Tuesday, May 4, 2010

more baking

Yes, Mondays are a hard day to blog. Sigh. And last night I went to the Yankees game, so I’m operating on two cylinders. But blog I must.

I have continued with my baking, though not as often. I was in Utah for a quick trip to see the family and I decided to bake for them, so I brought my book with me (all 10 pounds of it) and made the apple and pear tarts, which were particular favorites of mine. I wanted to do éclairs, but I ran out of time, preferring to run, jump, blow bubbles, and watch “Cars” and bits of “Marley and Me” with the nephew instead.

My big baking project in Utah was a “Panamanian Roulade cake,” which I made for my dad’s birthday party. It was ambitious, it was grand, it was time-consuming, it was difficult. (It was delicious.) It was a chocolate cake that had layers, but they were vertical rather than horizontal.

I started this cake around 7 pm and turned on my laptop to watch the rerun of the earlier Yankees game. (I like a good distraction while I’m baking. Yes, it has proven dangerous at times.) I ground my own almonds to substitute for pricey almond flour, which isn’t readily available in Utah anyway (and realized that pricey almond flour is nothing besides finely ground almonds, so I don’t have to buy it again!). I baked the cake itself, a big flat layer in a jelly roll pan. It was very difficult to remove from the pan, so I had my dad help and thoroughly annoyed him with my barking directions. “No! Stop stop stop! Okay, go!” I made the frosting and tasted it and it was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough to make the cake with. I stared at the directions, hoping for divine guidance, and got it: the directions said to chill and whip the frosting if it wasn’t “fluffy enough.” My frosting wasn’t fluffy at all, so I did that. Lo and behold, fluffy frosting at double the volume! Whoa! I spread the frosting n the layer. I cut the layer into four strips, and then rolled the strips into one big roll that got set on its side. Now, these long strips were extremely fragile and hard to work with, so I had to cut them in half and oh-so-delicately place them against the roll. My fingers and hands were a gooey mess, which I actually hate. I know, it’s unavoidable in baking. But come on, I don’t want to turn on the faucet and get frosting on it because I’ll forget to wipe it down and then the next time I turn on the faucet, with relatively clean hands (even though I’m going to wash them) I’ll get frosting on them again! And forget to wipe it down again! Do you see my problem(s) here?

So seriously, they were bad and it was driving me a little nuts. I also hate having anything under my fingernails, which are long, and dealing with a fragile cake layer and frosting, you have to put the utensils aside and dig in, and you’re guaranteed to get all kinds of crap under your fingernails. I dealt, but it was gross.

Okay, cake rolled. Picture looking down from above at the plate and seeing what amounts to a spiral of cake, held together by frosting. This is what made the vertical layers. It was supremely fragile; the now-fluffy frosting was loaded with room-temperature butter, which we all know (or the dairy-tolerant among us, anyway) is not structurally sturdy. So I gently frosted the rest of the cake with the frosting, and then swirled the top into a lovely pattern. I filled in the dents with more frosting. Usually my cakes are delicious but ugly, but I actually made this one look nice. It was so fragile, but I knew once the butter frosting got into the fridge it would firm up and we would be fine.

So I picked up the plate and walked to the fridge. My parents have a new fridge these days, the two-door kind. But both doors are for the fridge itself; the freezer is the bottom drawer. So I was holding the plate and fragile cake in my left hand, opening both doors with my right. The fridge was packed. I don’t know if it is normally, but whenever I’m home we load up with fruit and restaurant leftovers, and there was an abundance of both. “Hmm,” I muttered, shifting things around. I didn’t want to grip onto the cake plate too hard, because that would smush it against me and get frosting all over my shirt (because who wants to wear an apron at one in the morning?), so I was navigating that angle. Strawberries go….over here. Styrofoam square containers…go over here, one, then the other. All right, the cantaloupe gets transferred over there, and then I’ll move the milk, and then we’ll have a space for the plate and my very fragile cake.

But oh, the errant cantaloupe.

I picked up the cantaloupe with my right hand. It was not whole, having been sliced into the day before, and so it was slippery, but I dug in there (aware of the frosting lingering under my fingernails and regretting the transfer of said frosting into cantaloupe flesh, but there you go) and got hold and put it on a higher shelf. As I was moving the milk, the cantaloupe decided it didn’t like its new spot and tumbled out…onto the cake, smashing the cake into the plate and bottom of the fridge in a big collapsed heap of frosting.

It was one o’clock in the morning. The televised Yankees game had gone nine innings and was over. I was tired and my back ached from standing. I was alone with a mound of chocolate that had to be cleaned up. And the cake…there was no denying it, the cake was ruined.

Reader, I cried.

I had never cried over a dessert before. I’ve made plenty, I’ve nearly ruined some, but I’ve always managed to save them. And this…I just had no idea what to do with this. So I stood over the sink and put my head in my hands and cried.

Now, there was a little more going on than just the cake. I was in Utah because my grandpa isn’t doing very well, health-wise, and he had taken a turn for the worse the week before. I was spending afternoons at my grandparents’ house and there was/is a very real thought that it might be the last time I see him; and if it’s not, he’s not going to be doing any better the next time. I know that end of life is hard for everybody, and I know that if someone passes away at the age of 89, it’s really not a tragedy, especially when that person has lived a full and successful life. But it’s still hard for those left behind, no two ways about it. And seeing this brilliant, strong man operating at about 25% is humbling and disturbing and profoundly sad, and I was shaken anyway. I hadn’t cried about that the entire time I had been visiting, until the cake.

I cleaned up the pound of frosting that was now nestled into the crevices of the fridge with a wet cloth, making repeat visits to the sink to wash it off and return and listening to the “smart” fridge beep at me to let me know it was open. (Thanks! Yes, I’ve got it now! Yep, you’re open! I know! Okay, thanks… okay… stop it STOP IT STOP IT NOW I‘M GOING INSANE SHUT UP STUPID FRIDGE JUST SHUT UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHUT UP). It took me some time, but I got the frosting cleaned off all white areas of the kitchen. I washed off the troublesome cantaloupe, and then I had to tend to the plate.

What to do with a completely smashed cake?

I ended up scooping it into a springform pan. I knew it was still going to be delicious (and it was) but I was still freaking out. I put the springform pan into the fridge, planning to cover it with whipping cream the next day. (Sorry, lactose-intolerant family members! But there are pills for it.) And I went to bed.

I awoke the next day with a purpose. I was going to make that damn cake again. Springform pan-molded cake was not good enough for my dad’s birthday party; I wanted vertical layers! So at one o’clock (in the afternoon, this time) I started again. And what do you know, it was a lot easier the second time around. Took a lot less time.

So we ended up with two cakes. Sadly, the frosting and the cake were much the same color, so you could barely even make out the blessed vertical layers. And we had two cakes and didn’t even finish one.

But in the battle of Kathy vs the Cantaloupe, Kathy won. This time.

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