When Ogre Cakes Happen to Good People

what to do when you bake an ugly cake

what to do when you bake an ugly cake

At some point, it happens to everyone: That incredible dessert you couldn’t wait to make, that you salivated over as you gathered the ingredients for — just turns out to be a big, fat fail.

Maybe it’s horrendously ugly, worthy of a spot on CakeWrecks; maybe you had to make a last-minute substitution (hey, a little oil is basically the same as an egg, right?); or maybe you dreamed up your own variation on a classic, as I did, and from the moment you tasted the batter, you realized you added a dash too much ambition to the mix.

Whatever the reason, the cake turns out pretty gnarly, and the only term I can use for this is it’s an “Ogre Cake.” Sometimes, a liberal smattering of frosting (especially fudge-chocolate¬†chip or cream cheese) can do the trick — if the cake is overcooked, just cut it into a few more layers before you assemble it, so the cake-to-icing ratio gives icing the upper hand — and typically, you’re fine. If it’s too dry, maybe all you need is a swipe of simple syrup on the top, like most professional cake bakers do.

And, then, sometimes, the cake turns out allll wrong, like my recent foray into blue velvet cakes. I didn’t have buttermilk, but I heard yogurt would work just as well, only I only had regular yogurt. Plus, I ran out of all-purpose flour, so I wriggled an organic, unbleached pastry flour I had bought at a health foods store years ago.

Annnnd one last thing…now this one I’m a little embarrassed to admit, and I’m sure anyone reading this will go, “well, you deserve an ugly Ogre Cake for trying this,” but these were desperate times. It was late, and I needed the productive release of baking a delightful, delightful treat. So, full disclosure time, and please don’t think too much less of me: I didn’t have butter, so I used (cue the gasp) shortening, since it claimed to taste just the same as butter when used for baking.

Well, as anyone knows, THE INTERNET LIES. And my logic was flawed, but let’s focus less on my shortcomings and more on BLAMING THE INTERNET FOR MY BAKING DESPAIR, shall we? (Because that’s the practical, grownup thing to do when you’re staring down one fugly lumpkin of an Ogre Cake.) I added a little water to offset the thickness of the Greek yogurt (since I’d read regular yogurt is just a little more watery, since it hasn’t been strained as much as the Greek variety) and followed the instructions for using this vegetable shortening in place of butter. The result?

Womp, womp. Fail!

[Please go back and re-read that “fail” to the tune of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” for the full affect of my shame. Thanks.]

Does this look edible? Yikes.
Does this look edible? Yikes.

It was a gritty, pasty mess that tasted like disappointment mixed with a tinge of rage. And, as if the cake itself were mocking me for trying so many substitutions, the swirls of blue food coloring I added in turned a putrid green-brown as I stirred, and no amount of food coloring seemed to change that. (I blame that stupid, healthy, sawdust-y flour. Health foods. Sheesh.)

Sadly, baking it was equally disastrous. It was edible, but barely. Not worth the calories or potential shortening-induced artery clogging. I had produced the King of All Ogre Cakes: The Bricklet, as I named the dense-yet-crumbling clump. It was basically a mud pie.

As I sat there, though, marveling at my waste of ingredients, I didn’t feel like my experiment was a disaster. I just learned one way the blue velvet cake wouldn’t work. I logged my measurements, froze the Bricklet so I could use it to practice my buttercream frosting techniques (frozen cakes are easier to work with), and eventually, it’d get a new home in the trash can. Or Nate’s stomach, whichever wins this battle.

So if you screw up royally, don’t let it get to you — we Ogre Cake Bakers are in good company (supermodel Chrissy Teigen had a similar battle with a fickle, fickle cake, and the cake won), and at the end of the day, it’s something to learn from — and laugh about. Plus, as a coworker recently taught me, frosting tastes just as good on a graham cracker, Dunkaroos-style.

Take that, Ogre Cake.

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