This cake nearly broke my heart.
I made it for dessert for my family's Chinese New Year's dinner. What have I been doing since then? Recuperating from this travesty that I foisted upon my unwitting dinner companions. In her super lovely memoir My Life in France (the cover art is a total gem), Julia Child writes that one should never apologize for serving less than ideal food to dinner guests, and I, a generally profuse apologizer, somehow managed to observe this teaching. My intention was to make a delicious layered cake with classic Chinese dessert flavors, in this case a peanut butter cake with black sesame frosting. In the past I successfully made shortbread sandwiches with the same flavor combination, so I knew taste-wise everything would be great. I was so excited about making this cake. I figured this cake would be "the best." Wrong.
What Went Wrong, In My Own Words
The two major flaws of this cake are: 1) an appearance indicating that the person who made it is perhaps not of completely sound mind, and 2) a terrible cake recipe.
I admittedly went a little nuts and put WAY too much ground black sesame in the cream cheese frosting, focusing on taste and completely forgetting about aesthetics. The frosting was pretty tasty, but visually unappetizing. I should have known I was on the wrong track when my usually doting father walked by me mixing the frosting and very matter-of-factly stated that the frosting looked like mud.
The peanut butter cake recipe was no good, no good at all. I am generally pretty careful when it comes to baking measurements, especially so when I am baking for others, so I know when the fault lies with me and when it lies with the recipe. The cake was DRY, which really should not have been as great a surprise as it was because the batter was THICK. Abnormally thick for cake batter. But because it was a recipe from a baker I trusted, I forged on without making any adjustments.
What Went Wrong, In the Words of Others
"No." -- My usually doting father's response to my offer of a second slice of cake.
"It's all dry in my mouth!" -- My sister's beau's response to my offer of a second slice of cake. There was also vigorous head shaking.
"Do you want honest feedback?" -- My sister. Apparently the above exasperated exclamation put everyone at ease with expressing their true feelings for the cake.
Roark made the observation that, pre-sprinkles and strawberries, the cake looked sad and grey, "like World War II Poland." Hence, "Warsaw Cake." It did look like a sad block of cement. Maybe even like a pristine piece of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps in the interest of self-preservation, Roark still accepted my offer of a second slice of cake.
"Don't worry" -- My sweet mom.
1. When baking, if your batter looks off, it probably will result in a less than ideal end product. Trust your instinct (even if you think the cookbook / magazine / blog / website you're working from should know better) and tinker with the recipe to mitigate as much damage as possible. I should have added more buttermilk and/or maybe thrown in another egg.
2. On a related note, I officially, 100%, without a single doubt now prefer cooking blogs over cookbooks. The comment sections of recipe blogs are probably the only productive comment sections on the internet, full of what adjustments other people like yourself made and supremely helpful notes on what did and did not work.
3. The next time I make a peanut butter cake with black sesame frosting (and I will!), I will use much less ground black sesame so that the frosting stays more or less white and is just flecked with black sesame bits.
4. There are some things that not even rainbow sprinkles can save.