31 Aug Humble Pie
No photo today. I had hoped to wow you with stellar shots of what my friends dubbed the Pound of Butter Cake — a Paula Dean concoction layered with impossibly rich buttercream. And yes, the recipe takes a whole pound of butter.
As you can likely tell from the long block of text below and no recipe, that things didn’t go as planned. If you’re feeling less than confident about your culinary skills, pour yourself a coffee and sit a while. Even if you find Kraft Dinner and Salad In a Bag a challenge, I’m about to make you feel like Monarch of the Kitchen (she writes using non-gender specific language for the men who read this blog.)
It was my friend’s birthday on the weekend, and Andrew and I were hosting the dinner. Things had been going along all tickety-boo at Christie’s Corner, so I was feeling relaxed and confident. Perfect peaches, decadent ice creams, low-ish fat raspberry squares that inspired kudos. It was all so good. Too good.
First, I dropped my latte whip and broke it in two. Then our stupidly expensive, for-the-coffee-addict-who-has-everything burr grinder began to fall apart. Less than a year old and not only is it overheating, the ON button flaps about like a jack-in-the-box. As you know, things come in threes. And with a pair of disasters already under my apron, I started the Birthday Dessert.
Hours before the guests arrived, I started the cake. A butter-rich white cake made with coconut milk. I diligently read the directions and, as requested, stirred in the flour and coconut milk alternately by hand. Maybe I’ve made a few too many red curries or Thai soups, but although the recipe clearly states “1/2 cup coconut milk”, my brain told me to dump in the whole can. All 400 mls of coconut milk went into the batter. That’s 1 3/4 cups for those of you who don’t speak metric. I might have been able to salvage the batter if I’d merely doubled the liquid required, but three and a half times too much milk? I don’t have enough cake pans for that.
So into the oven it went with the plan to freeze the results, make some drunken, booze-soaked trifle later and regale my guests with the amusing story. No big deal. Also, I had enough time to make a second cake later. But first, I’d tackle the buttercream icing.
Despite possessing several perfectly good buttercream icing recipes written by trusted sources, I though I’d try something new by a yet untested author. Why would I take this risky path with company a mere four hours away? This version swayed me because it didn’t require a candy thermometer and an engineering degree. You just had to boil the milk and cream with the sugar and beat the thickened mess until cool, at which point you added the butter. How easy is that?
Now, the butter was to be “soft, yet cold”. This contradictory instruction should have raised alarm bells, but it didn’t. And when I read the instruction to beat the boiled milk mixture with a paddle attachment, I should have closed the book and hauled out the candy thermometer. I don’t have a stand mixer, let alone a paddle attachment, so I made the icing —in a kitchen that was growing hotter by the minute — with a hand mixer and standard beaters.
I learned the hard way that beaters are not a paddle.
Shockingly, the icing didn’t work. Instead of rising light and fluffy, it slumped in a wan puddle at the bottom of my bowl. The directions promised that if I chilled the icing and tried again, it would whip up perfectly. It did this, but the icing didn’t keep its part of the bargain Instead, it separated into tiny, curd-like lumps.
No worries, by this time the kitchen was a steam bath, and the heat took care of those pesky, hard, buttery lumps. Within minutes the icing had melted back into a puddle.
At this point the overly-milked cakes were ready to come out of the oven. Before I attempted the second batch, I decided I needed a victory to motivate me, so I churned the salted caramel ice cream I’d started the night before. At midnight.
Now, despite two past successes with this recipe, three times was not the charm. When the recipe says melt the caramel until it’s dark amber, it means dark amber. Not light amber or golden amber or caramel the colour of light beer. But it was late and the caramel was beginning to smoke and I only had enough sugar for one batch and I decided that light amber was better than burnt and pulled the pale caramel off the stove.
And wouldn’t you know it. The next day the damned mixture won’t set. It remained a liquid.
So, I tossed the salted caramel mush into the freezer to deal with later. I would serve the mocha ice cream with salted butter caramel sauce left over from Tuesday’s barbecue and pretend it was a deliberate choice.
As the too-much-coconut-milk cakes cooled, I made the second batch. This time I followed the recipe properly and got the pans into the oven without incident. How’d this happen? I figure Murphy was too busy to bother ruining the do-over.
Back to the icing. I beat some more butter, which now pushed the recipe well past the pound-of-butter stage, and drizzled the puddle into it. It whipped up fine. At first. But within minutes it started to become stringy, like melting marshmallows. This was one time when my motto, “When in doubt, add booze” would not salvage the dish. So if fell back on my other magic bullet — chocolate.
The icing lacked the buttery flavour and was far too sweet, so I melted and cooled a couple squares of bitter chocolate. I drizzled these into the icing, which turned it from cloying, pseudo-marshmallow failure into a passable sort-of-chocolate frosting.
The white cake with light chocolate icing was good. The mocha ice cream (recipe tomorrow, I promise) with salted caramel sauce was a hit and the birthday girl loved her dessert. It wasn’t the dessert I’d planned, but it was better than my backup plan — corner store Twinkies with a side of Eskimo Pies.
The salted caramel mush is still in the deep freeze. Once my ego bruises heal I’ll see if some melted bitter chocolate will set the blasted mixture enough to churn into ice cream you can scoop. I’ll get back to you on that one.
So, there you have it. A full-blown, three-times-not-so-lucky kitchen fiasco. Cake, frosting and ice cream all a mess. And the wooden skewers for the kebabs? That’s another story!
Have you messed up royally before a big event? If so, do share. Misery loves company.