Monday, September 28, 2009

The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat

Or "you win some you lose some." I'm still trying to catch up to Maria. If people have been following Maria's blog posts, you would know that I still need to make the Chocolate Festival Cake, the Gingerbread Muffins, and the Tea Cakes. I did make two out of the three -- the Chocolate Festival Cake and the Gingerbread Muffins. And if you were following Maria's blog posts, you would think to yourself: "Well, we know that the victory was the muffins and the defeat was the cake." Well, you would be wrong.
I DID make the cake on Thursday night/Friday morning. What an undertaking that was. I got home on Thursday night around 7:45 and immediately jumped into the kitchen to make the cake. This was not an easy cake to throw together, because it had lots of ingredients, and all of the ingredients were BIG. You had to melt chocolate, smash bananas, do lots of sifting (for some reason, Maida didn't want the cocoa sifted in with the flour etc. -- why???) My large KitchenAid bowl could hardly take the huge amount of batter. And I was never able to find a tube pan, so I baked this cake in an Angel Food Cake pan. Once I got the cake into the oven (probably around 8:30), I made a truly late dinner. And although I really wanted to just go to bed, the cake baked for an hour. Then you had to cover it and bake it another 25 minutes. I believe, based on a chat I had with Maria, that Maria and Claire left out this step, which is why her cake had a tunnel in it. And then you had to let it cool for some huge amount of time before unmolding it onto the rack. But I can tell you that when I did unmold it onto the rack, it looked pretty special. And pretty impressive. I would show you with a picture, but I was too tired to find the camera, so I didn't take one. I figured I would take one in the morning.
But I didn't. When I got up in the morning, I realized that in addition to needing to make frosting for the cake (and frost the cake), I also needed to get everything ready for the time period between 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning (when I left for work) and around 1:00 p.m. on Saturday (when I would be done with my golf lesson), because I would not be returning home during that time period. That involved a great deal of mental fortitude and concentration. I threw the chocolate in the top of the "double boiler" -- and realized that I was one block shy of the amount of unsweetened chocolate I needed. Oh well -- I had more than enough milk chocolate. While that melted, I realized that I probably didn't have enough peanut butter either. I didn't have time to care. I just threw all the ingredients together (well, I didn't throw them together -- I did it as instructed) and hoped for the best.
After the first mixing, the best wasn't looking so good. The frosting looked quite nasty in fact. But Maida said that it would get better when it cooled, so I stuck the bowl in the fridge while I finished getting ready for work.
When I got back to the frosting, and beat it again, it did look a little better, but still pretty thin for swirly thick frosting. I made do. Using my super-helpful cake decorating turntable and new icing spatula, I was able to frost the cake in about 2 minutes, including swirls. I only used about 2/3 of the frosting because it was pretty thin and I think if I had used more, it would have fallen off in gloppy lumps. I put the cake into my new grab-n-go cake thingy (I'm also very enamored of this item) and set off to work.
I forgot that the fridge at work doesn't work. Oh well. The cake got to sit at room temperature -- which in my office is about refrigerator temperature -- at least during the summer. The cake got to go all over San Diego last Friday, but finally came to rest at Paradise Point Resort, where Maddy's birthday festivities were being held. And it finally got to go into a refrigerator.
The girls (and one boy) played in the pool for a bit and then came back to the rooms to get dressed for dinner. For some reason, although they knew we had 7:00 p.m. dinner reservations, they were all ready at 6:00 p.m. So I suggested that we have cake BEFORE dinner. That suggestion was met by enthusiasm from all except Katie, who had apparently eaten a chocolate lava cake only an hour or so before. So I stuck the candles in the cake, we sang Happy Birthday, and I cut nice small slices of the cake for everybody. Forgetting to take a picture before. Darn it.
Everybody loved the cake. Katie mentioned that it was a bit dry. It was a little bit dry, but not like the Chocolate Layer Cake. I think that some of the girls came over and sliced off some other pieces of the cake while we were waiting to go to dinner. I thought the cake was quite tasty. I especially loved the frosting, and was glad that I didn't use all of it. I liked the banana-chocolate taste of the cake. It is a very dark chocolate cake, so the milk chocolatey nature of the frosting was a nice counterpoint. I couldn't taste the PB in the cake at all.
And even though we all ate waaaay too much for dinner, the cake continued to disappear during the night -- little slice by little slice. This continued the next morning. I was only able to take one picture of the cake -- and it was pretty done by that time. I have to admit there is a little cake left, but this is a HUGE cake, and there are probably only about 3 pieces left (Maida said that it serves about 20-25 people).
My goal was to make both the gingerbread muffins and the tea cakes by the end of the weekend. But with Maddy's birthday celebration continuing on Saturday morning (with some unexpected shopping thrown in), the golf lesson, and just general Saturday afternoon puttering around, I never got around to doing any baking on Saturday. Sunday morning came and almost went without baking either -- early morning hike followed by taking Maddy to Zoo Corps - and our plan was to go to Adams Avenue Street Fair for a bit. But between the driving and the Street Fair, I managed to squeak in the muffin baking.
Now Maida said that these were to be baked in regular cupcake tins. I don't have those. What I do have are some silicone muffin pans that bake 6 per pan. I used those. The batter was incredibly thin -- I kept wondering if this was because I didn't measure the oil and molasses. And while the recipe said that it makes 16 muffins (and I had buttered and carefully crumbed 16 muffin cups), when I poured the muffin molds 2/3 full, there were only 11.
I put them in the oven and ran off to get ready for the Street Fair. I followed Maida's instructions and pulled the pans out and reversed them halfway. They looked and smelled pretty delicious at that 10 minute interval. I left again to finish getting ready.
I heard the timer go off. And then I heard Pete yell "Are they supposed to have giant dents in the top?" Hmmm. I'm kind of doubting that. So I went to investigate. And found just this horrible looking sunken muffin -- the top of the muffin was practically hitting the bottom of the pan. Nothing could be uglier. I was so disappointed. I rarely have abject failures like this. It took me back to my High School "Single Experience" class -- the only high school class in which I ever received less than an A -- and my burnt, paper thin biscuits. I had failed to make Gingerbread Muffins -- a recipe which Maida declared to be very easy.
Well, we went off to the Street Fair for a bit, then to lunch. And when we got home, I asked Natalie if she would make the Gingerbread Muffins. I figured that it didn't hurt to make them twice. So Natalie made the muffins. I suggested to her that she actually measure the oil and molasses, which she did. And I suggested that she only fill the muffin molds 1/2 way. And that she not open and close the oven halfway through the baking.
Following my instructions, the muffins came out quite perfectly. Natalie and I were analyzing why mine came out so badly. I was telling her that baking really is all about chemistry and physics, and that I suspect the failure of my muffins had a lot to do with my failure to measure some of the key ingredients, and that there was too much batter in each mold to support the thin muffin mixture, so that I possibly under or over-baked the muffins. She asked "Did you put in the baking powder?" I said that I did not put in baking powder because the recipe didn't call for it -- it called for baking soda. A quick check of the recipe revealed that I was correct -- but Natalie used baking powder. I don't know if that made a difference, but something sure did.
And truth be told, I was very disappointed with these muffins. I love gingerbread -- it is honestly one of my favorite desserts. These had an off taste that I didn't like. And the texture was kind of weird (especially in my horrible muffins). They were light, which is a change for muffins. But I would not make them again. Or, I would not have Natalie make them again.
Is that cheating, having Natalie make the recipe?
Now I just need to get those Tea Cakes done. . . . And then we have another group of recipes to start on. I gave them to Maria. I'm sure she's already made something . . .

1 comment:

  1. The chemist in me made me do some checking. There is a simple explanation of the difference between baking soda and baking powder at