For February’s Half-Baked idea, I decided to bake!  I know, January’s idea was based on food, and now February’s idea is centered around food too.  Coincidently, I have a great idea for March that is based on food as well.  Maybe I’m taking this half-baked theme too literally, but what’s wrong with food?  Climbers eat.  Climbers like food.  Who knows, maybe when this project is all said and done I’ll have the groundwork for a cookbook.  Maybe not.  Probably not, but who cares, because no matter how things turn out I’ll have learned and done some new things.

With the release of our short form cooking show Dirtbag Diner, I have been talking to people about food more than ever, and recently a young cook named Robert shared a quote with me.  He prefaced the quote with the expression “You know what they say”, then he laid it on me.

“Cooking is an art, baking is a science.”

No Robert I didn’t know they said that!  But, I love it!  Cooking is kind of just mixing it up and experimenting, it is an artform, it has some jazz qualities to it.  Baking on the other hand, you mess just one thing up, and it’s over.  Bake too long and it’s burnt, too short and it’s gross.  Mix up the flour to sugar ratio…done!  Forget the baking powder, fail to separate the yolks, mix instead of fold, use the wrong type of flour (who even knew there were so many types of flour), over mix, under mix, use cold butter, use warm water, if you mess up just one thing, the entire project is ruined.  Baking is a science!

My grandma, we called her Mum, was a Belgian immigrant. She came to Canada as a teen, and this woman was born to bake, she was spectacular.  While she may not have been the van Gogh of the stovetop, she was absolutely the Niels Bohr of the oven!  Everything she baked was from scratch, and it was delicious!

Just thinking of her baked goods has me drooling.  Her homemade chocolate pudding, bread pudding, rice pudding, Yorkshire pudding, yummm!  Handmade pie crust turned into fresh baked apple pie, blueberry pie, lemon meringue pie, rhubarb pie, yummm!  She made a peach pie that is without a doubt the single greatest thing I have ever tasted. Her breads, banana bread and zucchini bread fresh out of the oven with a thin slice of butter, I can taste the flavor just thinking about them.  Her cakes were other worldly, always three layers, and again, always from scratch.  There are two staples that stand out.  She made an amazing banana cake, and a mind altering German chocolate cake. 

I don’t have her recipes, perhaps I would be a little heavier if I did, but I do remember her telling me that her recipe for the German chocolate cake is straight from the Baker’s Chocolate package.  

Off to the store I went to buy a bar of Baker’s Chocolate, but instead of a three layer German chocolate cake, there was a recipe for German chocolate cupcakes.  No disrespect to cupcakes, but I’m not trying to host a kids class party, I want to replicate the staple of every family birthday party I have ever been to.

Off to the internet I went, someone surely has the classic Baker’s Chocolate German chocolate cake recipe stashed away for nostalgic purposes.  I was not disappointed.  HERE it is, the original Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate Cake.  There are actually two recipes, one for the cake and one for the frosting.  Both are absolute necessities, both are flawless!

I made an ingredients list and off to the store I went, keeping in mind the entire time that this is a science project, and I am not to take shortcuts.  I was faced with a decision to buy imitation vanilla or vanilla extract.  The recipe just says vanilla, but I went with vanilla extract, for some reason that just seems truer to the recipe, even though a gallon of imitation vanilla is $.25, and 1 drop of vanilla extract costs $37.95.  My only miscue on the shopping spree was forgetting to buy eggs, so I had to make one return trip, to buy a dozen eggs, not bad, although I haven’t bought eggs in years, and was surprised by how much eggs cost.  Baking is expensive, I’m not about to complain the next time I see a slice of cake for $12

I won’t go through the entire baking process, but there are a few highlights and insights.

I am not good at separating eggs.  It takes a lot longer to bake a three layer cake when you only have one cake pan.  This didn’t matter too much since I didn’t portion my cake batter, and ended up with a two layer cake rather than a three layer cake.  The process was kind of fun.  Baking is hard work.  Mixing sucks! 

Mum was a fabulous grandma.  She was a tiny woman, teensy tiny.  While baking this cake I thought about her a lot.  I especially thought about her mixing all these ingredients by hand. I have a KitchenAid mixer, and was complaining the entire time about how messy and hard it was.  Mum had a spatula and a whisk.  Granted she also had an encyclopedic brain filled with baking skills and drive to do loving things for her family, but come on, mixing sucks! She was a beast.  A spatula and a whisk!  Her arm and wrist strength would have made her an awesome climber.

She died several years ago, but baking this cake made me feel like I was right back in her kitchen waiting for her to hand me a chocolate covered spatula and a nearly empty bowl to lick to my heart’s content!

Other than the cake only being two layers, it turned out perfectly.  The frosting too.  The first bite took me back to my grandparent’s house on Birwood, waiting for everyone at the table to finish eating dinner so Mum could break out the star of the show! The cake. Oh and also the cute little plates used on special occasions!

It didn’t take much to make her proud, but if she could have tasted this little science project, I’m sure she would be grinning from ear to ear.


16 Replies to “Half-Baked”

  1. Definitely go with real vanilla. With that said, I’m off to mix the bread dough. My KitchenAid mixer has a dough hook, but kneading is so satisfying. Bread is both science (right amount of yeast at the right temperature, with some sort of sugar to feed the yeast) and art (does the dough feel right? Not too sticky before the final rising – the amount of flour to add at each stage is aproxímate and based on feel). I haven’t made a German Chocolate Cake in years. You may have inspired me to fix that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am kind of nervous to start messing with bread, but what is the worst that could happen? I’m happy I went with real vanilla, I have no idea what the difference is, but if you say go with real then I am going with real! Thank you for the advice! German chocolate cake is kind of an underrated cake, I remember seeing a box version that I was excited to try, and it was not even remotely close to what I have been accustom to. Sometimes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I’m pretty happy I tried.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha…I never thought about that! You’re so right, they are going to have to be really impressed with out ability to pull through a drive through! That is hilarious!


  2. “even though a gallon of imitation vanilla is $.25, and 1 drop of vanilla extract costs $37.95” Haha….so true, but Real vanilla is so worth it! Made a German Chocolate cake from scratch last fall for my hubby’s birthday….Only a 2 layer but had TWO different frostings! So much effort but so delicious. Your grandma sounds like was quite the force–such precious memories. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so happy to be in the company of someone who has gone through it. The effort is real, but in the end you are 100% right, so worth it! You are the second person to validate the real vanilla, I am convinced that is the way to go! Thank you for this comment, it feels good to be in the company of another baker!


  3. Great story!

    I used to love licking the remainders of the mixed batter too as a youngster- even when I had gotten older.

    My mother was a very good baker too so I know the science of the deliciousness than can come out of an oven!

    Liked by 1 person

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