Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

Diary of an Inconsistent Cook #1: World’s Best Chocolate Cake and English Toffee Bar Birthday Ever

When I was in college, I spent a very unappetizing summer eating Ramen, Cup-A-Soup, and Oodles of Noodles.    Other than peanut butter and jelly, they were the cheapest and most convenient things available.    It wasn’t that I couldn’t cook at all.  I could make eggs, boil pasta, bake/mash potatoes, and all the other basics.  I was very good at making cookies if I had a recipe to follow.      The problem was that I hadn’t had practice making more complex meals.   It was a very sobering summer, and to this day I can’t smell Ramen without feeling a little queasy.

Inedible products have been aplenty over the years.    I can cook something to perfection that I’ve never done before at Noon, and at 3:00pm totally destroy something simple I’ve made a thousand times.  Last, year I decided to make marble cake from scratch for my husband’s 41st birthday.    It’s his favorite and a cake I’ve made in the past long before we met.   “I can do this,” I thought to myself.   “I’ve even got all the ingredients already.”

What could go wrong?

Well, I hadn’t figured in two thing in my calculations.   1.  We had only been in our new house for five months, and the oven and I were not on the best of terms.     2.  I had two sous chefs under the age of five.     I managed to make a marble brick that was somehow overcooked in random places, and raw in others.    You needed a hacksaw to cut into it.    Inedible is an understatement.      My husband is not, shall we say easy to cook for, so this was really something I couldn’t live down.

This year for his 42nd birthday, I decided to redeem myself.    Husband was not so convinced of my success.   I refrained from hitting him over the head with a pan only because he turns 42 before me, and that fact brings me much bubbling glee.

I got the recipe for the chocolate  Swiss buttercream, chocolate cake, and ganache (my first ganache) from Gretchen’s Bakery Blog (update note: she sold Woodland Bakery Blog) and its Youtube Channel.   I love that woman.   She’s a pastry chef who isn’t afraid of sharing her secrets!   If you die with your secrets, no one can enjoy them right?

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake (formerly: World’s Best Chocolate Cake) — Get the recipe here.


The cakes cooked perfectly much to my shock. However, the picture doesn’t show the near disaster.

Under the assistance of my two sous chefs, I almost forgot to add water to the cake batter ingredients and noticed it almost too late.   I gave them the cake beaters to lick and had sent them on their way (yes…I let them lick raw batter.  We are rebels.)      I also had to make an adjustment to compensate for not having unsweetened baker’s chocolate, and not semi-sweet.  I think there is still a forehead impression in my cabinet door.  Then I realized that I only had enough baker’s chocolate left to make the cake, but only enough left to do half of the chocolate Swiss buttercream recipe and half the ganache.   This was not going as I envisioned.  Luckily, Dr. Google helped me.  If you add 1 tablespoon of sugar per ounce of chocolate that gets you to a semi-sweet state.

Unlike Pinterest, I will post the real story under the photos.

Cake. Check.   Buttercream.  Check.  Ganache. Check.

Cake. Check. Buttercream. Check. Ganache. Check.

Will you kids stop fighting for FIVE MINUTES!         Husband comes up for a beer.   “Everyone out of my kitchen!”
“But I can smell what you are making,” says he.
“Doesn’t matter.  Get out so you can act surprised later.”

Well, that went well.  Too well.   I'm nervous.

Well, that went well. Too well. I’m nervous.

I gave the kids the buttercream beaters to lick and shooed them away.  The next step won’t take kindly to hand prints or pushing.

Ganaching.    I didn't have melting chocolate so I had to improvise.

Ganaching. I didn’t have semi-sweet baking chocolate so I had to improvise.

That ganache almost didn’t happen.   I had enough chocolate and enough cream for one attempt.       I almost wept at the fridge.

Well, now I'm feeling better about this.

Well, now I’m feeling better about this.  I even remembered to reserve some buttercream for decoration.

Pretty isn’t it?    There is a story behind this too.   See that bag?    That is a huge disposable pastry bag that I had to cut to a manageable size.  I have a cloth pastry bag that was the right size, but somehow got put back uncleaned.  Eww.    Luckily the plastic thinga-ma-do and tip worked alright with what I had.

Look at that script work!

Look at that script work!

Okay, lady, that doesn’t look like a disaster.     No, it came out near perfect.    I was feeling accomplished and cocky.   I decided to make English Toffee Bars for the Birthday Boy.     Don’t let the picture below fool you.  That is the SECOND attempt.   I regret that I was unable to take a photo of the blackened, molten sugar, streams of smoke, and the sizzle as I poured it out in the slushy snow by the kitchen door.

Error #1:  I was feeling pleased with myself.  That’s when the Fates get you.
Error #2:  I didn’t test my candy thermometer.
Error #3:  I had unoccupied, nosy children.

If it wasn’t bad enough that I burned the first batch, I realized that my pecans were glazed not plain. What the picture doesn’t show is me almost panicked as the nut glaze melts instantly, and I spent three minutes squeezing out the glazey liquid from my hot candy with a spoon.

Toffee bars are nothing more than a lot of sugar and a lot of butter (the recipe I used).    I’ve made candy before, though not often.    I am standing there waiting for my candy thermometer to reach 295 as I’m stirring.    I answer a question from the Minion, and look to see that the sugar as gotten to a deep caramel color.   My inner alarm is starting to buzz.    It looks a lot further along than the 250 that the thermometer is registering.    I have a back up thermometer that I am thinking I should fetch, when suddenly I realize it’s too late!      I try not to panic as I remove the molten sugar off the heat.  I am halfway to the door when it turns a deep, dark, black and it starts smoking.     I shove it out of the back door.  The rain drops sizzle, smoke billows out of the pan, and I dump it into a pile of snowy slush in an effort to save the pan.       I managed to get it out before the smoke detector went off.   What a waste of two sticks of butter!

My children are asking me what happened.   I say I burned the candy.   And that was a bad idea to say since now I had to answer a thousand inquiries about how you can make candy.
“Mother, wait…What do you mean that thouest can make confections from thine own hands?  What wondrous magic!  Prithee, tell us everything!”


Oh, so delicious.  Oh, so much trouble.

That chocolate dip is made with semi-sweet chocolate chips.   You can’t just melt chocolate chips and have it turn into chocolate candy coating (trust me I’ve tried).  What I had was actually prepped for a the Kinder Egg Fail of December 2014.     If you add shortening to regular chocolate chips you can actually make a shiny, melting chocolate without having to go out and by Wilton’s.     Who knew, right?    I didn’t have a mold to make Kinder Eggs and none of my attempts at using bowls and cups worked; I ended up with a bunch of beautiful broken chocolate.     (If you are interested, the blue thing is a silicone baking mat…it’s awesome.)

Husband has just about declared the Toffee Bars the best in all the land.      I guess my work here is done.


Happy Birthday, Honey!

4 comments on “Diary of an Inconsistent Cook #1: World’s Best Chocolate Cake and English Toffee Bar Birthday Ever

  1. Hello, Scarlett Blog
    January 21, 2015

    I love your Chocolate post! Your blog is so awesome as well!


    P.S. I’m now a follower 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gretchen Price
    January 22, 2015

    Thanks for the mention! Your cake looked fabulous from the baking to the building! Really great job! I love that you seemed surprised! LOL


    • eliminationcommunication
      January 22, 2015

      Thank for visiting! I have reason to be surprised when things turn out okay. I’ll be sharing other fiascos that were better planned, but gave me a lot of grief. LOL


  3. Pingback: Diary of an Inconsistent Cook #26: Chocolate Covered English Toffee Bars | Laissez Faire

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2015 by in cooking, desserts and tagged , , , , , .

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