Adventures in Bundt Baking

Sunday, Daniela and I decided we wanted to make a cake for our Fourth of July dinner later that day. After debating the merits and proper “Americanness” of various cake and frosting combinations, we settled on a bundt cake (because we hadn’t made one before) that would be chocolate with a peanut butter filling. How hard could it be?

(Note: When you’re setting out to try something new in baking, the phrase “how hard could it be?” should usually tip you off that it will, in fact, be much harder than you think. Because “how hard could it be?” doesn’t actually set a limit, you know.)

Since it was Sunday, we were limited to using only the ingredients that were in our house already. We weren’t going to make a special trip to the store for anything. This made some problems for us, since the recipe we found that we really wanted to use was this one in the New York Times. However, that one called for cream cheese for the peanut butter filling, and heavy cream for the glaze, neither of which were in our fridge. So I called an audible and used the chocolate cake recipe from the NYT, and swapped out the peanut butter filling for this one (that I didn’t want to use the chocolate cake recipe for, since it was just a box cake, and who needs that?)

We got to work on baking. Everything went off without a hitch. It was complicated, sure, but nothing the two of us couldn’t handle. It came time to fill the bundt pan, and we hit a slight snag: we had too much cake batter. So much, that it filled the pan right to the top. I knew from experience that cakes typically rise, so for a moment, I was concerned this was too much batter.

“Maybe it just doesn’t rise that much,” Daniela pointed out. That seemed like a good enough answer for me. Into the oven it went!

An hour later, and the cake had not, in fact, flowed all over the oven. It had risen a little, but mostly it had puffed up in a ring around the middle. We took it out and tested it with a toothpick. The recipe called for baking at least an hour, so I was skeptical that it would have been done already. However, no matter how many times we put the toothpick in, it always came out clean.

“I guess we should just dump it out and see what happens,” I said. Daniela concurred. (Note: “Dump it out and see what happens” might not be the best approach for baking, but we’d been baking for a while by then. We were tired.)

We got out a cooling rack, I paused for a moment, and then turned the bundt pan over in one fell swoop.

Reader, the top two or three inches of that cake (the bottom of it, once it was turned out) was done to perfection. The peanut butter filling was great. But the part that was beneath the peanut butter filling? That was still molten cake batter. It oozed right through the cooling rack and spread out in a puddle all over the counter.

If I had been left to my own devices, I think I would have given up then. The beautiful bundt cake we’d worked so hard on was more of an amorphous cake-like mass. There was no way it was getting back in the oven in anything remotely bundt shaped. Denisa, quick thinker that she is, sprang into action. “Just put it back in a regular cake pan and finish baking it,” she said. “It’s still hot.”

That seemed like a ridiculous idea. Keep baking it? How do you bake what’s rapidly turning into a raw pancake with some chocolate and peanut butter cake heaped in the middle of it? But it was better than my idea of just giving up, so we let Denisa give it a try. We scooped up pieces of the cake, stuck them in a new pan, and then she used a spoon to get as much of the batter in as she could.

Back in the oven it went.

Twenty minutes later or so, the cake was finished. It looked about how you’d expect it would. Spots of it still had ridges from the bundt pan, and other parts looked like someone had just sort of thrown cake batter around and hoped for the best. In short, it looked like a disaster.

The taste, however . . . The taste was just right. Chocolate and peanut buttery goodness we’ve been enjoying since. When it’s dark and you’re watching a movie, it’s not like you need to look at your cake to enjoy it, you know?

In hindsight, we should have filled the pan only two thirds of the way, and cooked the rest of the batter in cupcake form. We think there was just too much batter for the heat to really get everywhere it needed to. But despite how big of a pain it all was, I think Daniela and I might give it another go at some point.

It really is a good tasting cake . . .

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