Cooking fails: Pavlova and Strawberry cake

Cake baking should be a science…..or at least part of a science, chemistry I think.

In my cake baking endeavours I have found that recipes often emphasize the need for accurate measuring of ingredients, specific oven temperature and baking times and specific ingredients. Unlike cooking where you can play fast and loose with timing or ingredients (as long as nothing burns and it tastes good) you cannot do the same with baking. A slight change in one thing can destroy the food completely. For example, I was watching Masterchef this past weekend and they had to make a molten lava cake which is cake science at it’s best! You have to bake the cake long enough for the outside to bake but for the inside to remain a liquid. I don’t think I’m ready for that mission yet!

My baking fails today are two baking missions I tried to accomplish this weekend. The first was the Pavlova and the second was a strawberry cake from scratch. I did mention that I would blog my failures and successes because well, I’m human and my food does not always turn out right.

I was seduced into making a Pavlova (an Australian desert) by a friend on Facebook who put up a picture of one she’d made. It looked marvelous! I couldn’t resist. All preparations went well and making a Pavlova requires minimal physical action really. I followed the Easy Pavlova recipe from All recipes down to the last full stop but I didn’t get the outcome I was aiming for. However that is my fault I’m sure and not the recipe. Below is what my Pavlova  looked like just before baking…

Just before baking….

Looks decent right? Glossy and soft peaks and what not. But for whatever reason instead of looking like this when it was done…

It looked like this…

Baked Pavlova..

Now I don’t mind the cracking so much, that was expected. However the brown color confused me. I strictly followed the timing and temperature instructions so I don’t understand why it came out that color. Taste wise I thought the center was too mushy although I am using my own discretion here since I have never actually tasted a professionally made Pavlova. I expected a soft marshmallow like texture on the inside but it was more like squishy marshmallow. So the outside was overcooked but the inside under cooked I suppose. Maybe I should reduce the heat next time. However it didn’t fall flat so that’s one thing I got right.

So because I hate failure I will keep attempting this desert until it’s perfect. I will read every one of the 160 reviews on All recipes then give it another try. My friends and I did nibble at this Pavlova though but once the sweetness got the better of us I threw it away. (I didn’t bother adding the heavy cream topping and fruit)

Failure number two was a strawberry cake that I made this past weekend. I came across a from scratch recipe for strawberry cake (does not contain jello) on Jason and and it makes a great tasting strawberry cake! However it was not moist at all.

I love the flavour so much that I want to find ways of editing it till it comes out exactly how I want it. At the moment is has to be eaten with a liquid or topping of some sort. I don’t fuss with icing and the like much so I like cakes that can be eaten with no topping.

The lack of moistness is my main issue though. So I went online searching for ways of making cakes more moist. And here is what I have found…

  • The fat (butter/oil) and sugar are what makes a cake moist. Flour and eggs are for structure.
  • Proportions are important in baking. Too much egg/flour=hard cake, too much fat/sugar=too sweet and weaker structure.
  • You can increase the moisture in a cake by adding a little more oil e.g. instead of 1/4 cup use 1/3 cup.
  • You can replace butter with oil
  • The thicker the oil the better eg Canola oil is better than vegetable oil (but do not use olive oil unless specified)
  • Some people suggest adding sour cream or cream instead of or in addition to milk.
  • Take out the cake as soon as it is ready because even though you switch off the oven, it’s still hot and will make cake dry.

I have found that generally oil cakes are better in terms of moisture. I no longer like baking with butter. It also lets me skip the tedious ‘beat until creamy’ step that most butter cakes demand.

So next time I have strawberries sitting around, I shall give the strawberry cake from scratch another try as well. And I thought I was done with chemistry.

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