Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tale of the cursed cake

I have to confess that when I read about this month’s challenge, I wasn’t super excited. My husband is not a cake person at all and, I have to admit, there are MANY things I enjoy more than plain, white, spongy cake. I would always choose dense and rich over light and fluffy. Also, work on my dissertation has really increased all of a sudden (or at least it has to if I’m going to graduate in the near future) and my husband was going to be in Japan for 10 days, so I nearly sat this one out. With nobody to eat the cake and too busy for a party, it seemed like a waste of ingredients. Nonetheless, I spotted a jar of Blenheim apricot jam (from the Hi-Rise bakery in Cambridge, MA… mmm!) and needed an excuse to buy it. I decided to be Daring and bake a cake just because. I had the ingredients on hand anyway (including my brand new beautiful jam!) so, on a break from writing on a Saturday afternoon, I got started on my Lemon-Apricot Perfect Party Cake.

I think my original bad attitude cursed this cake from the start… When I went to print the recipe, I realized that my printer was almost out of ink so the print-out was nearly illegible, requiring me to hand write all the parts that had printed as totally blank. I set out to mix the dry and then the wet ingredients (no issues there, except I used a carton of 100% egg whites, which looked way more liquid and watery than regular egg whites, which kind of freaked me out). I went on to mix the lemon and sugar, only to realize that I didn’t have enough sugar. Off I went to the corner store for sugar. I continued to mix the zest and sugar, and then the butter, and then started adding the other ingredients when, all of a sudden, my mixer goes crazy! It starts going faster and faster, splattering the mixture everywhere, and then shuts off. I briefly freak out, then unplug the mixer, then plug it back in and try again. I put it on the lowest possible setting and the same thing happens: slow, then faster and faster and then off! By this point, I had gone too far to quit, so I finished making the cake by repeatedly turning the mixer on and quickly off to minimize splattering. I poured the batter (which looked fine and tasted amazing) into the pans and put them in the oven. I used a similar on-off procedure to make the buttercream, although I had to make a screen with plastic wrap to shield me from the flying butter. I unfortunately don’t have pictures of this because my husband took both of our cameras on his trip!

By some sort of miracle, the buttercream actually came together eventually, despite the jerky on-off beating. I went to check on the cakes, and they had risen fine (unlike some of the issues other DBers had) but they baked on a slant! My apartment, you see, is in a house that is settling and therefore is not level. This, however, had never happened to me before. I can’t quite explain how a liquid batter ended up rising only on one side! I took the layers out of the oven and tried to put them on the cooling rack, only to notice that the pans were too close to a bag of sliced bread, which melted onto the hot pans! I tried to move them and burnt my wrist. You can see why I think my cake is cursed!

By this point, I was frankly too tired and annoyed to care much about decorating the cake. I let the layers cool, and cut them in half as best I could (pretending that they are not slanted). In the back of my mind, I remembered all the “Ace of Cakes” episodes and Epicurious clips on how to level cakes and cut the sides to make them smooth, how to crumb-coat and then frost a cake, etc. but totally disregarded all that knowledge and just slapped the buttercream on the cake, trying to make it look faintly cake-like (round with straight sides). I also decided to put some dried apricots in between the layers with the (delicious, makes-it-all-worth-it) apricot jam. The end result was, to tell you the truth, not very pretty. I decided to use slivered almonds to give the illusion of actual sides, which worked OK. With the almonds, the cake didn’t look monstrous anymore!

The final chapter of the cursed cake saga occurred when I decided to take the cake to work to share with my colleagues. I put it in a cake-carrier and put it in my car, safely drove it to work, and I went to take it out of the car, the top of the carrier came off and off went the cake all over the passenger seat and floor mat. Almonds, apricots, buttercream, all smeared on the upholstery and mat! Thankfully, I had cut a piece to take a picture, so at least I got to eat that. When I got home, I scraped all the frosting off the cake and tried to figure out whether it was salvageable… but it wasn’t. It ended up in the trash. SO SAD!

Lessons learned:

1) Lessons from TV and the internet don’t magically translate into fantastic cake decorating abilities

2) Using egg whites from a carton may seem freaky but works just fine

3) Any cake-bearing container should be closed and secured before taking it out of the car!

The Verdict:

After all the disasters (burnt wrist, messed up mixer, buttercream-smeared car), the cake was… ok. I have to maintain my opinion about plain white fluffy cake. Not my favorite. The apricot jam was not nearly enough to salvage the cake and I should definitely have added more to make the cake more apricot-y… or perhaps I shouldn’t have added any of the fantastic jam, as the cake ended up in the trash! :o( The lemon buttercream was delicious, but it took some getting used to the fact that it is basically all butter. Overall, I don’t think I’ll make it again.

PS: As soon as my husband came home, the mixer magically fixed itself. I guess it had been missing him as much as I had (though he never uses it).


Morven said...

So sorry for all your baking woes along the way and that it wasn't a great experience with you. Hope your wrist is better.

Lis said...

Oh man.. that sounds like one of my baking experiences! HAR! I am lovin' the makeshift splatter guard.. hehee

I am sorry that your burnt your wrist, and I'm glad it wasn't worse.

Still though.. that cake looks DELISH!


Janet said...

With great humor, you have captured the theme of many days shared by all of us. Well done!