Sunday, April 12, 2009

Caking It

"Recipes should always be tested before it is presented," a wise woman once said. Heed those words, I tell you, and it will save you a few gray hairs. Those pesky grays never will go away.

For the last week or so, I've had this intense craving for something lemony. May this be
custard, a curd, a cake, or just a slice of lemon pie heaven, I did not care. I wanted a taste of sunshine goodness on my tongue and nothing was going to stop me. It's always at these crazy moments that the best recipe or concoctions are whipped up in any cook's mind. In my case, baking has not always a strong point for me, but I've been able to ring up a few goodies here and there. I turned to my good, trusted friend, the Internet, to find a base recipe to work off of since I'm not someone who always follows the recipe exactly. I find a recipe I like and alter it to my liking. The number of recipes out there for lemon cakes are endless; some call for 5-8 ingredients while others call for ingredients I really do not want to splurge on (cooking should not cost a fortune).

Before I even started looking, I already knew what I want the end product to look like so I had to find a recipe to pair it up with. I needed a layered cake with a nice filling and non-butter-cream icing. After reading dozens of recipes from various websites, I settled for a wonderful lemon layer cake with a lemon curd recipe from foodnetwork.com. It had almost the entire criterion that I needed. Nice cake recipe, check. Good filling, check. Frosting... Eh. It’s workable and adjustable. The gears in my head are just turning as I try to make this work for me. I am petrified of curds since vanilla flavored scrambled eggs have emerged from my kitchen when I did not pay attention to the heat. A mental note was made to buy instant lemon pudding just in case the curd did not turn out well.

As much as I wanted to eat a lemon cake, I had to refrain from busting out my measuring cups and mixer since there wasn't going to be enough people around to enjoy a cake. It is a sin to waste food, especially when it is dessert. Luckily, my boyfriend's parents had just moved into a new home and they were going to host the family's Easter gathering the upcoming weekend which was more than just a family gathering. It was the Easter party as well as a home warming for them, and last but not least, an informal wedding reception for my boyfriend’s cousin. Lots of people mean lots of mouths to eat and I will provide cake for those cavernous mouths.


The Plan:


At
2am, we get together the game plan for Easter Sunday:

Bake and decorate cake.

Take a shower, and glam up before the guests arrive at 2pm.

By now, we also realize that because of the 70 odd cupcakes we’ve been baking all night, we’re low on eggs, cream, and other essential ingredients. Seems like a store run is in order after a couple of hours of sleep.

7am, Sunday Morning: Jumped out of bed, brushed teeth.

7:15am: Ran through rain and off to the grocery store.

8:30am: Arrived home and then the baking began.

Jacob involuntarily became my assistant. He had the recipe on the laptop nearby since neither one of us wrote the recipe down nor did we glance at it more than 2 times. Like a pro, he measured out all of the ingredients for the cake and curd and placed them in bowls for me as I greased and floured the pans. I didn't have shortening so I used butter.

Jacob definitely gave the Food Network’s behind the scene crew a run for the money. I felt like Paula Dean, minus the silver mane, but with a touch of Texas twang. Within 15 minutes or so, 2 cake pans were in the oven.


Hurdle #1, done. On to the curd.

I found a saucier in the kitchen and glanced at the instructions for the curd once more. Combine egg yolks and sugar. Mix in lemon juice and zest. Cook over med-low heat. And add butter.

Simple.

I whisked the yolks and sugar, add the liquids and started stirring the curd over the heat. My eyes during the whole process are still looking at the oven to check on the cake. The aroma emitting from the oven was heavenly. Ladies, if you need to seal the deal on the ring, this cake is the way to go. I’ve never seen so many guys huddled around something hot, that wasn’t in a bikini. The cake needed another 15 minutes or so in the oven so the curd should be done around the same time. They could cool at the same rate and then assembling time!


Perfect!

I worked intently on the curds for 10 minutes and nothing seemed to happened. The mixture was too thin and runny. Frustration beaded down my forehead as I continue to work on it. Maybe if I cooked it a little bit longer it might set up?

Ding! The cake is done, but the curd is still looked more like runny egg yolks than a nice thick curd. I dipped a spoon into the mixture and had a quick taste to see if it was salvageable flavor-wise.


Spit!!!


It tasted like someone melted a aluminum pan and added a squeeze of lemon juice. *Note to self* When cooking with lemon, use a non-reactive pan and utensil. Why did I not remember that?

Curd, round 2. I found a glass mixing bowl and made a double boiler. Jacob's aunt graciously gave me another recipe that she swears by. She's a wonderful cook so I took the recipe and ran with it. Ingredients were put in the bowl; I crossed my fingers, and stirred away. I literally prayed to the Lord as I whisk the mixture because the curd is what makes the cake! After 15 minutes, God forbid, the lemon curd still did not set. I felt a panic attack coming on, but there was no time for one. At least this batch did not taste like a metal pan. Jacob's aunt came by again to check on the curd and suggested that perhaps I may have over stirred the darn thing... which is totally possibly with a whisk and not a wooden spoon. We scoured the kitchen looking for cornstarch to thicken the curd, but the only starch to be found was in the laundry room. At this point I was ready to let the curd meet the trash and call it a day.

Curd, round 3. I dove into the pantry and grab the instant lemon Jell-o pudding and measured out 2 cups of milk. Success! I jumped for joy. I'm in the home stretch now.

My cake-stand stood there longing to have a cake placed upon its waiting platter. I was so distracted by the curd that I hadn’t even de-panned the cake yet. Like a trained pastry chef, I ran my butter knife around the cake’s edge. I placed a small plate over the top and flipped it. I tapped the pan to loosen the bottom off the pan. I pulled the pan off and lo and hold, my plate was empty and the pan is still full. I shook the pan and tapped it a couple more times. Still, no luck. I moved on to the second pan. As before, I ran the knife, tapped, and flipped. Again, no cake on the plate. My knees became Jell-O.

I took the knife and started pushing the edge of the cake towards the center trying to loosen up as much of the cake as possible. I even try to get my fingers under the cake and try to lift it out. After some careful maneuvering, I had the top half of the cake on the plate, and most of the center on the cake still remaining in the pan. Woohoo! I had at least one usable layer. The second pan yielded two semi-usable layers! Frosting will disguise all mistakes, right?

The pudding was the best mortar on hand to hold my crumbling layers together, but it was pretty obvious the cake was missing pieces. I slapped the frosting on as quickly as I could to hide the cake from my sight. I now had a lopsided igloo on my hands. Tears wanted to gush out of my eyes, but even my tears did not want to meet the atrocious looking thing I called a cake.

I placed sliced strawberries on top of it in attempt to distract from the numerous flaws. Once they were on, the cake was tucked to the very back of the refrigerator in hopes that no one would remember that we had even baked it.

I could feel the newly formed wrinkles comfortable taking their places under my eyes and the grays throwing a party for their newly arrived cousins. My knees slowly recovering from the episode, I just wanted to jump back into bed and wished the day never happened. Ladies and Lads; test your recipes and test them well before creating it for a crowd.

In the end, someone found the cake and fortunately, there was not a slice to be spared.

2 comments:

  1. Very well written Q !!! The cake looks delicious !!! Thanks for sharing your Culinary Chef skills do's and don'ts !

    M.Pardo

    ReplyDelete