Another day, another baking opportunity.
Or so I thought.
I’m in the cakes section of this bakebook and I thought I’d tackle a scary one. The Dobos torte. Whatever that is. It involves 12 layers of two different sizes of sponge creating two tiers, plus caramel decorations.
(I later learned that Dobos torte is a Hungarian treat usually made with chocolate icing. I guess the British version involves caramel instead. Classic Brits stealing and slightly tweaking another country’s baked good.)
Do what scares you, right?
On Tuesday night I decided to do what scares me: caramel.
I followed this showstopper recipe by Mary. (I assume it’s Mary Berry. And if it is, I have a bone to pick with her. Several, actually, but we’ll get to that.)
Trusting her guidance, I put 800 grams of sugar into a large pot, as instructed.
And then I put 100 ml of water into that same large pot with an alarming amount of sugar.
The recipe says to “bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.” I was worried the water wasn’t incorporated enough so I did a quick pre-boil stir and put it on the heat.
That may have been my first mistake.
Things started to melt so I did some stirring, as instructed.
Mary told me to turn up the heat when the grittiness left until it boils to a golden caramel.
The grittiness was taking a while to leave and it looked like the sugar may have been mostly melted, but there was also some crystallization happening around the edge of the pot.
I pushed ahead and turned up the heat a little.
And ruined everything.
Disheartened, I dumped 800 grams of crystallized sugar into a bowl and gave up for the evening.
*two days later*
I didn’t want to be defeated by this recipe, even if caramel isn’t enjoyable to make or eat.
I decided to make some adjustments on my own since this whole letting-sugar-melt thing is something I cannot seem to do.
I did some researching post-fail and found out that sugar needs a larger surface area to become caramel, so instead of using a larger one-handled pot, I probably should’ve used a two-handled soup pot. It also means that I should maybe use less sugar (because I didn’t have enough in the house after Tuesday).
In round two, I cut the sugar in half but kept the water the same. Four hundred grams of sugar and 100 ml of water were put into a pot.
And I put it on a slightly lower heat.
Already things were looking better.
With little stirring interference, I watched as the sugar and water started to boil at the lower heat.
So I turned up the heat a little.
Watched dissolved sugar never turns into caramel, as they say, so I kept half an eye on the pot but also unloaded my dishwasher to make room for the inevitable mess.
Things started to happen.
Mary wanted me to let this become “golden caramel” but this wasn’t golden enough; however, it was very close to becoming golden caramel so I stopped my multitasking and kept a close eye on it.
Then this happened:
I took it of the heat and added half the amount of double cream. Without a mention of the chemical reaction that would occur, Mary casually told me to “give it a quick stir then pour it into a bowl.”
Thanks for the warning, Mary.
I poured it into a bowl and set it aside to cool on its own.
Technically my next step should have been to whip up the butter for the buttercream that would involve this caramel; but with the caramel still cooling, that seemed premature. Also I don’t know how much time Mary had to make this. Possibly a whole day and not a workday evening.
While the caramel continued to cool and the butter continued to soften, then, I decided to start on the sponges.
Sponges that would require eight—count it eight— eggs.
Plus another 350 grams of sugar. A very sweet bake. As usual, though, I used a little less than the suggested amount.
Mary told me to whisk these until light and foamy and I immediately regretted using the tiny whisks of my hand mixer.
It took forever.
I loaded the dishwasher with one hand as I whisked with the other.
Light and foamy achieved!
At this stage I was to fold in sifted flour, a little at a time.
But here’s the thing about that little detail that gave me pause (that ended up being for naught): the recipe says “300 grams sifted flour” instead of “300 grams flour, sifted.” And it made me wonder if sifting the flour affects the weight of the flour.
Turns out it doesn’t and that may have been an incredibly stupid thought of mine, but I folded it in the measured-twice sifted flour anyway.
Next step was to divvy up the cake batter onto parchment paper that, two days prior, I had outlined six 15 cm circles and six 20 cm circles onto.
I needed to make room.
I scooped and spread and scooped and scooped. I decided on two scoops for every large circle and one scoop for every small circle. As I was scooping, I discovered pockets of flour that had to be mixed in on the parchment paper. Then I had extra so I added half a scoop to every circle and ended up with what looked like a dozen crepes.
Then I baked in batches.
The recipe said 8-10 minutes, but I smelled burning and watched things get out of hand so I took them out at 6 minutes. Then I realized, after the first batch, that I desperately needed new baking sheets.
With the sponges baked (and slightly burned) and cooling all around my kitchen, I looked to the next step of the recipe: praline.
Almond praline. That called for 75 grams of flaked almonds plus the dreaded caramel.
I then looked at my flaked almond stash and realized I had just under 70 grams.
And then realized that there was absolutely no way that this would cover the sides of two cakes.
I looked at the next part of that praline step and it required 16 hazelnuts dipped in the dreaded caramel. Sixteen hazelnuts that would both be hard to eat and not enjoyable and basically purely for decoration, which I don’t understand. Why make things you can’t eat?
I made a choice.
I wouldn’t kill myself over caramel decoration and therefore I would do a subpar job at this bake.
With that off my plate, I started the buttercream by whipping the butter that was softening all evening.
Mid-whipping, I realized that I need to get a new standing mixer. The butter just stuck to the side of the bowl and was barely touched by the whisk, no matter what speed it was running.
I switched to the hand mixer and pulled out the caramel that was runny and in the fridge.
Slowly by surely I added the caramel to the butter and ended up with caramel buttercream.
I was immediately skeptical that this would not be enough to cover two tiers of six-layered sponge.
But I forged ahead and got to work on the large sponges. I placed and layered, layered and placed and sparingly used the buttercream between the layers because things were not adding up.
To speed up the process, I placed it in the freezer and got to work on the smaller tier.
I did the same thing with the second tier and stared with worry at the black sections of sponge.
Needless to say, new baking sheets are on my Costco shopping list.
With the second tier cooling, I pulled the bottom tier out of the freezer and trimmed the edges and then applied a crumb coat and popped it back in. I did the same with the top tier and looked at a measly amount of buttercream that was supposed to cover the cakes and be used as rosettes for the nonexistent caramel-coated hazelnuts.
So in a hurry I softened some butter in the microwave and desperately tried scooping more caramel out of the sticky caramel mess of a bowl. I tasted it and it tasted like butter so I added icing sugar and then it tasted too sweet and I emotionally gave up.
I pulled out the frozen crumb-coated tiers and tried to decorate them and they looked terrible and splotchy. Then I thought I’d save it with some novice piping.
I hate making things pretty.
But I tried.
Also piping is really hard work, guys. It takes muscles that I do not have.
Also thank you to my wonderful friend for lending me her spinny thing. (Thanks, friend!)
I put the cakes in the fridge and looked at my kitchen with a sigh.
My apartment-sized dishwasher was in use.
And my kitchen was covered with butter and caramel, two of the hardest things to clean up due to grease and stickiness.
Cleaning up is the worst part.
So I decided to put it off.
*the next day*
I brought the two tiers to work with a heart burdened by failure.
I stacked them and apologized to everyone.
I apologized for the lean, for the presentation, for the possible burnt flavour, for the buttery frosting and for the lack of caramel decoration.
Then I unstacked them to make cutting easier and handed out slices.
I had to tell a few more people than the usual crew about the cake because I made so much.
The response? My one coworker told me it tasted just like what his Hungarian mother used to make. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best compliment I could’ve received, especially on a bake I was so ashamed of.
People liked that it wasn’t too sweet. They liked the layers. They appreciated my effort and they told me they didn’t taste the burned bits. I even had a small slice and thought it tasted pretty good, even if it was caramel.
‘Twas a success. Even still, I will never make this again. Or if I do, caramel will not be involved at all. And better measurements will be considered to make sure there’s enough buttercream.