Z's Party aka the S'more Layer Cake adventure aka the (Un)Joy of Baking

Zane's party was today and there was only one thing he requested.  He wanted a S'more layer cake from my Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. He's wanted it for months now, but particularly after our summer vacation, which abounded with yummy s'mores.

Now, I love this Smitten Kitchen lady and up to this point had had great success with the (3) recipes from the book. Why would this be any different?

(Image from the book. Yum!)

Except it WAS different. This was a CAKE, a DOUBLE LAYER cake, with chocolate ganache filling in the middle and roasted-marshmallow-like white frosting on top. This thing was involved, people. And although I read and reread the recipe, it wasn't until I was right in the thick of baking it that I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The problems started when I used my two 8" cake pans, instead of the 9" ones required. What can I say, my (unmarked) pans looked about nine when I estimated? About halfway through the baking process, the kitchen really started smelling like a campfire (something that wasn't supposed to happen until the roasted marshmallow frosting step) and when I looked in the oven, I found the cakes overflowing and dripping onto the pizza stone!! Thank heavens for the pizza stone! In fact, it gave us all a preview of what the cake was going to taste like, which was actually an unplanned bit of happiness.

The trouble, though, was with the cake(s) still on the original pan(s). They were now bubbling over capacity, in particular over the line where I'd buttered and parchment-papered with the intention of getting the things out easily when the baking was done. Combine that with my impatience (cool in pan on rack first? she meant for like 3 minutes, right?) and you have two cakes that are beaten, battered, chipped on the sides, and cracked down the middle. 

That is when it got a little worrisome.

Oh yeah, and add to that the questionable execution of chocolate ganache (what exactly does "bring to a simmer" mean? Is my job done the minute the simmer hits? Is it better to overshoot or undershoot time-wise?), leading it to not quite harden up like it was supposed to (still delicious, mind you--melted chocolate chips and heavy cream, I am not complaining). That's how things got a bit more worrisome.

I decided at that point to walk away for awhile. Put everything in the fridge, take deep breaths, try not to be intimidated by the frosting part which included heating an egg whites/sugar mixture on the stove in a bowl surrounded by a bowl with simmering water (confused? yeah, me too) then mixing it in a stand mixer (which I didn't have) with a whisk attachment (another thing I didn't have) until stiff peaks appeared.

The longer I waited, the more worried I became, especially because the ganache never hardened and so when I assembled the two (beaten up) cake layers with the chocolate in the middle, it ooooooooozed out the sides. (At that point, Zane said, "It's okay mom, we'll call it a volcano cake and we'll pretend that's how it was supposed to look from the beginning!" Which is better than Brandon's comment: "If at first you don't succeed, failure might just be your thing." Naughty trying-to-be-helpful-by-joking Brandon.) 

Well, time was running out (you know, party starting in 45 minutes, etc) so I had to just go for it. And I must have done something wrong, because the frosting never stiffened. I wish I would have taken a picture at that point of my chunky cake, oozing with chocolate and loaded with a puddle of marshmallow guck on top. On second thought, maybe that's a picture better tucked away in the please-forget-about-this-soon part of my brain. Anyway.

At that point (27 minutes remaining), two good things happened. I made the decision to try another batch of frosting AND a dear friend showed up (bringing candles because when I checked this morning I only had 8, not 9). She laughed with me about my B- cake, then whisked and mixed while I vented and cut fruits and vegetables (I am better at fruits and vegetables). The second batch peaked (with 8 minutes to spare)! Stiff peaks even! We busted the cake out of the fridge and [she] set to work, ahem, covering up the mess. Then back in the fridge it went to harden up, just in time for the first guests to arrive for the party.

What, there was a party here today? A crazy houseful of boys for multiple hours? The adventure after the adventure? Yeah, I'm actually typing with my eyes closed right now.  I'm a little worn out.

One more thing: the recipe suggested using a kitchen torch to "roast the marshmallows" as a last step. Well I didn't have a kitchen torch and besides, you know me well enough by now to know that I shouldn't be trusted with one of those things anyway. I did just turn on the broiler though, and set the cake under it for 3 minutes or so.

I was pretty sure the plate was going to crack or the house was going to burn down or something.

Luckily I was wrong and the effect was pretty awesome, actually. Ok, so one of the boys said, "It smells like that cake is burnt" as I was bringing it in, but I chose to ignore that comment and instead tell them the story of the "S'more Layer Cake" (the story of how Zane wanted s'mores in a cake, not the story of how his mother is a lunatic)
Zane was so pleased. Too bad I'm never doing anything like this again. :)

I just asked Zane to expound on the party itself. "It was awesome," he said. Well there you go.
The boys played frisbee golf (we used plastic plates from the Dollar Tree which we decorated, the boys first, Soren later)
(Sorry the picture is blurry--too cute to not include anyway)

Brandon and Zane had designed a course from our front yard to our side yard and around to the back. Six holes, two "foursomes" starting off-set from each other. Here's the group I started with, in the front yard of my dreams: 

Annie tagged along, having made this sign earlier in the day. She's counting the days until her birthday/party.

The boys also ate cake and ice cream, played soccer, and looked a little at Zane's massive lego collection. When I told them it was time to go downstairs and wait for their parents, one little boy said, "No way, I'm staying here for the REST OF MY LIFE."


I still love my Smitten Kitchen gal. But I will probably stay away from cake in all forms for awhile. Brownies anyone?


Tina said…
I think your cake looks awesome, EXACTLY like the picture in the book! I've never made ganache either, or marshmallow frosting for that matter. You're ambitious.
And you can tell Brandon that I literally LOLed at his comment. We really are the funniest people we know.
smoore said…
Happy birthday to Zane and great work, Michelle!
Debbie said…
Michelle, you are awesome! That was a pretty ambitious cake. :) I like a happy ending, so I'm glad that it turned out so well. I laughed pretty hard during the story and can imagine you telling it out loud. The cake looked VERY tasty. (Soren is A-dorable btw) I miss you guys. A lot.
Dashley said…
Derek insists we get the recipe! :). Happy birthday to your z-man!