Our sports boosters held their big fundraiser dinner last weekend, so I volunteered to bake a couple of cakes for the dessert auction. I haven’t baked for awhile (partly due to the whole lightning strike incident), but what the heck, right? It’s for a good cause.
I must have offended the bad cooking fairy somewhere along the line, because she was definitely out to get me. I couldn’t even find the recipes at first! My favorite is Mary Ellen’s spice cake. Whoever or whatever Mary Ellen is/was has been lost to the sands of time, but it is a great recipe and I couldn’t find it! Finally had to take all of the cards out of the file and go through them one by one—it was hiding in the dinner section (placed there, no doubt, by the fairy in a fit of devilry late at night!). I also have a killer carrot cake recipe that I never did locate, so I finally settled on plan B—the CIA cookbook. For the uninitiated, it is not a cookbook for spies, or even a collection of recipes so secret you have to kill yourself after cooking them. The CIA is the Culinary Institute of America and they have uber-amazing recipes plus how to cook everything known to man (see chapter 17—how to prepare the squirrel your son shot and killed with his slingshot so you are making him eat it!) It also doubles as exercise equipment. You could get in serious shape bench-pressing this thing—it weighs about 50 pounds. It also contains the best trick I have ever learned when it comes to making cakes—add pastry cream to the frosting to give it texture and subtlety of flavor. The only challenge with the CIA is that all recipes are restaurant quantity and measured in grams and drams and scruples and have to be scientifically re-engineered for normal portions.
So the plan was to cook the cakes Wednesday night, make the pastry cream Thursday night and frost them Friday night. I got home from work Wednesday night and found that, somehow, every dish in the kitchen had managed to crawl out of its respective cupboard and get itself dirty! I know I complain about cleaning, but I really do try to keep up with the kitchen cleaning and David is stellar at helping out with this—I suspect the bad cooking fairy had a fairy banquet while I was at work that day, but have no way of proving it. Still, I’m pretty sure I heard her giggling in the background as I washed and dried them all. Then it was on to the mise en place. For those of you who don’t possess the CIA cookbook, this is where you drag out all of the dishes you just washed and prepare to get them dirty again!
After whipping up the Mary Ellen’s Spice Cake, I got to wash all of the dishes again, and then I was faced with a dilemma—I had used my only two round cake pans for the spice cake… what to do with the carrot cake? I decided to cook it Thursday night, so I could make it round. As I waited for the first cake to cook, I thought perhaps I should at least peel and grate the carrots so I would have a head start on it. The next thing you know, I had decided to bake the cake that night as soon as the spice cake was out of the pans.
Only the spice cake wouldn’t come out of the pans! Absolutely not, NO thank you! I didn’t know what to make of it. I tried to be as gentle and as careful as possible, but it simply wouldn’t budge and, in the end, as careful as I was, I still made a mess of it. I would have to bake another spice cake if I wanted something nice looking for the auction.
So now I had a carrot cake to bake, another spice cake to bake, one very mangled spice cake to deal with, and two VERY stuck on pans to wash. I decided to make the carrot cake rectangular instead. I got the carrot cake in the oven, washed all of the dishes again until I finally got to the two cake pans. These two pans are non-stick and I had used Pam spray, but the exterior layer of the cake seemed to have permanently bonded itself to the interior of the pans anyway. Obviously, the bad fairy had switched my Pam with a can of spray craft glue! By the time I had the carrot cake out of the oven and cooling, I decided the spice cake was going to have to wait until Thursday night and I went to bed.
Did I mention it was windy? David and I thought we were being so smart, building our house on a ridge to take advantage of the view. And most of the time life is idyllic and we can sit and enjoy our lovely view with lovely pastoral music floating around in our heads. But when the wind blows, our vents flap, the water heater exhaust whistles and the siding and other random unidentified objects bang and whump and rattle all night long! Wednesday night, I got a grand total of two hours of sleep. So Thursday night, I was too tired to do anything but fall into bed and sleep.
So the plan became: bake cake and make pastry cream Friday night, frost Saturday morning. The fund raiser was Saturday night. This time, I lined the pan with parchment. It stuck again wherever there was no parchment, but I was still able to remove the cakes intact this time. All I had to do now was make the pastry cream and I could fall back into bed and try to make up one or two more hours of lost sleep. Unfortunately, the bad kitchen fairy cursed my pastry cream making skills last year and she obviously hasn’t let up. I have made it a lot of times over the years, but it wasn’t until I was making a trifle last year (using a non-CIA approved recipe) that I read the sentence “if the pastry cream is lumpy, run it through a fine sieve.”
I thought to myself, “Hmmm… My pastry cream never comes out lumpy…”
We all know the end of that story. I have a theory that when you bring it to a boil after adding the eggs, you should actually bring it to a boil more quickly than I have been. I am planning to experiment with that soon because I plan to make a trifle out of the mangled remains of the first spice cake. I have another theory that I used to cook it in an old pot that was, essentially, the final remains of my mother’s old pressure cooker. The handle was broken and there was no lid or little pressure thingy, but it was heavy cast aluminum. I doubt I still have it—I am using a new enamel clad cast iron dutch oven. If the cooking process doesn’t solve the problem, I may blame the pot—after all, it always worked in my mother’s pot! Although… it could just be that evil fairy again—I may be cursed to forever produce lumpy pastry cream. I guess it’s better than being a frog!
The real problem with my pastry cream, however, revealed itself Saturday morning when I went to frost the cakes. In trying to prevent it becoming lumpy, I, apparently, didn’t get it thick enough. So I mixed up the first batch of frosting, whipped in some pastry cream, and produced a sort of heavy syrup—definitely not something I could frost a cake with! So… second batch of frosting for the second spice cake later, I had one cake finished. Then, apparently, the bad kitchen fairy cast a forgetfulness spell on me because I mixed some of the pastry cream into the frosting for the carrot cake, thinking I would use a smidge less this time, and wound up with cream cheese “syrup.” AGAIN? How did I manage THAT? Half an hour later, I was completely out of powdered sugar but had managed to produce an appropriately frosted and decorated carrot cake as well.
But that’s not even the end of the story! I mean, the cakes sold, blah, blah, blah! We raised money, etc… etc… But… Remember how heavy the CIA cookbook is? Friday night, I put the lid to the butter dish on the book as a paperweight to keep it open to the pastry cream recipe. While my back was turned, the bad cooking fairy gave it a good push and it crashed to the floor and exploded into (it turns out) several million shards. David graciously swept it up right away, but he missed a few splinters here and there. By Sunday night, I had proven that the most efficient way to clean glass slivers off of the floor is using bare feet! It turns out that not only am I not agile enough to pull glass splinters out of my feet anymore, but I’m too blind to see them anyway. This explains why I left work early Monday so that a doctor could shoot my feet full of Novocain and dig shards of glass out of them. And THAT is what I blame the boosters for—Novocain shots—OUCH!!