Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Disaster Chronicles: The Art of Improvising

I confess: I have been neglecting my blogging duties for quite some time now. Yet while the month of November seems to have been “dessert-less”, the baker in me never sleeps. I still baked things here and there, such as cookies and sweet breads, but the main reason for my absence from blogging was due to two disappointing creations. I almost chose to omit these entirely from the record and pretend they never happened, but then realized sharing these disappointments is crucial to my own development as a baker as well as to my readers’ credible interest. As such, I am starting a new blog series called: “The Disaster Chronicles…” to show that no matter what your level of expertise, we are all still human. There are two specific desserts I plan to showcase for this entry. 

The first was for my roommate Jenn’s oboe recital mid-November (which she played beautifully for, by the way!). This cake, a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting, was supposed to look like this. The result of my own cake can be compared to ordering a red dress online and receiving a glaring orange dress of poor material in the mail. Basically, my cake’s final look was nowhere close to what the photo implies! Instead of a thick, dark chocolate look I ended up with a light, smooth frosting that had a whipped cream consistency. I don’t have a photo of the final product given my own distress at its lack of similarity to the intended product. Nonetheless, the cake tasted delicious and my roommate’s recital was hours away, so I had two choices: attempt constructing the layer cake with a frosting that may or may not survive transport, or improvise. Here’s the key to this post – improvisation in baking is a powerful tool, especially given how many times I as a baker have had to defer from the original recipe.
In this case, I chose the following presentation: the two layers on two separate plates, and each topped with a layer of the creamy mascarpone frosting and a sprinkling of shaved chocolate. In other words, rather than creating a Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mocha-Mascarpone Frosting, I created two Mocha-Cappuccino Tortes topped with Chocolate Mascarpone Whipped Cream. Needless to say, they were devoured at the recital reception.
Having read a number of reviews on Epicurious, it seems my “lighter-than-expected” frosting was a common occurrence with others who had tried this recipe. As such, my only recommendation can be to use a dark chocolate cocoa powder in the frosting, such as Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder or Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder. The cake recipe, though, is amazing! 

The second disaster was more of a disappointment in presentation than I was read to handle. I planned to make two bundt cakes for my office’s December birthday celebration party. Sadly, I was off by an entire WEEK and ended up bringing in the two cakes just because (they were still eaten, of course). Here’s the other downside – I had just returned from Thanksgiving break, so I a) was extremely tired and b) had to bake both cakes the day I got back (Sunday) since the “birthday celebration” (or so I thought) was the following day (Monday). You can imagine that, after returning from a 4 day vacation, my ability to devote an entire day to baking two cakes was the last thing I could do given my list of post-vacation chores: laundry, groceries, cleaning, checking email, etc. The basic moral of the story is the first cake I baked was under comfortable conditions, while the second was under nervous anxiety. The first cake turned out beautifully: a chocolate cinnamon cake with simple glaze. The texture, look, and taste all measured up to my standards, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was the second cake that made it to my disaster chronicles: the Apple Bundt Cake with Caramel Glaze
Let begin this story in saying that I had been worrying about finding the second bundt recipe for a LONG time before finally settling on Apple. Pear, Cappuccino, Spice Cake, Sweet Potato - you name, I probably Googled it. So you can imagine my dismay when my research was foiled by this cake’s disappointment. I wanted a beautiful, golden bundt filled with chunks of soft apple and tinged with cinnamon and nutmeg. Instead, I ended up with a bundt that had a crispy outer shell and a sponge-like filling, that was then drenched in an extremely messy caramel sauce. The result was a cake I could hardly imagine carrying beyond my front door for fear of trailing caramel sauce across Boston. The smell emanating throughout my apartment was to die for, but this recipe is one that is literally a “home-style” recipe (a.k.a. not meant for delivery beyond residence - see the photo below) 
My improvisation: a new bundt cake – I had to come up with something to bring in (considering one cake would never be enough for my office). I deferred to my previous post: pumpkin bundt cake. I baked it the morning of, and my coworkers loved that the cake was still warm. Regardless of my oversight on the birthday celebration, these two cakes were duly enjoyed (below). 
A suggestion for the Apple Caramel Bundt: if you ever encounter such a strange mess as this that’s still utterly delicious, do what our mother’s used to: casserole it! By that I mean crumble the bundt cake, throw it into a casserole dish, top with some nuts or cranberries, and bake it for 10 to 15 minutes to reheat. Serve in small bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and call it a day.

So to make a long story short, I learned a few lessons from these two cakes. Never overestimate a source, regardless of how prestigious their reputation may seem, and always consider the delivery aspect of said cake before drenching it in a sauce that is likely to get onto everything you encounter en route. I hope these disaster chronicles will save you a similar fate.

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