Saturday, June 14, 2008

the cafe latte challenge.

Anyone who lives in the Twin Cities and loves dessert has probably been to Cafe Latte, or has at the very least heard of it. One time I went there with a boy, who wanted something sweet after dinner. We got a piece of cake (though not the famous turtle cake, I don't actually remember which kind) and ate it. I asked him what he thought, and he said it was alright, but certainly not worth $5. (Which I believe I paid, by the way.) I defended the cake in question, stating that Cafe Latte probably uses high quality ingredients, which aren't cheap, and then there's the whole cost of labor in making the cake. And sure, $4-5 seems a lot to pay for flour, sugar, and eggs mixed together, but you're not only paying for the cake - you are paying for the experience of going out to eat cake among the people! Cake you didn't have to make yourself!

[Aside: When recounting the story to a friend, she agreed with my view completely, saying that the price is totally worth it cause their desserts are just that good. Also, if you want yummy dessert for cheap, look for the smaller pieces with a toothpick in them - they're half off because they don't look as pretty. But they still taste delicious!]

Fast forward to Friday. My sister and I are hosting a retirement party for our parents, and there was the question of dessert. My sister suggested I pick up a cake from Cafe Latte, but also noted that the recipe for turtle cake is on their website. That recipe was like a challenge, egging me on. Sure, some of the ingredients would be expensive, but so would the cake. And the truth is I like baking, and I don't normally have a reason to make fancy three layer cakes. Also, it was a Friday night and I had nothing better to do except watch depressing holocaust films. (Because I'm just that cool.) So the challenge was on.

I headed to Kowalski's for the finest of ingredients. (More on the cost of ingredients later.) I came back home and started mixing, then put the batter into cake pans that I've had for over two years and have never used. It wasn't until the pans were in the oven when I realized I had possibly made a huge mistake - what if they turn into something that is not cake like at all? Was I completely overconfident in my baking prowess? After all, this could turn into a major disaster and then I'd be out all the money for the ingredients AND I'd have to buy a replacement cake.

But it turned out I was freaking out over nothing, as they baked into something that did indeed look like delicious cake.

cakes and pecans

So phew, disaster averted. Until I remembered that I had to get the cake out of those pans in one piece. Shit. I had a little more trouble with this part.

eep! perfect!

Only one came out perfectly (don't ask me how). One was missing a small portion from the middle, which could be easily covered with frosting, but the other was missing a large chunk from the side. Crap!

Sheesh, this is getting obscenely long. After the cake cooled I started the frosting process, using delicious chocolate goo to cover up any mistakes.

layer one

There was three layers of this, and in the end it looked pretty good, if not a bit lopsided. Leaning cake of Pisa, or something. BEHOLD.


So there it is, ready for tonight's party. Taste reviews will have to come later. Now let's talk about cost, so the hidden math dork in me can calculate this.

1 Egg - bought in bulk from the co-op = $0.25
2/3 cup vegetable oil - Oil is like...a buck? And I still have a lot left. We'll say $0.25.
1 cup buttermilk - 4 cups is $1.79, so 1 cup = $0.45.
2 cups flour - Google tells me there are about 20 cups in a 5 pound sack, which I believe cost $2.50 (rising food prices, man.) 2.50 / 10 = $0.25.
1 3/4 cup sugar - Aw, who cares. We'll just say a quarter for that too.
1/2 cup good quality cocoa - I don't remember how much this was when I bought it, but I used about 1/4 of the guess is $1.00.
Salt and baking soda - What, like 4 cents? Not computed.
1 cup hot coffee - Crap, I have no idea and patience to figure this one. Um, $0.30.

1/2 cup milk - 1 gallon = $4.49 (food prices! geeze!) = 16 cups -> 4.49 / 32 = $0.15.
1 cup sugar - Again, who cares. A quarter.
6 tbsp. butter - I feel like 1 pound of land o'lakes butter is around $3. This is very shaky math territory. 1 pound = 32 tablespoons -> that's about 10 cents per tablespoon x 6 = $0.60.
2 cups high quality semi-sweet chocolate chips - Ghiradelli bag = $3.59
3/4 cup caramel - I just used Smucker's stuff. = $2.15
1 1/2 cups pecan halves = $4.89

Don't worry, I'll do the math for you. The cake only costs about $2.50 to make. The frosting and toppings are $11.63. Yikes. That's a grand total of $14.13. I think a full sized cake from Cafe Latte is about $35. So I saved about $20, not including labor costs.

But are we really talking about cost here? Not really. We're talking about the fact that if I walked in with a cake that I bought, although impressive and delicious, it is still a cake I bought and does not carry much pride. But this one I made? It is also impressive and (hopefully) delicious, and the bottom line is I MADE IT. And labor costs? This was a labor of love, indeed.

Anyway, more to come later. I have to go cut millions of vegetables now.


tim j said...

the cake looks awesome! i am definitely going to try that recipe.

a tip on getting cakes to pop out -- if you are going to do more baking in pans it's worth it to get the Baker's Magic or Baker's Secret pan spray -- it has flour injected into the spray. You could grease the pan w/butter and then dust it w/flour, but floured pan spray takes the guess work out.

Alternatively, you can use parchment paper cut into circles the same size as the pans, spray the pan and then lay the paper down and then a light spray again. This will prevent any sticking and as long as you run a spatula around the outside edge, it should allow you to get your cake right out.

and...was it delicious?

e said...

Oh, I need to update again!

Also, I think I would get parchment paper. I thought of seeing if they had it but I was having trouble finding so many other things I didn't want to bother them.