Cake Autopsy: Butter-Vanilla Cake With Nutella Filling & Vanilla Bean Frosting

I’ve been on a baking spree lately and I’m generally enjoying it, though my cake wrecks seem to be outnumbering my glowing successes. The trouble is the American-English measuring units conversion, which doesn’t always go smoothly, and the oven that I am still getting used to.

I was ambitious about my vanilla-butter cake with Madagascar vanilla bean buttercream, filled with delicious Nutella. It is a rich, tender cake that is an absolutely pleasure to eat. I’ve created it before with good success and was looking forward to replicating that success for my husband. Ha!

I bought some rich French butter for the occasion.


Ironically, this might have been my first mistake.

I also bought some vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and vanilla pods for my creamy buttercream:




I had two types of flour on hand – self-rising flour and plain flour. At the time they went into my shopping cart, I didn’t know what either of these are. As I was in Waitrose trying to figure out what kind to buy, I called my MIL and asked for her insight into what would be closest to cake flour, like the kind we get in the US. She suggested self-rising flour. Since it had a picture of a cake on it, I thought it was about right. The other plain flour was backup in case I changed my mind. I also got some baking powder because even though it was “self-rising”, I thought a teaspoon or so would come in handy.

I lightly whisked my self-rising flour, a bit of baking powder and a pinch of salt in a bowl and set it aside. I then whisked three free-range organic eggs, vanilla extract, and a bit of organic whole-fat milk. Set aside. Then I got my mixer and threw in butter that I’d cut into small bits. I used the internet to convert “1.5 sticks of butter” to 170 grams, which was how this French butter was labled. (Fun fact: they don’t sell sticks of butter in England). I then mixed it with the sugar. It became light and fluffy – just gorgeous really. I then folded in the wet and dry mixtures.

Even as it was in the mixer, I knew something was off. The batter was thick, like cookie batter.


I told my husband it was off. “I sense it is going to come out hard as a brick,” I said. But I was wrong about that. Oh so very wrong.

I filled two 9 inch cake tins with the batter and set them side-by-side in the oven for 14 minutes at 350. One cake cooked and the other was still like jello after that time. I switched their positions. Thus I learned the left side of my oven gets hotter than my right. Go figure. In any case, when they were done, they looked very flat.



The cakes had a sort of a camelized sugar-and-butter crust on top, like a pie. Even so, the consistency inside was the opposite of too hard; it was so tender and soft it couldn’t even hold its form. It fell apart once out of the pan. Since it crumbled, I tasted it. I have no idea how this is even possible but it tasted like really sweet cornbread. And coconuts. My husband and I were doubled over with laughter about the crazy cake that tasted like basically everything in the world. “You’re an alchemist!” he shouted.

I have no idea what went wrong with the cake. I don’t know where the strange tastes came from. I didn’t bother making the frosting.

I think I’ll try cookies for my next baking experiment.

Waiting For The Royal Baby Seems Familiar To Me…


Liveblogging The Royal Birth

Update 4:05pm London Time

This poor lady has been on the news since basically daybreak. Every other word out of her mouth is how hot it is.


She’s been talking to various midwives and random people on the street in a desperate effort to make news. But that dead lady in plastic bags? Not news at all. AT. ALL.



Update3:53pm London Time
Royal Security in front of the Lindo Wing.


Update 3:45pm London Time
Prince Harry is going to be the best uncle ever.

And also:


Update 3:43pm London Time
My predictions for the Royal Baby name:

Alexandra Elizabeth Margaret for a girl.
George Phillip if it’s a boy.

Today’s the day. And I finally have something I’d love to liveblog: the birth of the Royal Sprog. So I woke up this morning at 7am to the news flashing across my phone that the Duchess of Cambridge (hereof referred to as DOC) had been rushed to the hospital to give birth.

I immediately texted my father in law because he is my source for All Things Royal.




True to my word, gentle reader, I have not strayed from the news all day. I’ve been seeing some awesome Twitter roundups too. Like this:

Buzzfeed’s Funniest Royal Baby Tweets So Far.

And this:


You are welcome.

An English Parish Fete

This weekend my husband and I went to a parish fete, which was the most adorably English thing I’ve ever seen in my life. There were cakes to buy (I resisted):

Delicious cakes

Delicious cakes

Delicious cakes

Delicious cakes

And duck races (?!):

Duck races

Duck races

The town mayor was there, looking fly in his red robes and many medallions:

The mayor wears red robes

The mayor wears red robes

Perhaps the highlight was my introduction to Pimm’s, which I am told is gin with lemonade, and poured over small bits of fruit and cucumber. It was delicious. I had two.





There was also some Scottish Highland dancing which was very cute. I’ve never lived in a place that had such cute small-town events, and it’s quite adorable and fun. I entered into a tambola and won nothing but Paul entered and won three times! And my mother in law won a bottle of London Dry Gin.

Last year I was in England during the fete but couldn’t go because it was so cold and rainy. Though I’m glad I experienced the fete this year, I’d absolutely LOVE to go back to that weather. The heat is killing me!

Bad Reviews: When They Just Don’t Get You

Today I saw that I got a two-star review on Barnes & Noble. Bad reviews always make me unhappy, but this one was particularly puzzling:

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 12.59.23 PM

If you can’t see it, it says:

The story starts off great but then you have all the sex scenes
The story starts off great but then you have all the sex scenes written in. I am no prude, but the vulgar terms used don’t enhance the scenes at all. I go for the plot & the romance, not the quickie in the closet w/ four letter words describing the anatomy. Doesn’t anyone write clean romances any more? I may update my rating if I can get back to the storyline without the bleep filter going off in my head. Writer’s take don’t need 4-letter words to sell the book, write a great story!

Isn’t it obvious, by the cover and the blurb text, that it is a sexy book? If that isn’t what you’re looking for, I can understand you skipping it. But to denigrate a book because it is sexy, because that is the market it is aiming for, seems a bit peculiar to me.

I’ve written bad reviews for all kinds of reasons, and certainly this person was well within the bounds of fair play to write an honest, bad review. What I can’t understand is why this book would have appealed to her (I’m assuming it is a woman) in the first place if she disliked sexy words.

My first response is that it was a failure of marketing. But on second thought, you can’t convey EVERYTHING about a book in a cover or the blurb text, so maybe it was a massive success of marketing. As in, the book burst out of the romantic suspense genre and creeped into pure political thriller. That to me is a huge success. The expectations between romantic suspense readers and political thrillers are different, so that could account for the surprise that there was so much sex in At Any Cost.

Also, it has been my experience that more men read political thrillers than women, and men – surprisingly – seem a little put off by graphic language and erotic content in books. If that is the case, it seems a little unfair to dislike a book because that’s not what you expect in your type of book (i.e., it would be unfair of me to expect romantic suspense when I open a Vince Flynn novel.)

This is all just speculation, of course. The reader could be exactly my target romantic suspense reader (and she does say she reads for plot and romance), but just doesn’t care for my use of the word “cock”. If that is the case, I guess it is a matter of taste then.

I welcome all reviews – good and bad – so please don’t think I’m in any way discouraging negative feedback. And I do hope that she gets back into the story. But if she doesn’t, that’s okay too. I know my sex scenes can be a bit graphic. I know some people don’t like them. In fact, someone else on Amazon had the same general complaint, that it was a great book except for all the sex scenes.

I’m not sure how to write romantic suspense without the sex scenes. I’m also not sure I want to.

In any case it is good for me to see these perspectives. I know that my books won’t appeal to everyone, but it can be useful to know why. Therefore, I thank anyone and everyone who has taken the time to write a comment or even just give it a star rating. It means a lot to me and I appreciate it.

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