Saturday, January 30, 2010

making one's cake and eating it too

It was supposed to be the cake of all cakes, the cake that was going to put me into an orgasmic coma. It was supposed to be my finest baking hour. And see, that was my mistake. I set my sights too high.

Well, one of my mistakes.

The recipe was from a Paula Deen magazine, so you know right away I was starting off bad. It was named "Decadent Chocolate Layer Cake", but the surprise was the extra layer of cheesecake inside. Hence, you can see how deluded I became to the task ahead of me.

I'm an ok cook, but I especially enjoy baking, and that's where most of my successes land. I mastered Tyler Florence's Ultimate Cheesecake, improvised slightly on Giada's Chocolate Amaretti Cake, and blow the doors off the legendary "Neiman Marcus" chocolate chip cookie, just to name a few. I rarely, if ever, diverge from the recipe because baking is so precise.

Mistake #2 was that I got delusions of grandeur. Worse still, I tried substitutions.

Stop laughing.

Each part -- chocolate cake, cheesecake, and frosting, required almond liqueur. I can't use wine in cooking because I'm allergic to sulfites, but the truth is that my body doesn't do well with any kind of alcohol or liquor, or liqueur. So I decided to use almond extract, and guessed at the measurements, since I couldn't well use half a cup. (I think I used a tablespoon in each one.) The delusion of grandeur came in my insistence on making the whole damn thing from scratch even though Paula's recipe called for using a box mix for the chocolate cake. I used Mark Bittman's recipe and -- sorry Mark -- it wasn't as simple as he claimed it to be. Anything that requires whipping egg whites (I never know if I've gotten the peaks stiff enough) and folding them into the batter is not a simple procedure. I think I've also finally succumbed to the fact that I need an industrial electric mixer and not just the hand-held one I use for everything.

The cake actually came out good -- or at least it seemed to. Perfect baking time, toothpicks clean, nice shape, etc. The cheesecake is where things started to go downhill. Plus my poor time management skills. And one other little flaw: I didn't follow directions. Rather, I didn't read them in advance.

I had started this whole baking project at 4:00, thinking I'd make a nice little dinner for myself and have a late evening dessert, complete with candles and soft music. Yes, I was dining alone for my birthday, but I didn't mind. (I had friends over the following night and cooked a rather successful tilapia and citrus glaze, but that's another story.) The first cakes didn't get in the oven until about 5:00, I think, but little did I know how long the cheesecake was gonna take. It required 45 minutes of baking time, plus another hour sitting in the oven w/ the oven turned off. So that pretty much killed my other meal plan, and I didn't have much else in the house to cook other than breakfast food.

So I had cereal.

Yes, my birthday dinner consisted of cold cereal because quite frankly by this time the whole production had gotten a bit on the frustrating side and I was getting rather tired of it all.

Wait, there's more.

So I took the cheesecake out of the oven (finally!) and it looked ok, and I had to let it cool a little bit longer, which I did. By this time it was well past 8:00 and I was still hungry and wanted to eat my damn cake. Don't worry, it'll all be worthwhile once you have your first forkful, I told myself. So I made the frosting.

The recipe called for six cups of confectioner's sugar and two sticks of butter, among other things. After all, this was a Paula Deen recipe. By the fifth cup of confectioners sugar, my beaters were stuck, I had to add in milk to soften it up, and finally took over mixing by hand. On top of that, the sugar wasn't sifted (the recipe didn't call for it, but should have).

I'm cursing at my mother-of-all-cakes by this point.

The cheesecake layer started to fall apart as I applied it, plus was bigger than the chocolate cake layers so I also had to trim the sides to get it to all match.

Then came the frosting. Each cake layer required a layer of frosting, and trying to frost a cheesecake is not easy. All I kept thinking was that this so doesn't look like the picture, both Mark Bittman and Paula Deen lied to me, and what was I gonna do if this thing didn't come out? How much money was I about to throw away, not to mention food (it always kills me to throw food away)?

What caused the final unraveling was my impatience. I just wanted to eat the thing, dammit -- I earned it, and cripes, I'm 40 and sitting alone eating cereal and watching Bones like any other night. It was this impatience that had caused me not to read and follow directions carefully, thus I missed the part that said the cheesecake needed to be chilled for four hours and instead had gone straight to putting this cake together.

Aw, crap.

In the end, I put the whole damn thing in the refrigerator, never did have a piece of cake for my birthday, or any other kind of dessert because by then the whole experience had rather deflated me. Instead I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my second of the day), and ate it somberly, until I called my wombmate who, incidentally, had his own series of mishaps earlier in the day.

In short, CAKE = EPIC FAIL.

I was too embarrassed to even show the thing to my dinner guests the next night. However, one of my friends bought cupcakes (from the aptly named "cupcake shoppe") and I made ice cream and homemade caramel sauce (which came out fabulous).

Last night, however, I decided to be brave and taste it. And ya know, it wasn't that bad. A little heavy on the almond flavoring, maybe, and I've had better cheesecake (it was also a bit sweet, which I think was due to the frosting, which is either a sign that I really am getting older or that there really is such a thing as too much sugar). In short, not orgasmic, but not bad. I may even have a slice today.


Susan said...

You know, the picture actually looks pretty good. :)

And your caramel sauce IS fantastic!

Elisa said...

Why thank you, Susan! The frosting will put you in a sugar coma, though...


Bossy Betty said...

OK. How about mixing some of the cake with a big bowl of ice cream? I'll bet it would be good to eat then!

Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

Cake doesn't look bad. I'd say that you got through it okay. At least you didn't all-out quit at step one. I'm trying to get into baking, but the only things I've tried making are brownies and apple pie. Little tip when it comes to apple pies: the more butter the better.


Elisa said...

Betty -- actually mix the cake *in* the ice cream, and I'm listening.

Rob -- I think it's safe to say that EVERYTHING is better with more butter.


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm easily impressed but my idea of big doing's is adding walnuts to box brownie mix. I did good:)

Happy 40th!!!!

Lisa Carter

Elisa said...

thank you, Lisa!

michelle | bleeding espresso said...

Well in any event, happy birthday! And better luck with the next cake...if at first... ;)

Elisa said...

thank you, Michelle!