Knerl on 6 October 2008 7 comments
Photo: RichieC

I’m no cake professional.  I can barely manage a Betty Crocker boxed mix with the fluffy frosting from a can.  I appreciate all the hard work that goes into a professional piece (be it for weddings, birthdays, or that retirement party.)  Check out my tips for faking cake proficiency, and see what happens when it all goes terribly wrong.

The Good

Cakes are usually delicious, regardless of how dysfunctional they may appear.  While close family may be forgiving of a lop-sided creation badly adorned with those premade candy letters and the 50-cent candles from the Dollar store, there are better, classier ways.  Here’s how I manage:

Your Basic Cake – White cake is actually pretty boring, and reminds me of my Easy Bake Oven days.  A nice lemon, pineapple, or red velvet cake somehow oozes a little more sophistication.  It’s OK to use a box mix for these more challenging cakes, and if done correctly, you may get a few “oohs” and “awes” with little effort.

Your Mix-Ins – Nuts, fruits, sprinkles, chips, and other yummy, tiny little things can give your basic cake extra spark and delightful flavor.  Play around with flavor combinations that compliment each other, and give an instant gourmet taste to your cheap knock-off.

Your Presentation – The most creatively-prepared cake mix will fail to bring fascination if baked in your standby rectangle cake pan.  While I’m not advocating we all go out and purchase $50 Elmo cake shapes, a bit of style and the wonders of silicon can keep your desserts pretty and in one piece.  I love Wilton’s entire line of Bundt pans and those cute little tulip and daisy individual cake molds.

Your Frosting – Huge gobs of premade frosting can be a turn off.  Consider making your own frosting or lightly dusting a cake with powdered sugar.  If you insist on decorating with no skill whatsoever, go easy, take your time, and remember that less is more.

Assuming that you can bake, decorate, and transport your cake safely to your destination, you have a shot at impressing with little money and effort.  (Or consider a dump cake for true simplicity and honest flavor.)

The Bad

There are always those who don’t heed the warnings of the cake professionals and undertake something way beyond their skill level.  Sadly, many of these errors occur in the bakeries of large grocery stores or big box retailers, where consumers are left overcharged and unimpressed.  My favorite cake goofs of all time are displayed in all their glory at the Cake Wrecks blog.  (Thanks to Autumn Oak Hollow for the tip!)  A doggie cake that looks like a pile of crap (literally)?  You seriously have to see it to believe it.

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Guest's picture

I've found a very simple recipe to take ripe bananas and make a great cake from it. I've yet to perfect it, but when I do bake it right it comes out great. The wife loves it.

I've put a link to a post when I finish that post in the near future. Best of all, the cost is very minimal.

Guest's picture

A homemade cake, no matter how sad looking, always trumps a store bought cake in my estimation. Although I have to ask, how did that cake pictured in your post end up looking like that? Did you bake it during an earthquake?

Linsey Knerl's picture

I thought the same thing!  It isn't mine, but linked to here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/richiec/2566280399/

Pretty funny stuff!

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm with you on the presentation thing. By simply changing the form in which you bake it, you can end up with a much classier cake to take to a function.

In addition to batter add ins, sprinkling some extras on the frosting can work as well, particularly for picnic events. I'm thinking coconut on a carrot cake's cream cheese frosting, or chopped nuts on top of a simple white frosting for a spice cake.

And those mini ones you mentioned? Good call. Way to class it up. Fun post, as usual.

Guest's picture
Guest

My mom used to make cakes from scratch all the time. But due to the oven, the fridge, or one of us messing with it when mom wasn't looking; the cake wouldn't turn out as 'good' as usual.
So my mom would take out the cake and make mini cakes. She'd pinch about a golf size chunk from the cake then roll it into a ball. Roll it in jam and then coconut shreds. Or sometimes if she had carrot shredded jam she'll roll the mini ball cakes in it. Either way they tasted really good. This works best if the cake is a bit under cooked.
For cakes that just don't look good, try adding fruits as a topper instead of icing. looks good, tastes good, and just a tad healthier..

Myscha Theriault's picture

Now THAT's a slamming idea. Thanks, Guest. Way to take lemons and make lemonade.

Guest's picture

I've wrecked my share of cakes, but here are a few easy things you can try to disguise the damage.

Decorator's Butter Cream Frosting:

Use equal amounts softened unsalted butter, and solid vegetable shortening. Add about 2 teaspoons of whatever flavour extract you prefer. Cream them together until light. Start adding powdered sugar (sift it into the bowl) and mixing it in until you have a soft, spreadable frosting. If you mess up and add too much, thin it with milk. Extra bonus-inside of cake will stay moist longer (always a problem with white cake). I like this recipe because it does not involve cooking or eggs or any other trouble-prone frosting ingredients.

Apply a very thin layer of frosting with a butter knife. This is your "crumb coat". Return the cake to the fridge for twenty minutes. This will make it easier to spread the remaining frosting on a smooth hard surface. To get fancy and further disguise a lopsided cake, dip the tip of a teaspoon into frosting bowl gathering just a bit on the underside. Apply it to the top of cake in circles starting at the outer edge until you reach the centre. This will make a dimpled, swirly effect that will draw attention away from a less than perfect cake.

And hey, if your family or friends won't eat less than perfect cake that just means more for you.