How Not To Improvise A Cake: a meditation on failure

My last baking post was supposed to be the first in a unified series. The plan was  to do a couple of different cakes with different ingredients, but using the same formula to demonstrate the system’s versatility. I got accepted to a university in Mexico, and on the way down I stopped in San Francisco for a week. The challenge, then, was to bake a cake with stuff that had been left in the hostel kitchen. I was feeling pretty confident about it.

the tea isn't an ingredient, but it was delicious.

the tea isn’t an ingredient, but it was delicious.

So here we go: Flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Pretty good so far. Cream pilfered from the coffee stand. And here, I thought, was my masterstroke. Purchased for one american dollar from the pop machine in the laundry room, a can of rootbeer. What could be more perfect? It would provide flavour, sugar and a leavening agent in the form of carbonation! What could go wrong?100_3298 100_3299 100_3300

You’ve probably already got a pretty good idea about the answer to those questions.

Anyways, I was off to the races. The root beer is going to fizz, so I needed it to mix almost instantly with anything that’s even remotely liquid. To that end, I melted the butter entirely, added some sugar, but not as much as I normally would because of the root beer. Half a cup maybe. I buttered the inside of the steel frying pan, which is the closest thing to a cake pan you can find. Mix in the sugar, then the eggs and cream. part of the plan here is that the root beer will curdle the cream, which will create the stretchy protein structures needed for bubbly delicious cake.

This is were things went off the rails, I think. The advantage of a dry leavener, like baking soda, is that it doesn’t release all it’s CO2 in one go. Double acting baking powder even has a time delayed second stage. Root beer, though only has one stage, and it starts going the moment you pull the tab. If your proteins aren’t in place, you’ll never have a fluffy consistency.

I should have poured the cream into a bowl, curdled it with, say, a tablespoon of root beer, and then mixed the liquids. Instead, I added flour to the liquids, then the root beer, then tried to mix it as fast as I could. Also, I should have cheated and picked up some baking soda. The root beer fizzed like crazy, but I never achieved fluffiness.


achieving fluffiness of the soul is the step before enlightenment


Think of it as landscape. A majestic snow cap on a mountain of vomit






Formatting so, 20 minutes later, I had this thing.


It tastes kind of like root beer, (Faygo, it turns out, is kind of weak and terrible. Crazy American root beer. Also it’s affiliated with ICP for some reason.) and it has the perfect consistency for brownies. There’s not enough sugar in it, but there might be too much flour. Style points, though, because it looks great. It actually wasn’t bad, just bland and dense.

The thing is, I’ve never gotten the right consistency for my brownies before. Like all experiments, the failures can be as educational as the successes. Now I know exactly how to make Root Beer Blandies. I mean, the next time I make brownies, they’ll be nice and squishy.


I guess the lesson is, if you retroactively adjust your goals to be things you’ve already accomplished, you can’t technically define your activities as failures. I think that’s something we can all get behind.


About Jesse Conlang

Jesse Conlang lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has trained squirrels to operate pens and pencils at his whim. You can probably tell that by the quality of the work.
This entry was posted in Cooking, Stuff I made, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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