I lived a real life horror story this weekend. Well, at least in my eyes it was a horror story.
There were monsters.
And a horrible accident.
And things that just weren’t what they seemed.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start by discussing what this cake actually is.
Well, I mean, yes. Technically since I baked like a total hack this weekend, this cake was pieced together like Frankenstein’s monster. What was supposed to be a simple treacle cake with simple buttercream ended up being a treacle cake plus a layer of chocolate cake covered with butterscotch frosting and a coating of chocolate buttercream, plus decorations including cake balls, sprinkles, piped baking chocolate, and American buttercream piping.
My plan was to make this a Harry Potter themed treat in two different ways. The first way is one that I’ve already mentioned: treacle. In the books, Harry’s favorite dessert is treacle tart. To make this dessert I had to first start by researching what on earth a treacle even is. Is it a fruit? Is it a fictional ingredient? Is it something weird like mincemeat pie where the name makes you think it’s actually savory yet straight out of Sweeney Todd, but in fact it’s actually sweet but the name is so gross that you just don’t even really want pie at all?
"Try the priest!" (Who else thinks that Mrs. Lovett and Madame Rosemerta are related somehow?! #conspiracyTheory)
For those of you who, like me, read about treacle tarts in the HP series but never figured out what it is, allow me to explain. Treacle is a syrup that is formed during the sugar refining process. It comes in dark and light varieties, with the dark being molasses, and the light being golden syrup (comparable to corn syrup but not quite). (For some reason I always mentally draw a comparison between treacle tart and chess pie, even though there is no corn syrup in chess pie... And now I want to eat chess pie. Put that on the list for my November baking!)
Real talk: straight out of the can it smells and tastes like a metallic dark brown sugar syrup.
I was more than a little apprehensive about using this ingredient.
Also, since this is a decidedly British treat, I waded through recipe after recipe of British terms and ingredients. Treacle being the first. But all of the treacle cake recipes required “self-rising flour”, which of course, I don’t have any. Seriously, I have never once come across a French pastry recipe that requires self rising flour, therefore I don't keep it on hand. And I’m not going to buy any because accidentally confusing the self rising stuff with the regular stuff will certainly throw off all of my baking in the future. So here’s my tip of the week for getting around recipes that require self-rising flour. Here’s what you do: for every 120g of flour (one cup) in the recipe, add 5g of baking powder (1 ½ tsp), and 1g of salt (¼ tsp). Whisk these three ingredients together and voila - self rising flour is at the ready!
I used this workaround for this weekend's cake, but my first two layers completely collapsed while baking which made me believe that my baking powder was old and less reactive. So when I woke the next morning I decided to make one more round, but to use just a tad bit of baking soda to replace some of the less potent baking powder. (Another tip for you this week - these two ingredients are NOT interchangeable. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate [a base] and is way more powerful. Like three times as powerful. Which is why I used a "tad bit". Baking powder is a combination of sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar [an acid]. If you’re super interested, I found a great article about these two ingredients and why they react the way they do.) I swear I only used a tad, but this is what happened.
So now I’m thinking that maybe my baking powder was just fine, and maybe I was just drunk and over mixed it which is why it fell flat. (True story, after 3 drinks I came home and decided that it was time to bake. Why am I like this!?) Which explains the ridiculous overflow of my damn cake that morning from using baking soda when I absolutely did NOT need it.
And here’s where this cake became a Frankenstein. Now that I did not have enough cake layers to make it tall and proud like all of my cakes are, I needed something quick to boost the height and volume of the cake to have enough to feed everyone - did I mention this cake was for a socially distanced small group cookout I was invited to that afternoon? #facepalm No pressure, right? Since I had previously baked a few extra layers of chocolate cake and froze them, I was able to pull a cake layer out of the freezer to quickly save the day.
But then I realized that this flavor profile is going to be weird as hell. I mean, this treacle cake still tastes slightly metallic to me, plus there’s ginger in the recipe, and now some random chocolate layer. I mean, WHAT?!
What I really needed was a flavor to tie all of this randomness together. Remember last week when I made butterscotch ganache? Well I still had a good amount left over that I’ve been staring at every day asking, “What should I do with you?!” and now I finally have my answer.
Butterscotch buttercream for the second week in a row! I hope we’re all ready for this treacle and chocolate layer cake with butterscotch buttercream and an outer layer of chocolate buttercream (the reason I added cocoa powder was to help the frosting reach the black-ish color faster instead of dumping a ton of dye in the frosting.)
BONUS SCARY: I wasn’t certain about the flavor profile of this cake but I was kinda feeling like most Americans wouldn’t even know what treacle cake is supposed to taste like anyway so it wasn’t that big of a deal, right? Imagine how much I was panicking when I show up to this small group cookout that consisted of two other couples - one that we were meeting for the first time - and one half of the new couple is BRITISH!! As in moved-to-the-states-from-the-UK-as-an-adult, visits-his-family-back-in-England-all-the-time, and spoke-with-a-beautiful-accent.
This is an actual photo of my face when it was time to serve dessert. #SpookySpooky
Spoiler alert: He (and everyone else) loved the cake and everything turned out just fine. They thought the flavor palate was perfect for fall. As usual, I was panicking for nothing.
Now we can move on to the second way I made this a Harry Potter themed dessert. I did this with the placement of everyone’s favorite acromantula (NOT), Aragog, on the top. Or at least my interpretation of him. Aragog is made out of two differently sized cake balls (I have a blog post in the works about these) from the treacle cake trimmings mixed with the butterscotch buttercream, covered in piped chocolate buttercream, chocolate legs, and sprinkles for eyes.
I also gave him a spiderweb to hang out in by piping individual dots all over the top and side of the cake. It looks pretty cool but boy did I have a hand cramp when all was said and done.
And there you have it. My scary weekend adventure of monsters, accidents, and navigating things that were not what they seemed somehow turned out to be quite delicious, a little British, and not-so-scary.
Happy eating, y’all!
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