Ten steps to making a fantastic birthday cake for your boss

Chocolate beetroot fudge cake by Simon and Melissa - photo used by permission from bakingmakesthingsbetter.com

I am lucky enough to be related to a very fine baker. My son Simon baked this wonderful chocolate beetroot fudge cake devised by his beautiful fiancé Melissa. Doesn’t it look fantastic? So fantastic, in fact, that I thought something like this would befit the occasion of my boss’s birthday. Now I’m not going to lie, I thought walking in with such a delicious concoction would be a chance to shine; for people to admire my baking skills; skills I have honed over decades. Yes, I’ve baked a few things in my time. I’ve also watched hours of baking shows, ridiculing baking competitions, aghast at the contestant’s baking choices and mocking their failures. I believed I’ve got a really good chance of impressing the pants, not only off my boss, but my off all workmates.

I decided to unleash my baking prowess for everyone to marvel at my experience and expertise by baking a similar, but somewhat more spectacular recipe from Melissa’s website: Little and Friday’s wonderful Chocolate, Beetroot and Salted Caramel Cake.

This cake too some time to make. It had several components: a three tiered cake, sandwiched with salted caramel, and lashed with thick, rich, chocolate ganache. While I was baking, it occurred to me that there are very important lessons to be learned from all stages of the cake baking process. Things that I wished I’d learned when I was a less experienced baker. So, taking my experience of baking my boss’s birthday cake into account I give to you: ten important steps to making a fantastic birthday cake for your boss:

  1. Preheat your oven - sometimes getting your oven to the right temperature for your cake can take a while, so make sure you allow enough time for this important step. Don’t think you are smarter than the recipe or your oven and turn your oven on full whack/fan bake to speed up the preheating. Just turn it to the correct temperature and use your patience. Your oven should indicate the correct temperature has been reached - my oven’s red light goes off so I know we’re good to go.
  2. Use the tin the recipe calls for - people who write cake recipes know what they’re doing. They also know that different shaped and sized tins mean different temperatures and times needed to bake that particular cake. If the recipe calls for three 20cm baking tins, deciding to use one 20cm spring form pan with a plan to cut the cake into three later, might not end up being the best idea you’ve had all day.
  3. Leave the oven on - when you pop your cake into the oven, it’s very important not to turn your oven off when you think you’re just turning off your fan bake. It would be a terrible thing to discover after the timer indicates your cake batter has been in an ever decreasing temperature when it ought to have been busy baking. The cake will bake unevenly if you suddenly turn the oven back on and hope everything turns out okay. Because hope is a terrible, terrible thing.
  4. Cool the cake completely - this can take longer than you think if you think an hour is enough. The cake doesn’t even know its a cake until its at room temperature. Until then, it’s pretty much an unformed thing: quite unpredictable and prone to crumbling and tearing. Just saying.
  5. Careful cutting - actually it doesn’t really matter how careful you are when you slice a cake into layers if your cake is still hot you’re going to end up with an uneven slice and a very crumbled texture because, remember, your cake doesn’t know it’s a cake if it’s still warm from the oven. 
  6. Let heated icing or caramel cool and thicken before using - pouring very warm salted caramel mixture onto a warm cake that doesn’t even know its cake yet won’t yield the results you might expect; especially if you thought that the caramel would soak into the layers of cake forming a gooey, chocolately fudginess - you are sadly mistaken. Seems that a warm cake plain refuses to soak any liquid. The the liquid does what liquid foes best and travels to the lowest point of the surface to either puddle or make its escape down the side of the layer.
  7. Cream is a fat, and therefore, slippery - even when whipped it can be rendered quite slippery if smoothed onto a warm surface. It will act less like the planned glue between the out of control layers of your overly warm cake and more like a lubricant.
  8. Ganache won’t save the day - as forgiving as ganache can be, it’s not a cosmetic surgeon and if you’ve been following along, you might imagine some cakes might be needing one of those about this time.
  9. Gravity is a bitch - if you have warm cake layers, soaked from unset, salted caramel and slathered in creamy lubricant - suddenly all those stories of Sir Issac Newton and the apple from way back in science class make so much more sense. The tectonic nature of a layer cake is as subject to gravity as the rest of us.


Little and Friday’s Chocolate, Beetroot and Salted Caramel Cake for the boss: Nailed it. 

10. Have a backup plan - be prepared to abandon all hope. Stop at the supermarket on the way to work and buy a cake.

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Time doesn’t heal all wounds