The Half-Mile High Chocolate Cake

I have never been fond of cake — most likely because I had one too many birthday party/birthday cake-induced sugar tummy aches at a young age. The root of the problem, I believe, is that these celebratory cakes that I ate were rarely homemade. As opposed to being moist, fresh, well-balanced cakes, they were all too often aggressively iced sugar bombs purchased from the local supermarket or bakery’s sweet fiend department. Why some people nowadays like and even prefer the taste of these convenience cakes is beyond me and I blame them for my mild cake aversion. I blame them because each year on my birthday I was inevitably presented with one, beautifully decorated and studded with lit candles, just for me that I was meant to enjoy. And I tried to enjoy it. As thankful as I always was, am, and will be for the thought that goes into choosing my “perfect” cake, I’ll always prefer a muffin, a scoop of ice cream, a cookie, to a slice of cake. Unless, of course, it’s homemade.

Way back when, my mom would bake my birthday cakes from scratch. I remember her chocolate icing well — kind of hard, quite sweet, and very chocolatey. Although her cakes were sparingly decorated (if decorated at all) and never perfect (even she would admit), I could taste the love oozing out of every slice. Even though I don’t like cake, I liked these cakes and loved its imperfections. How could I not? They weren’t mindlessly plucked off of a shelf and marked in gel icing with my name by some unknown market employee — they were made from start to finish uniquely and absolutely for me.

Still today, while I wonder about the appeal of eating cake, I understand its purpose. Cakes are tradition — they are celebratory statement pieces, at times awe-inspiring, and always perfect for sharing. They are occasion-specific desserts, which is why I rarely eat them or bake them for fun at home. And let’s admit it: cakes are not easy to make. Just as with any multiple component dessert, there is a lot than can and likely will go wrong, but when everything from the cake to the icing to the assembly and decoration fare well, the end product is show-stopping.

Baked’s Mile High Chocolate Cake is just that — a show-stopper — that is, if all of its three parts succeed. I can blame it on the fact that I don’t care for cake or that, since cakes are meant for occasions, I shouldn’t have attempted an occasion-less cake. Either way, my mile high cake didn’t reach those heights. My temperamental oven made sure of that (I asked, “you were at 325 degrees when I fed you the cakes, what made you decide to jump to 350?”). I salvaged what I could of the cake, but the exposed, icing-less exterior was far from forgiving. Lesson learned: don’t attempt to run a whole marathon before running half.