12 May 2014

No.40: Make a cake from scratch for somebody's birthday

No. 40:  Make a cake from scratch. 
Bonus points for doing it at high altitude!!


Last week my friend Liddy called and said she was headed to Colorado for the week. She has a house a couple of hours away from mine and she, a friend and a sister-in-law were coming up.
I was invited over to visit. Yay!

Turns out, Liddy's ummm...28th...29th?...birthday was coming up so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to knock out No. 40: Make a cake from scratch for someone's birthday.

Then I realized I would have to be doing a high altitude cake. We are about 7700 feet above sea level here in the little cabin in the woods. 

Google to the rescue.

I found this Website:  THK:Not Quite the Handy Kitchen.
Which had this cake recipe and even better- the reasons WHY changes are made to high altitude baking:  The Perfect Altitude Cake
I wish this guy was still posting. His name is Trevor and I get the feeling maybe he was/is with an aide/missionary group. I may be totally wrong. But I loved reading his blog.  Living in Peru and then Ecuador and cooking at high altitudes in primitive kitchens.
My kind of Heaven- making do in a foreign place.

So here we go.

The original is a Dark Chocolate Cake recipe from AllRecipes that he tweaked.

His ingredient list with notes:

My crowded counter with ingredients...
and toaster.



  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour PLUS 2 tbsp
    Note: Don’t measure the flour exactly.  The goal is to measure out more than needed.  Spoon the flour out into the cup and instead of scrapping off the excess flour that piles on top of the measuring cup, just pour it in.  Then, add two tbsp more of flour.  This gives the mixture more structure.  
  • 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    Note: When you are baking at high altitude, leavening products become a huge challenge.  The idea is for each tsp of leavening called for reduce to a 1/4 tsp.  So, 2 tsp was the original amount so we reduce it to 1/2 tsp.
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    Note: Again, more leavening.  Since there was so much, I cut this in half from the original amount which was 1/2 tsp.  
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, melted
    Note: Usually you would cream the butter and sugar together.  Instead, you are going to melt the butter and mix the sugar with it.  I’ll explain that later.    
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar MINUS 1-2 tbsp
    Note: Baking at high altitude, sugar also affects the outcome of a product.  It’s necessary to take out a certain quantity of sugar.  I left out about 1-2 tbsp of sugar.  
  • 5-6 eggs
    Note:  The original recipe called for 4 eggs.  You will want to add more, this also contributes to the amount of liquid in the mixture and the out-coming structure.  The eggs we get in Peru are various in size, some are extremely small, so I used 6 eggs in my mixture.  If you have all pretty well sized eggs just use 5.     
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


  • and then his explanations and how tos...

    Note: explanations and more in-depth directions are all in italics.
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).  When baking at higher altitude, it’s necessary to increase the temperature of the oven.  It’s usually the basic rule of thumb to increase the temperature by 25 degrees.  You need the liquid in the batter to evaporate quicker so the overall structure will set before it can rise too much and then break and fall.  

    Grease 3 – 9 inch round cake pans or one 9×13″ pan.  
    In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Set aside and let cool.
    Looks yummy- but it isn't. Yet.
    Needs a LOT of sugar!
    In another bowl sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

    Basic note for baking at high altitude.  Mixing and beating the batter by hand will give you more control over how much air is incorporated into the mixture.  I will explain as we go along why the amount of air in a batter is so important.  

    All seems nice and normal until this point.  Here I did something that I thought was going to ruin my cake.  I melted my butter over low heat on the stove and added the sugar to this, whisking until well incorporated.  Now, the first reason I did this was because the Handicap Kitchen mixer caught on fire and is out of commission. 
     The second reason is my theory for why this is necessary.  When you cream your sugar and butter together you are essentially creating pockets of air in your fatty product (butter).  Butter is not the only thing that does this in a cake batter, eggs also do this.  But, while a cake is baking at high altitude it’s important to not have TOO many air bubbles.  The leavening products react with the air pockets and cause them to grow.  This is their job!  But, at high altitudes this process happens a lot quicker and if there are a lot of air pockets and a lot of leavening product in your cake batter it will break and fall.  You will cry.  So, the challenge is to beat air into the batter in moderation with a reduction of leavening.  Make sense?  So, by melting the butter, I basically removed one more constituent of the danger of getting too many air pockets.  

    Melting the butter and sugar instead of creaming it.
    Novel concept.

    Once you’ve mixed your sugar and butter together beat in the eggs.  It’s important to not beat the eggs in all at once.  However, you do want to be careful of beating the mixture too much.  I beat in two eggs at a time twice and then the rest of the times one egg at a time.  Does that make sense?  If you beat the eggs too much you will have to problem of too many air pockets.  You need to beat in the eggs just until they are mixed into the batter.  This should be approximately beating ten times for each (or pair) of eggs.  

    Add in the eggs.
    Then stir in vanilla.

    Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture.  It’s important at this point that you stir instead of beat.  If you beat you may add too many air pockets.  Work carefully, folding the flour into the batter and mixing in the cocoa mixture.  

    So far, so good.

    Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans or into the 9×13″ pan.
    Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.  I find that at high altitudes it takes a bit longer to bake cakes all the way through.  You may need more like 30-45 minutes.  

    The world's most uninspired cake pic.
    And yes, I needed 35 minutes.
    I iced this baby with Betty Crocker's Buttercream Frosting.
    And threw on some store-bought candy lettering:

    I went with 29. Seems like that was a good age.

    And how did it turn out?
    It didn't fall.  
    I thought it was a tiny bit dry but then again, the buzzer went off and I didn't hear it, so the cake may have been baking along for a couple extra minutes.
    The flavor was great. Chocolate-y and not too sweet. 

     Candles to make it look less pitiful.



    Lisa, Liddy and Kristin
    Slightly blurred because.....

    this is how we started the cake ceremony:

    A Magnum of Dom Perignon.
    Triple yum. 
    If you're going to drink champagne, might as well make it
    good champagne.

    Happy, happy birthday Liddy!

    No. 40 is done and has been consumed!









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