Humble Pie

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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.

No Comments
  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 11:43h, 31 August Reply

    That sounds like a day in my kitchen! More people need to post their disasters and challenges.

    The last time I made the salted caramel ice cream I totally burnt the caramel – mostly because I was on Twitter while also trying to keep the girls out of the kitchen and away from the hot caramel. But the worst day was this one:
    http://backseatgourmet.blogspot.com/2009/08/perfect-first-date.html
    But as you've shown, what matter at the end of the day – really – is whether people had a good time.

  • Cheryl Arkison
    Posted at 11:43h, 31 August Reply

    That sounds like a day in my kitchen! More people need to post their disasters and challenges.

    The last time I made the salted caramel ice cream I totally burnt the caramel – mostly because I was on Twitter while also trying to keep the girls out of the kitchen and away from the hot caramel. But the worst day was this one:
    http://backseatgourmet.blogspot.com/2009/08/perfect-first-date.html
    But as you've shown, what matter at the end of the day – really – is whether people had a good time.

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 13:26h, 31 August Reply

    Oh, Charmian, what a day! I love your tell-all attitude … it goes a long way toward making us mortals feel better about the mishaps in our own kitchens. The really good news is that you persevered and, like Cheryl A. said, the only thing that matters is the fun and fellowship of the evening.

    While most of my epic failures have been reserved for my husband, I do seem to recall a pear/cardamom cheesecake baked in haste for a friend's dinner party. I couldn't be bothered to line the outside of the springform pan with foil – as the recipe suggested. Needless to say, once melted, all the butter seeped out of the crust and burnt on the bottom of my oven. Hours and hours of acrid black smoke later … I baked another cheesecake and followed the instructions the second time.

    Cleaning the oven took FOREVER and the first cheesecake went into the trash because it tasted like burnt butter smoke.

    I've never made that mistake again!

  • The Diva on a Diet
    Posted at 13:26h, 31 August Reply

    Oh, Charmian, what a day! I love your tell-all attitude … it goes a long way toward making us mortals feel better about the mishaps in our own kitchens. The really good news is that you persevered and, like Cheryl A. said, the only thing that matters is the fun and fellowship of the evening.

    While most of my epic failures have been reserved for my husband, I do seem to recall a pear/cardamom cheesecake baked in haste for a friend's dinner party. I couldn't be bothered to line the outside of the springform pan with foil – as the recipe suggested. Needless to say, once melted, all the butter seeped out of the crust and burnt on the bottom of my oven. Hours and hours of acrid black smoke later … I baked another cheesecake and followed the instructions the second time.

    Cleaning the oven took FOREVER and the first cheesecake went into the trash because it tasted like burnt butter smoke.

    I've never made that mistake again!

  • Cheryl @ 5secondrule
    Posted at 13:36h, 31 August Reply

    Kumbaya, my lord, kumbayaaaaaaaa. Kumbaya, my lord, kumbayaaaaaaaaaaa.

    Dude, that sucks. What else can I say. That SUCKS! But you put on your game face and dealt with it. I once made a cake with a pound of butter instead of a stick. My kids still talk about it. ("Remember that Butter Breakfast you made?") Uh, yeah, I remember.

    And just this morning I managed to elbow a full carton of eggs from the counter onto the floor. And they were organic.

    Your misery's got plenty of company.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 13:37h, 31 August Reply

    All of a sudden I look like the cook in the family. You are too funny!! I still think Laura is only learning to cook out of self defense, but my wise hubby keeps saying he like everything I get on the table. Great part is your "disasters" usually still taste good and if you swap the originally cutlery you were going to use for a different tool they are inevitably still consumable.
    Love, Robin

  • ForestK
    Posted at 14:06h, 31 August Reply

    Tis better to have cooked and lost, than to never have cooked at all

  • Kitchen Goddess
    Posted at 14:16h, 31 August Reply

    I love it. This reminds me of my father's commentary to my mother years ago. If the bananas were going "off", she would leave them in a heap on the counter, along with a mixing bowl, the flour container, eggs, and the hand beater. This was my sign to make a banana cake for the family. My dad's reaction? "Lemme see if I get this right. Rather than throw out $0.37 worth of bananas, better she should make a cake, add another $5.00 of ingredients, which we can THEN throw out because we're all watching our weight!!!"

    You're a better man than I, Christie, to keep plodding along. The air at my end would have been blue and blistered with cursing, and I would just have given 'em…more wine, of course!

  • Terry Cohoe
    Posted at 16:22h, 31 August Reply

    Good for you, being able to salvage those little challenges. I would have baled (bailed?) long before I corrected the icing issues. I made mashed potatoes once that turned into glue when I put the mixer to them. Still not sure why, but I whipped up some instant rice with peas and at least there were carbs with dinner. :)

  • Roving Lemon
    Posted at 19:03h, 31 August Reply

    Groan! My most recent kitchen disaster was forgetting to put the eggs in my daughter's birthday cake–and not remembering until the pans had been in for 15 minutes and it was too late. "You really should take all the ingredients out ahead of time," advised An Observer Who Never Bakes Anything. "I did," said I, through gritted teeth. "There they are, sitting on the counter." Some days–especially the ones involving doing too much–are just like this. I'm impressed with your ability to salvage when things go wrong: that is true cooking know-how in my opinion.

  • danamccauley
    Posted at 20:36h, 31 August Reply

    Been there, done that. Honest. It doesn't matter how long you've been cooking or how much training you have, every once in a while, things just run amok.

    I can't think of one to catalogue right this second, but I know that I've had so many that I could fill up your comments bandwidth quota.

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 20:52h, 31 August Reply

    I was having my son's future mother in law and her son's to our home for the first time…I had tested a coconut cake a few days before and it was perect…my son ate it all….the day of the dinner I made the cake again and it oozed over the sides of the cake pan …dripped into the oven and filled the house with smoke….out it went ..I too had time to make another …so tried another recipe for cinnamon toast cake…sounds good!!I have discovered cake and pastry flour and I do NOT get along at all….another disaster…but I drizzled a lovely icing all over it an it was eaten up…the whole dinner was quite a disaster…it may be quite a long time before I have them over again!

  • Puglette
    Posted at 02:25h, 01 September Reply

    my husband and i had our entire family over to our new house for dinner. this was the first time we had a dinner party. i had a lovely fresh caught salmon that i had cut into steaks. i laid them all out on the broiler pan and picked up the pan in one hand to pop them under the broiler. i tipped the pan and half of the steaks slid off…into the garbage can. and yes, i pulled them out, cleaned them off and served them.
    i still blush thinking about itand this was nearly 16 yearsago!
    hugs,
    puglette
    :o)

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 08:01h, 01 September Reply

    Cheryl A, I read your post and laughed out loud. At least I didn't spill anything.

    Diva, I have had springform pan disasters, but not to the same extent. You win.

    Cheryl, I think the egg breaking was preemptive karma for singing kumbaya to me.

    Robin, being my sister you know that not ALL my culinary disasters are edible. Remember the Easter salmon?

    Forest, I am going to adopt that as my new mantra.

    Kitchen Goddess, I love your father's thinking. As to the colour of the air? I don't recall. I was too busy panicking.

    Terry, I learned the hard way never to blend or food process mashed potatoes. They turn to glue and take forever to clean up. Since handmashed is the only route, I no longer make them. See. I can be lazy. I only persevered because there was no alternative and guests arriving.

    Roving Lemon, the Observer Who Never Bakes Anything is lucky to have survived. Great story. Sorry about the cake.

    Dana, "things run amok" is the perfect description.

    Anonymous, clearly coconut cake is evil. It did me in too! Thanks for sharing you tale of woe.

    Puglette, great story! I'd have salvaged the garbage salmon, too.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing. I feel much better now!!

  • Sophie
    Posted at 08:14h, 01 September Reply

    I think that it is nice to read other persons mistakes too.

    Sometimes, it all falls apart, with me too! How many times had I to make a cake before it was acceptable?

    I had the same problems with wholemeal rye breads.
    What a day!

    Your writing is excellent & so lovely to read!

  • Divawrites
    Posted at 11:35h, 02 September Reply

    I was hosting a retirement party for my father in law for 25 in November just after we were married. It was a surprise, sit down dinner in a tiny house. I was well organized and had been cooking and freezing for 6 weeks…including scalloped potatoes…(audible groan from foodies).
    First, I got a call from the butcher that they could not get a bone-in ham that was the linchpin of our dinner. They offered a pork shoulder, which I had no idea how to cook. Sent Hubby on an emergency run to find black forest hams.
    Then I took the potatoes out of the freezer, and discovered a blackened mess where potatoes should have been…so on the day of the party, with cleaning still to do, I started over and made 2 fresh lasagna pans of scalloped potatoes…and still managed to pull off the party.

    Bagpipes are very loud in a living room, however…

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