For some, Friday nights are date nights. For me, Friday nights are cake nights—at least every now and then when a “This Cake’s for You!” cake has to be up and at ‘em early Saturday morning. That was the situation last Friday night as I whipped up (drum roll, please) the very first “This Cake’s for You!” stranger cake, which was at the same time the very first “This Cake’s for You!” group cake. Double whoop—and let’s hear it for the recipients, the awesome data-loving geniuses of the Twin Cities (Data) Visualization Group.
I’m not going to embarrass myself trying to describe with much precision what the TC(D)VG geniuses do, but it involves using emerging and mind-bending technologies to extract mountains (or molehills) of complex data and then representing it beautifully in ways that convey meaningful stories to ordinary folks. Like this, and this, and this. So these people are smart, and investigative, and tenacious. Some can code, some can swim, some can spin gorgeousness out of D3, and some can whistle. Certainly some can eat cake. And they do us a great service: they help us see—amidst apparent chaos and certain clutter—what matters now, and what may matter if we plod along as we’ve been plodding.
Clearly, I am not one of these gifted few. But Carla is, and her Saturday plans included spending the entire day at the group’s first hackathon, a date that amounted to lots of TC(D)VG smartypants huddled together in a computer lab in the bowels of a University of Minnesota building, finding numbers, crunching them, and using programs to do very cool stuff with them. Of course, they’d need cake—or so Carla suggested. And she was very right.
I wanted to make them something comforting and playful but not over the top, the kind of cake you’d have loved as a kid because it was a surprising kind of cake; not surprising as in weird (like with vegetables or Brazil nuts—you’d never have liked that) but surprising as in absolutely and deliciously plain (like a silver white cake with chocolate frosting), with a little extra
love prize to boot. For my data geniuses, I picked the cutest-ever tiny mini-chocolate chips as the extra love prize. Since I didn’t know anyone who’d be eating the cake, I figured that the basics plus a little wowza would be a safe but yummy bet.
So I followed Betty Crocker’s classic silver white cake recipe and tossed in those bits of chocolate charm when the time came. All in all, it was a simple cake to make, although once I slid in the egg whites, the batter “curdled” (as had the frosting in cake #7, the “So Berry Chic” cake), a phenomenon that is not at all deadly either to the cake or to the cake eaters and that was due, according to my immediate research, either to my having added the egg whites too quickly (as in one great slimy plop, which I had done), or to my having failed to bring the milk to room temperature (something else I had surely done). The wise bakers of the Interwebs assured me that the batter would bake up fine, however, despite its unattractive appearance. And it did. Needless to say I breathed a great sigh of relief as I melted some chocolate, mixed it with butter, almond extract, and confectioner’s sugar, frosted up the double layers, and left the sticky bowls in the sink for the morning.
Carla sped off with the cake early Saturday and, according to reports, the cake was on its way to disappearing by 11 am. So fun. By 2:30 it was nearly gone, as you can see:
Best of all, Carla said that, with its white crumb and chocolate chips, a slice looked just like a scatter plot. Right on.
A few lessons from cake #18:
- Sometimes you think you know why something (like curdling) happens, and just when you’re sure that you’re sure, it happens again, so you rethink things and consult the glorious Interwebs and trust that someone else knows more than you; this is called wisdom.
- Make baking a chocolate chip cake even more fun by measuring out the chips into a plastic heart-shaped Powerpuff Girls dish first before sprinkling them (the chips, that is) into the batter.
- Spending a Friday night making a gift for a whole group of strangers can be one of the best dates ever.