"How to Cake It" is my favorite YouTube channel. But actually baking one of her cakes?
It kind of destroyed me.
I'm an unfussy home baker. I'll make a one-layer cake or a crumble or maybe a blondie, but I stick to simple and not necessarily aesthetically elaborate desserts. My frosting is swoopy and my cookies are unadorned.
But I'm hooked on these "How to Cake It" videos, where Yolanda Gampp (aka Yo) makes multilayer stunners decked out in frostings and syrups and delicious gewgaws. Take the "Pink Lemonade: A Visual Cake" homage to Lemonade by Beyoncé, for example. The cake in the video is a towering beauty soaked in lemon syrups and topped with stalagmites of rock candy. Yo is funny and charming and does a few extremely inspired cake-themed riffs on songs from Lemonade. She even smashes it in the end, "Hold Up" style, with a giant whisk. WATCH IT.
Watching it was very fun, unlike actually baking it.
I took on this cake challenge, hopeful that the curative powers of baking would wipe out the funk I was in. And it did help, but not in the lush, totally soothing Nigella-esque way I imagined. More in the "embrace your imperfection and your inner Hulk while stress-eating half a box of lemon wafer cookies" way.
Here's what I learned from baking a delicious cake I will never, ever, ever make again. Enjoy the crappy pictures and low-key unhinged notes.
Some Challenges Require a Beyoncé-Level Attention to Detail
Let's start with a cool and not-at-all-embarrassing list of all of the things I did wrong in the process of making this cake.
- Didn't let the butter get to room temperature, had to warm it in the oven. (From my notes: Nothing. This was back when I thought this would be my only mistake.)
- Didn't realize I had to fridge these vanilla cakes overnight. (From my notes: "Man this recipe is complicated but also not really?" I agree, past me.)
- Didn't buy enough butter or eggs. (From my notes: "I don't have enough butter or eggs and I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. This sugar is really kicking in." This was post-lemon wafer cookies. The stress-eating started early.)
- I don't have a candy thermometer. (From my notes: "Wow you're not good at anything.")
- I didn't dye the cakes pink. (From my notes: "Omfg.")
I thought because I had baked cakes before that this would be an achievable challenge. A little difficult, sure! But totally doable. Instead, it felt like building a rocket blindfolded while climbing Mount Fuji.
I have never been this bad at a recipe, but something about the deluge of tasks and ingredients completely threw me off my game. To create this mega cake, I had to make four layers of cake, a homemade Italian meringue buttercream frosting, and homemade lemon curd. I was also supposed to make a lemon syrup and various fondant decorations, but even I know when to say "Uncle!" or, really "Gdfiusuerhser," the traditional noise of a woman crying on the kitchen floor eating wafer cookies.
Speaking of eating large quantities, this cake eats eggs and butter. I thought I planned ahead, but I had to leave to go to the grocery store twice and still borrowed two last-minute eggs from my neighbor.
To make a Pink Lemonade Mega Cake, I used six-and-a-half sticks of butter and 16 eggs. (From my notes: "Is baking gross?")
It's Not the Worst Thing in the World to Find Your Anger in the Kitchen
About halfway through baking this cake, I realized that I was angry.
Not at the cake — well, a little bit at the cake, and at myself. I was angry about a series of things I'd been slapping a big smiley "Everything is fine!" face on recently. And I discovered this because of my undercover guidance counselor, the stand mixer.
While making the Italian meringue buttercream, my mixer partied at high speed for about 25 minutes total. The sound was so loud that the music and podcasts that usually soundtrack my baking were impossible. I was alone with my bouncy thoughts. And I was fuming.
While being angry is not that much fun, it's part of life. Better to find it and deal with it than to push it down until it calcifies. Making a giant, incredibly complicated cake is not a bad time to figure out just how mad you are, because there are so many things to whisk and stir and whip.
Give Up on Perfectionism: Let People Help You
From my notes: "Whenever I demand perfection from myself, I screw it up."
And maybe 30 minutes later: "I wish I had let someone help me bake this cake."
Baking this by myself was educational, but totally joyless. I don't usually feel that way when I bake, but the enormity of the project made me feel so lonely and trapped, watching my own mistakes in silence. I wanted everything to be perfect, and it was so not perfect or even really working. And after seven hours, when I got particularly weepy and frustrated and deeply hangry, I got lucky.
Two friends were coming over to help me eat this gigantic lemonade cake, not expecting to show up at my apartment where every dish was dirty, the cake was totally unassembled, and I was in the midst a sugar-fueled existential crisis. They rolled their sleeves up and got in the kitchen with me.
"Mega cakes belong on YouTube only," Caitlin said, chewing on the cake bites we'd carved off and picked at as a chef's treat. The deep brown crust, almost like a bread, was delicious. They talked me out of carefully cutting the crusts off. They talked me out of trying to make a lemon syrup. Every step we cut from the process flooded my body with relief, and got us closer to actually eating cake.
Alyson hoisted heavy layers of vanilla cake and Caitlin chopped strawberries and we laughed a lot and left the kitchen with a fine patina of cake crumbs and strawberry juice all over our clothes. But it was worth it. We sat on the floor and ate the fruits of our labor. Now we get together every week and make this cake and revel in the majesty of friendship.
JUST KIDDING. Those last couple hours in the kitchen together were fun and messy and made me totally love and appreciate my friends ... and still never want to make this cake again.
But one day, in the future, when baking doesn't sound nauseating, I will make a swoopy, messy, one-layer version of this vanilla cake and lemon curd. It was seriously good.
Try it out (or don't): Pink Lemonade Mega Cake with Lemon Curd, Raspberries, and Vanilla Cake from How to Cake It