The Wayback Machine: Cake. No Lie (Portal II Black Forest Cake)

The Wayback Machine: Cake. No Lie (Portal II Black Forest Cake)

Sparky and his Dad are avid gamers, if late adopters - they just worked their way through Portal. I'd first heard about this video game on one of my very favorite blogs, Epbot (from the creators of Cake Wrecks, another blog so well worth reading that it's a book, too - and one of Sparky's favorites!) To make a long story short, it involves a homicidal computer that bribes you with promises of cake. As you find your way through the game, you find that the cake is a lie...

It's not just any cake. It's THIS cake: apparently it's based on a Black Forest Cake from the Regent Bakery and Cafe in Redmond, WA. Ours is going to be a bit more complicated, with bonus "easter eggs" (that's common-speak gamer, n00bs.) I hope you'll follow me on this slightly-odd baking ride...

To ensure accuracy (since I'm not about to spend twelve hours beating a game just to get a cake recipe,) I emailed the only Portal Cake expert I know: the incredibly gracious Jen from Epbot - to ask if the inside of the cake is ever shown. Jen and her husband John are lovely people who answer weird emails from very odd cake-obsessed fans, and graciously replied that you always see the whole cake, so I could fill it any way I like. Sparky, however, insists that their expert advice is wrong because at the very end of the game, "where GLaDOS is singing," you see a cut cake slice, showing chocolate cake and white filling. Well, as I'm me - I looked it up. Sparky's been learning to code recently and must have developed a supernatural ability to convert alphanumeric characters into flavors. Apparently the hashtag symbol = white filling.

Since Sparky knows where I live, I'm going with his idea. (Sparky: "I do know where you live. And I have Nerf.")

If you play the game long enough, there's a "recipe" for listed the cake. Sparky played it long enough to be able recite this list in the Morality Core's disinterested computerized voice (he points out that you have to sacrifice yourself in the game to listen to the whole thing:)

One 18.25 ounce package chocolate cake mix.One can prepared coconut pecan frosting. Three slash four cup vegetable oil.Four large eggs.One cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.Three slash four cups butter or and two third cups granulated sugar.Two cups all purpose flowerFish shaped crackers.Fish shaped candies.Fish shaped solid waste,Fish shaped dirt.Fish shaped ethyl benzene.Pull and peel licorice..Fish shaped organic compounds and sediment shaped sediment. Candy coated peanut butter pieces, Shaped like fish.One cup lemon juice.Alpha resins.Unsaturated polyester resin.Fiberglass surface resins.And volatile malted milk impoundments.Nine large egg yolks.Twelve medium geosynthetic membranes.One cup granulated sugar.An entry called 'how to kill someone with our bare hands'.Two cups rhubarb, sliced.Two slash three cups granulated rhubarb.One tablespoon all-purpose rhubarb.One teaspoon grated orange rhubarb.Three tablespoons rhubarb, on fire.One large rhubarb.One cross borehole electro-magnetic imaging rhubarb.Two tablespoons rhubarb juice.Adjustable aluminum head positioner.Slaughter electric needle injector.cordless electric needle injector.Injector needle driver.Injector needle gun.Cranial caps.And it contains proven preservatives, deep penetration agents, and gas and odor control chemicals. That will deodorize and preserve putrid tissue.

001OK, so, first-off - I don't care what kind of computer it is, we will NOT be using packaged cake mix and canned frosting! I used a recipe dear to my heart - my grandmother's "famous" chocolate cake, written out as a wedding present for my mother on a now-precious scrap of paper.(Four generations of cake lovers involved in this photo...)

The recipe is fairly easy, although as my grandmother notes, it does make a fairly small single-layer cake. I'm usually worried more about too much cake than too little, so I made the single layer and split and filled it, but if you want a taller cake like the one in the game, double the recipe and put it in two pans. (Sparky asked me to point out that the cake in the game has three layers. We made two.)

Cake ingredients:

2 squares of unsweetened chocolate
¼ lb butter (1 stick)
2 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Prepare an 8" springform cake pan by coating it in butter and then dusting with flour.

003Melt the chocolate and butter together slowly in the microwave and combine until completely smooth and liquid - DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Add 2 egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar to your mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Add the chocolate and whisk well.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk and flour to the chocolate in two alternate batches, mixing until just combined.

006In yet another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach soft peaks, and fold them into the batter with the vanilla. (I am lazy: I whip the egg whites first and set them aside so I can reuse the bowl, but it does lose you some volume. Definitely don't try it on a humid day.) Pour into your prepared cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

(BTW - this mixing bowl is special - it's our second-prize prize for the Serious Eats/Instructables Pi Day Challenge! Yay!)

Our first attempt (at which Sparky did so well, too!) involved a new springform pan with an apparently loose hinge. That particular cake was a lie.


Undaunted, we rescued the crumbs and set them aside for other uses, and started over (fortunately, it's not a complex recipe.) We set the new cake aside for several hours to cool.

Since rhubarb is so prominently featured in the Portal Cake recipe, plus I love it, we worked it into the filling: Sour Cherry-Rhubarb Cream:

Filling ingredients

2 cups pitted sour cherries (we used frozen unsweetened)
1/2 cup rhubarb in large dice (I also used frozen)
1 1/2 cup sugar or more as needed
1 pint of very cold whipping cream
1/4 tsp plain gelatin powder
2 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 dark chocolate bar
(Marscapone Frosting - 1 tub marscapone, 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar)

In a heavy saucepan on medium heat, cook the cherries in the sugar until they release their juices, soften, and the sugar dissolves into a syrup. Add the rhubarb and continue to cook for about a minute. Taste a piece of rhubarb and see if it's tender and sweet enough to eat as-is. Drain, putting the solids in the freezer to cool, and put the liquid back into the pot and boil until reduced by half.

Pour half the cream into your mixing bowl and sprinkle it with the gelatin powder and vanilla sugar. Wait for 5 minutes. Whisk the cream until it reaches the soft-peak stage. Refrigerate.

Now, carefully remove your cake from the pan and slice it in half into two circles using a long, serrated knife (I find that if you turn the cake as you slice, you are more likely to get two even slices.) Wash out your cake pan and dry it carefully. Put the bottom layer back in the cake pan.

026I used the cake crumbs from our destroyed layer to create a "dam" around the outside of the filling in the cake pan, as filling is notoriously difficult to frost. I then sprinkled the cake layer with a bit of the reduced cherry syrup, and coated the layer with the cooled and drained cherry-rhubarb pieces.

The whipped cream was poured on top and spread out to the edges; I used the spatula to remove air pockets and mix in the filling a bit. The top layer was sprinkled with syrup, gingerly put over the whole thing, and the pan was wrapped in aluminum foil and put into the freezer overnight.


Where is Sparky during all this? Well, he was busy making our "easter egg" chocolate shavings: following the "recipe" dictated by the game, using melted chocolate in a ziploc bag with a tiny hole as a pen, he piped a series of chocolate fish, as well as a cross borehole electro-magnetic imaging rhubarb, all kinds of needles and injectors, cranial caps, an adjustable aluminum head positioner, and
027"How to kill someone with your bare hands" which we figured out had to be written backwards (we wrote it in sharpie on a piece of paper and then turned it upside-down under the ziploc bag to trace.) All out of chocolate, to be hidden in plain sight on the cake. Nobody will know but us...

004In the morning, we made Marscapone frosting by whipping together the remaining cream, a tub of marscapone cheese and 1/2 cup  confectioner's sugar. We took out the frozen cake and coated it thoroughly with the frosting, (this is often known as a "crumb coat," but since we're covering it with chocolate sprinkles, we don't need to stop and refrigerate,) reserving about a cup for the piped garnish.

001Sparky shaved a bar of dark chocolate with a vegetable peeler until we had enough chocolate shavings to thoroughly coat the cake and hide our "easter eggs."

005He carefully pressed the chocolate shavings into the sides of the cake, and then sprinkled the remaining shavings on the top - after which we added our chocolate drawings.

012We piped dollops of icing around the top, and put a cherry on top of each one. (Despite Sparky's strenuous objections, I used fresh sweet cherries.)

020We tried something really cool that wound up being a fail: I cut aluminum foil into a circle (square into circle instructions here) and made it into a well, which we pressed into the icing on the top of the cake. This was filled with warm vodka. My intent was to light it with a match so it looks like an exit portal (in theory it should burn blue.) Or, it could set the entire cake...or the room on fire...Sadly, we ran into the opposite problem: chocolate melts at about 86 degrees, and the flashpoint of alcohol is about 75 degrees. I decided that keeping our cake nicely cold and unmelted was more important than flaming a portal...but y'all are free to experiment with this idea. We tried it several times, lighting it several ways (the lighter burned the icing, we found that a lit strand of spaghetti theoretically worked best.) but it only worked once, and briefly.

Plus, the idea of lighting a cake on fire at a firehouse...well, that's pressure I don't need on a delightful sunny day. We live to flame another day! Your moment of cake zen:


(Dad was befuddled and bemused by the whole thing. He's a good sport and that's why we love him.)

Near as I can tell, in Portal, THIS NEVER HAPPENS!  And - mmMMMMmmmm!

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