Mango cake. Delicious, isn’t it? In this scotching heat, devouring a lovely slice of mango cake is nothing short of heavenly. And that’s why I thought I should whip one up for my sister’s lockdown birthday.
I had seen the recipe well in advance and bought the ingredients (arranged for the mangoes as well!). I’d even bought the cream for the icing to make it extra special. It looked like a simple, doable recipe so I said, ‘How hard could it be? Let’s do this!’
I have baked many times before and fortunately, haven’t had too many mishaps (Thank God for that!). I enjoy baking and felt that experimenting on the eve of my sister’s birthday was a good idea. But, was it? Well, read along and you’ll know.
The whole exercise began at half past 5 in the evening. I wanted to prepare the icing first and keep it in the refrigerator. I wasn’t an expert at using the electric whisk so I asked around with friends of mine who’re into baking, if a mixer grinder could be used. They replied in the negative. I decided to ask a little more and pinged an old school friend who had just started her baking page on instagram. Mind you, I haven’t spoken to her since school but when it came to clearing baking doubts, I didn’t seem to have any inhibitions. Unfortunately for me, she also replied in the negative. So I had to roll up my sleeves and try my hand at the whisk.
Multiple YouTube videos and half an hour of whipping later, the only thing I had achieved was a sore wrist. The cream remained as creamy as ever and far from what all the videos claimed. I gave up and dunked it in the fridge and began work on the cake.
The recipe mentioned that if I was making fresh Mango puree, I had to use 2-3 mangoes to get one glass. My mango-cutting skills weren’t really MasterChef level. The mango often slid off my plate leaving my fingers greasy. While I struggled to keep it in place, I battled my now justifiable fear of cutting my fingers in the process. Once done, I figured that with just one mango I had enough puree and a tad bit more. How does that matter, you ask? Oh, read on!
I folded the wet ingredients into the dry ones and added the puree until the last drop, ’cause more the merrier, right? I slid it into my oven and for the next 40 minutes waited with bated breath.
40 minutes later…
Oven beeped. I opened it. Slid a knife down the middle, confident of a clean cake and Voila! there’s some uncooked batter stuck on to it. Did my cake just come out uncooked AFTER 40 MINUTES? Yes, a part of it did. I put it in for another ten minutes at 180. And then for another ten at 200 and for another seven for 220 and by then I had had enough of it. It was a beautiful brown on top. But if you thought it was well cooked, you’re wrong my friend.
The knife still came out with batter on it. I began to panic. My mother and house help both advised me not to keep it in the oven for any longer. We all stared at it, not knowing what to say. I tried consoling myself by saying, ‘It isn’t Burnt Brown, it’s a nicely cooked brown, right?’ Everyone giggled. My mother said that I should just let it sit on the rack and cool. In the heat, it’ll settle down. I did that.
But of course I was panicking. My uncle called just then and I roped him in on the mess. He told me to steam the cake. It sounded like a pretty good idea but somehow I didn’t go through with it. I put it in the fridge and left it.
In the meantime, if you’d seen my google search history, you’d have realised how many different ways one can look up ‘undercooked mango cake’. From images to articles to videos, I tried finding how an undercooked cake looks to learn how someone else fixed it. And what did I find? Photographs and more photographs, of artistically baked cakes with mouth-watering frosting and decorations. Roses, chocolates, buttercream – you name it. They all had that same wonderful shade of Mango yellow, showcasing the fluffiness in a perfectly baked slice. NO pictures of burnt cakes, unbaked cakes or undercooked cakes popped up. I wondered if I should give mine as an example so that google doesn’t feel so lost the next time.
When google doesn’t help, you try the next best thing – Instagram. Not much luck. So I took the next step. I pinged my friend who is a baker (should’ve considered doing this in the very beginning) and asked her for advice. It was already a quarter to 10 at night and I was half sure I wouldn’t hear back. When I didn’t receive a reply for about 20 minutes, I took the next step.
If you’re wondering why I fretted so much, let me explain. It was my sister’s birthday and I wanted to make it really special and when you’ve planned something with all your heart, I suppose you do want it to turn out well.
Coming back to my next step and I promise this is the last. I pinged a baker whose page I follow on instagram. A complete stranger. Haven’t interacted with her ever but just seen her amazing work. My prayers were heard and she replied right away!
She was kind and tried to help. The first question she’d asked was the temperature I’d baked my cake at. I explained how I moved from 180 to 200 and then she threw a truth bomb at me! Actually two, not one. The first being, cakes aren’t supposed to be baked at a temperature as high as 200 or 220. The second, a cake is supposed to be baked at the same temperature throughout. She went on to burst my hope bubble by adding that the damage had been done and now nothing I did could save the cake. I was upset though pleased that she’d replied.
Hallelujah! Help arrives…
Remember the baker friend I’d messaged? She replied an hour later and was willing to hear me out at that odd hour! She was godsent. A few minutes into my rant, she asked me the same question about temperatures. I sighed and told her that I’d burnt my fingers on that front. So, what next? She advised me to bake the cake at a lower temperature or turn it upside down and bake it again if I felt too much batter was still stuck to the knife.
I was too chicken to take it out of the cake tin fearing it’ll split into odd pieces and just be gooey. Believe me, sometimes being gifted with an imagination isn’t very helpful.
She then suggested that I cut it and make it into bowls of pudding topped with whipped cream. While this seemed like a good idea, I didn’t have the heart to tell her what had happened with my whipped cream. But now that she knew about all the mess, why leave this part out. I ranted away knowing that at the other end she was probably doing multiple facepalms.
She giggled and patiently explained that whipping fresh cream when the weather outside was a whopping 40 degrees was a bad idea. It would take hours to get done. I finally burst out saying, ‘No one told me all this! Not the videos, not the recipes. No one! How am I supposed to know?!’ She realised how exasperated I was with the mess. And frankly, she did a great job trying to calm me with a variety of solutions and I’m ever grateful.
Finally, she told me that if I was really worried then there was still enough time to make a fresh vanilla cake topped with cream and mangoes. It would taste the same, she assured. But I didn’t want to! I was determined or rather adamant about fixing this one. I thanked her profusely and got off the call.
The climax (yes, finally)
At 11:20, I mustered all my courage and decided to take the cake out of the tin. I turned it upside down praying to hear a thud, imagining the worst – mango pulp oozing out, cake disintegrating, blobs falling apart. But I heard nothing. The cake was stuck to the bottom of the tin like it was stuck with fevicol. It didn’t budge.
My house help kept my spirits up. She thrust a flat spoon into my hand and asked me to begin with the corners. I kept going and when I tried lifting a little of the base to see how much was stuck, I saw that it was perfectly clear! It just had to be taken out along the corners and flipped over like a dosa! And then I heard the thud! It was like music to my ears.
My cake came out looking perfectly normal with a nice Mango yellow on top. I put my knife in and it came out clear. My mom’s advise to let it sit had worked! Phew! All this for nothing – that’s what you’re thinking, right? Well, in my defense, I didn’t know if it would all work out in the end. I quickly added the cream and a few cut mango pieces on top to give it a nice look. The candle was lit. And it was 11:59. I made it in time and we entered my sister’s room singing, ‘Happy Birthday’!
She sliced the cake. It was baked! But I realised it was quite dense because the pulp (that tad bit more, yes) was too much. But no one seemed to complain. My family, especially my sister and grand aunt, loved it so much that they helped themselves to more than one slice. The strong taste of mango made it even more delectable. And all was well in the end!
But why did I decide to write about this episode? It wasn’t a complete failure but I thought it was. And here’s what I noticed.
From bakers to artists, writers to musicians, none of us share our experiences when everything goes wrong and how we managed to fix it.
The cakes are always perfect, the painting is always flawless, the article is always spot on, the song is always in tune. But what about the trial sessions? The undercooked cake with a burnt crust, the painting with the disproportionate hands, the 12 drafts prior to the final essay, the million recordings before the final piece? I’m sure none of us nailed everything right the first time. It took practice, years of it in some cases, to perfect it. Then why don’t we see the process on our profiles, blogs and pages?
Why do all of us share only the perfect ending? Are we scared of being judged? Whatever it is, to me this mango-cake baking experience was an eye-opener. In my urge to set it right, I learnt not one but five things about baking.
Don’t bake cakes on high temperatures, maintain the same temperature throughout. Avoid whipping fresh cream in very hot weather, it takes a long time. Most recipes on the internet suggest oven settings suitable for commercial ovens not the ones used at home. Too much mango pulp and less flour can leave you with a dense cake. Salvage a cake by turning it into a pudding. And well, make your mistakes and become a better baker.
If you managed to reach the end of this piece, then here’s what I want to tell you. Share the not-so-perfect experiences with your audience. They’ll learn a lot more and relate to you better. Don’t wait for questions to pop up in FAQs to help them know how to fix a bad situation. Let’s not leave all our bad experiences for a public talk. Let’s share them as they occur, everyday.
Who knows, your experience of an undercooked cake can help an amateur baker save hers in the nick of time.