Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dating Up; or, Take On Me

I’m not going to lie. Some people of my acquaintance consider me to be an accomplished baker. They make appreciative and occasionally awed noises when I present my latest baked creation. But, most of the time, I find it easy to shrug off their compliments. “It’s just a matter of following a recipe,” I mumble, still taking gratification when I see another forkful of cake disappear into waiting gullets. The majority of what I bake consists of what I’d term to be “American style” baked goods. Your garden variety butter layer cakes, cookies, brownies, blondies. All very American in their simplicity and reliance on typical home baking methodology. I really don’t aspire to making the kind of architectural European masterpieces one might find at their local schmancy bakery. Maybe it’s because I’m a mouth-breathing cretin, but I’d just rather have a big ol’ honking cupcake or bar cookie than the ethereal genoise, mousse and gold leaf tortes that look out from their bakery case with sly, knowing eyes.

Still—I couldn’t help but wonder, do I not attempt to bake these cakes because I don’t like them, or because they intimidate me? Like the six-foot-two hottie with golden hair and shimmering allure, toting his surfboard towards the Malibu breakers. Is he not my type, or do I know I don’t have a chance? (I’m happily married, but you get the analogy.)

Maybe the fault lies not in the stars, but myself. If it was just intimidation, then I’d have to face my fears and bake one of these ornate, multi-step cakes. Then, at least, I can know that the hottie called me, we went out, and there was no chemistry, so I went home and watched makeover shows for the rest of the night. So, “Euro-cake” went onto my personal challenge list. I didn’t know when I’d get to it, but I would…someday.

Well, thanks to the Daring Bakers, I was kicked out of my complacency. The May challenge was announced: Opera Cake. A traditional layer cake comprised of no fewer than five separate components. Joconde (an almond-based sponge cake), soaking syrup, buttercream, mousse and a ganache glaze. Our esteemed hostesses for the month (Ivonne, Lis, Fran and Shea) selected a variation of the traditional chocolate and espresso buttercream version, substituting vanilla buttercream for the chocolate and espresso buttercreams, and white chocolate for the bittersweet in the ganache. When I saw the challenge, I knew that I was finally going to have to pick up the phone and call the blonde hottie. Whether or not he hung up on me remained to be seen.

There was a considerable amount of flexibility in choosing our components for the cake. I went with almond flour in my joconde, as Z. had purchased some for me. The buttercream would be a raspberry meringue buttercream. I’d flavor the syrup with lemon juice. Instead of the white chocolate mousse for the top, I opted to try a yogurt mousse recipe I’d take from Tish Boyle’s Cakes. And the glaze was white chocolate with a dash of Grand Marnier.

(Keep Feeling) Fascination

It was a two-day process. On the first day, I baked the joconde, made the syrup and also the buttercream. The hottie and I had pleasant conversation—nothing soul-searing, but pleasant. He and I actually laughed at the same jokes, which is to say, I assembled the layers of the cake easily and popped it all into the fridge to firm up overnight. So, maybe we’d get a second date.

Day two: the mousse. Very easy and pretty damned tasty, too. There was extra mousse, so I chilled it separately, and Z. and I ate it with some sliced strawberries. I’d definitely make it again to have with other summer fruits, and it came together without any problem. Maybe the hottie and I had more chemistry than I’d originally thought. Now, onto the glaze. I mixed up the ganache, following a slightly different recipe than the one provided by the challenge’s hostesses. Here was the finishing touch. But on the third date with the hottie, he showed up at my door and I answered, wearing a hideous ensemble. We went out for dinner, but I could tell I’d lost him. He kept looking around the room, and didn’t pay much attention. When his friends waved at him from the bar, he pretended not to know me. And he dropped me off later without even a handshake. I’d blown it.

A Flock of Seagulls

Intending to tint the ganache a lovely shade of pink, to compliment the raspberry buttercream, I used a heavy hand in the food coloring and wound up with a Pepto-pink glaze. Not the delicate blush I’d been hoping for. Trying to salvage the situation, I added a tiny bit of yellow food gel, and came up with the most vivid shade of Miami melon this side of South Beach. Unwilling to make a new batch of glaze, I went ahead and spread the cooled glaze onto the cake. But it still looked plain, so I drizzled plain white chocolate over the top in what I hoped was a Jackson Pollock homage.

Instead, I wound up with a cake that looked straight from the ’80s, all neon bright and splatter paint. I’m pretty sure I had a sweatshirt in the 5th grade that looked just like the top of my Opera Cake. All I had to do was break out my Dolphin shorts, L.A. Gear shoes and legwarmers. It was not rad. It was bogus.

Rick Astley

When I sliced the cake, it looked great, except for that hideous glaze. The white chocolate drizzle splintered. But It tasted pretty terrific. Not amateurish. Almost, dare I say, sophisticated. I had actually made a Euro Cake, but lost my chance at happily ever after with the Hollywood hottie by poor fashion choices. Ah, well. Screw that guy. He was too superficial anyway.

Meanwhile, Z. and I ate our cake together.

I remain,
Yours, &c.

P.S. Please observe a moment of silence for the metaphor that was beaten to death over the course of this posting.


brosia said...

What a great write up!...I'd eat it and really that's what counts.

Kitty said...

i love the colours! looks, well, good enough to eat!

Jennifer said...

It's beautiful! I'm really impressed.

Anonymous said...

This cake was probably your finest creation to date! And that's saying alot since everything your bake ROCKS!


The Robertston walking PP

Dolores said...

Congratulations... you made the transition from American to French a seamless one. And I LOVE your Cyndi Lauper cake. :)

Amy J. said...

Looooove the orange and white!!

Sandicita said...

I think the metaphor use was just right... and aren't the 80s in again? Maybe you're just fashion-forward...
Great job!

Claire said...

This cake sure makes you LOOK like an accomplished baker! Beautiful!

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite of all the cakes so far this month. The colors are great and whether or not it tastes sophisticated it sure looks it. Great job. Maggie

virjennifer said...


Anonymous said...

Oh La La! Tasty cake. Delicious words and pictures. P.