Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maturity; or, Blub

The process of retrospection is one in which we begin to engage early in life. When we’re children, we often ask our parents about what we were like as babies. The teen years are often marked with a disgust and dismissal of our childhood, even as we cling to small talismans of those first years or invest in them a kind of kitchy reverence. Who amongst us hasn’t pondered the manifold mysteries of the Kroftt Superstars, especially whilst under the influence of controlled substances? (Not I, of course. )

But those are external factors. A fascinating aspect of growing older is observing our internal changes—why something that once seemed so pleasing or wonderful to us is now appalling, or vice versa. Food is one of the best indicators of these changes. One day, we wake up, and smoked gouda cheese is suddenly delicious, but uncooked Pop Tarts are not. (Again, this might change under the influence of certain controlled substances....)

As a child, I had a boundless appetite for sweets. I used to be able to eat, in one sitting, two full-sized candy bars and drink an entire soda, and not feel like purging afterwards. It also helped that I had the metabolism of a bee, and could cram fistfuls of Rolos into my mouth without gaining a pound. The thought is less than appetizing now. Also, the metabolism has slowed considerably since then, which is not helped by my journeys into gourmandism.

In my childhood, anything chocolate, especially milk chocolate, was my favorite. A slice of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting was the height of gastronomic pleasure. Gradually, however, my love of intensely sweet desserts waned, until, one day, I discovered that my favorite desserts involved the salty sweet flavors of butterscotch and caramel. The innovation of adding salt to caramel was a revelation. The perfect sharp note that helped ground the fancies of caramelized sugar—the bliss of heaven, tempered by earthy reality.

This month, the DB challenge was a caramel cake with browned butter caramel frosting. I was ready to embrace the mature me.

To ensure that all facets of my personality were satisfied, I made sure to liberally salt the frosting with kosher salt. I also added some toasted pecans as a garnish, a touch which the young me would have sneered at. The cake was baked up as cupcakes, to be served at P.’s birthday dinner, and also to give to L. for her birthday present. Fitting that this cake, the signifier of maturation, was to be served for several birthdays, but yet in the shape that evoked the innocent years of childhood.

The verdict? The cake was moist and had a pleasing, dense crumb without being heavy. The caramel flavor of the cake was, however, muted. But the frosting...ah, the frosting. It won acclaim from both birthday girls as well as other friends. Sweet, but perfectly mitigated by the salt. I could have eaten it alone with a spoon and, in a moment of weakness, I did just that when alone with some leftover frosting. It was also liberally smeared upon some chocolate chip pumpkin bread. Z. and I were rapturous.

There was actually a little bit of cake batter left over from the cupcakes, so I caved my less mature side and baked up a tiny cake that looked exactly what I wished had emerged from my EZ Bake Oven twenty five years ago. (All the cakes that did come out of the EZ Bake resembled burnt little pucks, so now I have my retribution. Take that, Hasbro!) Perhaps not the most sophisticated and adult decision, but if we can’t indulge our childish whims every once in a while, then what’s the point of getting older?

I remain,
Your servant, &c.


Anonymous said...

This was by far one of your greatest masterpieces (and that's saying a lot since everything to bake is fantastic!)


L. -- the mature birthday girl :)

Anonymous said...

Unearthly photos. Out of this world flavors. Preternatural favors. Mmmmmmmmm.