17 and Baking Bad
They call it cooking meth, but really, it’s a lot more like baking.
My dad’s a cook. He’s the kind of person who makes Indian food without a recipe, who can guess every ingredient in a sauce from one taste. The kind of person who opens the fridge, laughs a deep belly laugh, and assures you “there’s a meal in there somewhere.”
He approaches food intuitively, which is why he’s never liked baking—it’s too precise. You can’t throw in a pinch of this, a pinch of that, eyeball a teaspoon of baking powder, and leave it in the oven until it looks done.
Walter White would be an incredible baker.
Baking relies on precision. Four ounces of flour is always four ounces of flour. At the right temperature, butter and sugar become light and fluffy perfection in three minutes. I can make a sheet of cookies and recreate them a year later, at a friend’s house, on the other side of the country.
I love that different ratios of the same basic ingredients—butter, flour, sugar, eggs—result in a million different desserts. I think it’s incredible that a touch of salt makes chocolate sing, but a spoonful ruins ganache. Everything from the humidity of a kitchen to the size of the eggs to the style of whisk makes a difference. Who knew the art of pastry was such an exact science?
For some cooks, the exactitude of baking stifles their creativity. I like it. The chemistry excites me, challenges me. I think it’s sort of cool.
Maybe that’s why I look forward to the meth cook montages on Breaking Bad. Walt and Jesse might be making a questionable product, but I can’t help admiring their process. Plus, the visuals are stunning: glittering aluminum strips rain like confetti, gas bubbles through clear hose, yellow smoke puffs out a vent. Even the finished drug is pretty, big and opaque as blue raspberry rock candy.
Actually, it’s exactly like rock candy—that’s literally what they use for meth on the show.
The first time I saw it, I thought to myself, that’d look neat incorporated into a dessert. I pictured a cake, frosted pure white and topped with lots of sparkly blue crystals, marbled navy and white inside. But it wasn’t until now, as the second half of the last season is about to start, that I went for it.
My boyfriend took the first bite. I could hear the rock candy crunching between his teeth as he slowly nodded, eyes widening. He didn’t say anything, just took another bite, and I knew he was hooked.
The finished cake isn’t as chemically sound as Heisenberg’s Blue Sky. Maybe because I mixed it by hand, the white cake got a few air bubbles, and in the summer heat the cream cheese frosting stayed soft. My marbling didn’t come out perfectly, more blotchy than swirled. But the cake’s still beautiful. It grabs your attention. And above all, it’s definitely addictive.
Consider yourself warned.
I decided to make a mini version, so the recipe is for a 6″ cake. I also opted for cream cheese frosting, in an effort to combat the sweetness of the decorations. But since the rock candy is the real star, you can use any white cake/white frosting combo you’d like.
Breaking Bad Cake
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours‘s Perfect Party Cake
Makes a 3 layer 6″ cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 slightly rounded cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Blue gel or powder food coloring
Blue rock candy, for decorating
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and put a rack in the middle or upper third of the oven. Butter three 6″ pans and line with buttered parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk.
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer on medium speed for a full 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still on medium speed.
Beat in half of the egg-buttermilk mixture, then half of the remaining flour mixture, then the last of the egg-buttermilk mixture, and finally the last of the flour, beating until the batter is smooth. Beat the entire batter on medium high for two minutes until completely smooth and mixed.
Divide the batter in two. Dye one blue, leaving the other white. Dollop alternating colors into the cake pans, then gently swirl a knife through. Tap the pans on a counter to level the batter. Bake 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. When cold, frost with white frosting, and top with blue rock candy.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill a 3 layer 6″ cake
From The Joy of Baking
12 oz cream cheese
7 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Beat the cream cheese, butter, and extract together until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.