Let me begin by saying that baking in Honduras is a little bit different than baking in the States. And….when I try to be adventurous I tend to take a few shortcuts or “improvisions”.
I have cooked here previously but always in the kitchen at the school and it was always more cooking than baking. All of my previous dishes included fruits or vegetables or easy desserts using pre-made mixes. However, after discussing the use of flour in cooking with the couple I live with (Perla & Marlon), I volunteered to make a cake for Perla’s birthday.
I thought nothing of it, as in “This would be easy, I’ve baked many many cakes before.” I found a recipe online for a devil’s food cake (one I had never used before, improvisation #1) and wrote my list for the store. Oh and one quick note, this recipe used the measurement form of ounces and my utensils of measurement were in both milliliters and cups.
Very confident in my measurement converting skills, I made my way to the grocery store. I need to find sour cream, brown sugar, caramel syrup, toffee, sweetened condensed milk, and cocoa. I found the milk and caramel first, then picked up a bag of sour cream (everything comes in bags here: water, milk, sour cream, baking soda, spices….everything). It read “1/2 libra,” or pound. Doing a quick calculation in my head, I decided one bag was enough. Next, I found Hershey’s cocoa but wanted to use cocoa made in Honduras (and it was cheaper). It was 250 grams; another quick calculation and I added it to my basket.
Now off to find the brown sugar. I found a 10 pound bag of brown sugar, but only needed approximately a cup. A nice lady working in the flour isle showed me where the Honduran brown sugar was. I found a small bag, that looked a little strange but it said Azucar (and some other words I decided weren’t super important, improvisation #2) and was brown, so I decided it would work. I couldn’t find toffee so I decided I could crush up butter cream candies and that would have to do the trick.
At home, I skimmed the recipe again. I needed 4 ounces of cocoa so I poured ALL the cocoa into a bowl and added the hot water. As I mixed it up, I thought, “Wow, this is a lot of cocoa just for the batter of a 9×13 cake.” I reread the package. 250 grams. Then I actually calculated how many grams are in one ounce. 28.3. I had made more than double the needed cocoa mix. Oh well. I can just use half.
Then I began mixing the dry ingredients. Again, the recipe was in ounces and I only have cups, well one half cup to be exact. Knowing that there are 8 ounces in one cup, I guesstimated using my little tin 1/2 cup. 10 1/2 ounces is about one cup and a half, so that’s 3 of these half cups, yes that’s about right. I’ll add a little more because that last one wasn’t completely full, and a little bit more because we are at a higher elevation. Hmm yes, that looks about right.
Next, I poured the oil into my third bowl, then added the cream. I needed 4 1/2 ounces of sour cream. For some reason, I thought that a pound had 8 ounces (instead of 16 ounces), so of course my 1/2 pound of sour cream was the perfect amount for the recipe. However, this was not the case. It was twice the amount I needed.
At this point, I already had doubled the cocoa mix and the the oil mix so why not double the whole thing? A little bit more flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt. And did I measure? Not completely (improvision #3); I just added stuff until I thought it was the right consistency.
I poured half the mix into the cake pan and tasted a little bit of it. Bleh!! It was terrible! It was gritty and not sweet at all. I looked, and actually read all of the words on the brown sugar bag: Azucares Panela Granulada. It wasn’t even brown sugar, and it is supposed to be used for bread. Definitely not cake sugar. I added some white sugar to the mix to try and improve it, even if just in the least (improvision #4). I couldn’t really do anything else, so I decided to bake it and see if maybe, just maybe it would turn out.
Also, another quick note, we don’t use the oven at the house where I live. They have a plug-in conventional/toaster over to use for baking. This was my first time using this kind of thing.
I prayed and put the pan in the oven for 30 min, but at 350 instead of 325 because of the high altitude. But, after 30 min, it still wasn’t done. 20 minutes later, I decided that the middle would not fall upon removing and thus it was done. I tried a little piece. Ugh, still a little bit gritty, but the flavor isn’t terrible. Plus, I’m going to pour sweetened condensed milk and caramel over it. It should be okay…hopefully.
I top it with chantiyi, a powder you can mix with water or milk to make whipped cream, caramel and crushed butter cream candies before putting it in the fridge to cool.
The other half of the mix went into a plastic container to be stored until I could bake a second cake, but ONLY if the first one turned out okay. However, when Marlon was re-arranging things in the fridge, it fell and half of it spilled all over the fridge and flour. My first thought was, Thank you Lord! I don’t want to bake a second bad cake.
Later that evening, I waited anxiously as Perla tried the cake. I repeated over and over again, “Tengo miedo porque no se si este está bien (I am scared/worried because I don’t know if this is going to be good).” When she bit into it, she turned to me and said, “No no, está bien. Bien rico! (No, no it’s good, very rich/good).” I was relieved.
I’m glad she liked it, because when I tried it, it was still kind of terrible in my opinion. And so, after my first cake baking experience in Honduras, I learned my lesson, well a lot of lessons actually:
Know your measurements!
Know your ingredients!
Don’t take short-cuts, especially on a new recipe!
But like many things, just roll with it!
And, be willing to laugh at yourself!