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Baking Elma Family Kitty Photography Pip

The sad and lamentous tale of a veritable Pinterest fail


After Kitty’s wild success in the kitchen on Saturday, Elma, and to, I suspect, a much lesser degree, Pip were itching to make a cake of their own.  Elma has always believed that she can do anything Kitty can do, even when her more diminutive statute makes it very obvious to the rest of us that she can’t, and maybe she could make a yoghurt pot cake by herself, but one yoghurt cake a weekend is probably enough, and besides, I had a really good idea.

And so as H took Kitty off to another round of birthday parties, I unveiled the plan: the littlest two and I were going to make a secret surprise cake, themed for St Patrick’s Day.  Now the only thing even vaguely Irish about me is that my surname was once Irish but that’s as good as it gets.  H and the children can claim actual decent from that Irish surname but I don’t think that brings them much closer. But why let a little matter like that get in the way of a good excuse for cake.

My idea was to make a green cake, and then cut little shamrocks from it and bake them inside a plain cake and then when you cut into the cake, there would be the surprise; little green shamrocks running through it like the centre from a stick of rock.

As an idea, it was genius. In execution – well spoilers, but read the title!

The green cake actually turned out very well; Elma and Pip helped me whizz it up in the KitchenAid and drop by drop we added a little leaf green gel colour until it was properly Spring green, poured it into a circular cake tin and popped it in the oven. It rose beautifully, filled the house with the buttery scent of fresh cake, and we were off to a winning start.

And then…. well the first sign that all was not going to go quite as I’d envisioned it was the shamrock.  Eternal failure as a mother as I am, I don’t have a shamrock cookie cutter.  Lots of hearts, fish, dolphins, several butterflies and an elephant, but no shamrock.  I actually sent H out to try to find one during the week (with a shopping list that read “small pot of yoghurt, 10cm embroidery hoop, green food colouring, shamrock cutter – not all for the same project!”) but he’d had no joy and (sign number 2), I’d left it too late to order one online.

Oh well we thought, we could just use a flower, and maybe cut down one of the petals to be a stalk?

My flower cutters have six petals, that wasn’t going to work either.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

So we cut out the flowers, and decided that St Patrick probably liked flowers as much as he liked shamrocks, especially if they were green, and pressed on.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

The outer cake was initially supposed to be lemon flavoured but it was at this crucial point, with the cake mix whirling in the background, that I realised that we didn’t have any lemons. But I found a blood orange in need of using up and added the zest and juice to flavour the cake and it was actually delicious – definitely the silver lining. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The theory behind a surprise cake, and it does usually work, despite what you are about to see, is that you put a thin layer of cake mix in the bottom of the tin, add in the shapes cut from ready made cake, smother the whole thing in more cake mix, and bake. It’s like a baked Alaska but with cake.Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

We popped our assembled cake into the oven, set the timer and went off to play, reassured by the nice smell of warm orange coming from the kitchen, and with not a hint of what was to come.

The timer went off, and we pulled the cake out to look at it.  It was a beautiful golden brown on top (good), but there was something of a dinosaur’s spine about the central ridge of the cake, all knobbly, and with a decided hint of green to it.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

I pressed it gently to watch the sponge bounce back and then stabbed it a couple of times with a skewer to check it was baked, and we left it to cool.  Only when I came back to tip it out of the tin ten minutes later did the gentle pressure of easing it away from the side force as yet uncooked cake mix up through the centre of the cake.

Ah. Back in the oven then.

A good 20 minutes and some frenzied stabbing with the cake tester later, we allowed it back out of the oven.

It sat, and cooled, and smelt enticingly of cake, and we thought that all might not be lost, not just yet.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

And so as befits a Pinterest-pretty bake, I tucked it up in a little grease proof paper and stripy green string for the big reveal.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

The cake sat on the table, holding the gaze of three small and hungry children that bounced up and down waiting for the first slice and this “big surprise” they’d been promised.  The knife was raised, and neatly sliced a good chunk of cake from the end of the loaf, and as it fell back onto the board with just the tiniest whisp of steam, we saw…

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

A white cake with a green blob on top.

No shamrocks, not even flowers, and not a hint of anything hidden in the cake.  The green cake had just floated to the top, and sat there, misshapen but tasty while the white cake had cooked underneath.

The cake is actually pretty tasty, and as the girls get a kick out of having “a green piece”, and we haven’t explained just why we find that so funny, it’s not going to be going to waste, but beautiful it is not.

Space for the Butterflies - A Pinterest fail for St Patrick

In hindsight I think the key differences from previous attempts to this one were that I used homemade sponge for the middle, rather than buying in Maderia cake, and I probably put too much cake mix in the bottom of the tin.  Homemade sponge is so much lighter, and with the extra oomph from more cake mix it just bobbed up to the top of the mixture.

And as for St Patrick’s day; I’m going to stick to colouring in shamrocks from now on!