It’s a story of tenacity. Perseverance. Winning.
It’s a story of a street-wise Chicago teen who moves to a small repressed town where dancing and rock music are illegal. Against all odds, he… oh, sorry. Wrong story.
It’s a story about me and a @#$%! chocolate cake.
The truth is that I was doomed before I began, and it was all Matt’s fault. He happened to be piddling in the kitchen while I prepared my mise en place. I distinctly remember buttering and flouring the cake pans and telling him, “You know, I’m amazed that I haven’t had to make any of these Bon Appétit cover recipes twice.”
I actually said that. Out loud. To another human being.
I thought I had it in the bag. How many cakes have I baked in my life? After my inaugural turkey, surely this would be a no brainer, right? I mean, can I get an amen?!
Now, Matt’s a stoic guy. He doesn’t always have something to say. In fact, about half the time he replies to me with a “Humph.”
In MattSpeak, that translates to, “I have understood and acknowledged your statement; however, I have nothing further to contribute to this topic.”
On occasion, though, he comes up with a perfect little quip, chock full of simple wisdom. This was one of those occasions.
Let’s rewind a bit and get the full effect:
Laura [buttering and flouring a cake pan, quite satisfied with herself]: “You know, I’m amazed that I haven’t had to make any of these Bon Appétit cover recipes twice.”
Matt [piddling, aloof]: “Seems like you’d wanna wait until you’ve actually finished all twelve of them to make a statement like that.”
Do you have ANY idea what it’s like to live with someone who’s nearly always right?
Or, for if you’re the superstitious type: Can you BELIEVE he jinxed me like that? Gah.
And so it began. The batter came together easily enough, went into the pan easily enough, slid into the oven easily enough. So far, so good.
But when the cake layers were done, I thought it might be fun to drop one of them on the floor. You know, just to remind myself what startled and horrified feel like when experienced simultaneously.
The good news was that I dropped the pan right side up, where it landed completely flat on its bottom, like a brick. The poor cake, piping hot from the oven, scrambled like eggs inside the pan. After the requisite muttering under my breath, I told myself that it was nothing that an advanced cooling technique and some buttercream spackling couldn’t hide.
No problem. I got this.
Speaking of buttercream, it had its share of issues too — it separated while beating in the butter. It was looking a little iffy there for a minute, but I warmed and whisked it a little and managed to recover.
No problem. I got this.
Then came the glaze. Ohhhhh, the glaze. I made it twice, and failed twice, which is kind of amazing considering that it requires all of one step: melt stuff. The first time, I melted the stuff, and then waited for it to thicken, which the recipe said would take about 5 minutes. After 30 minutes, I tried chilling it, to no avail. It was the roughly the consistency of water.
After checking, I realized that the recipe states “1 ½ sticks,” but I read it to be 1 ½ cups, which is 3 sticks. Twice as much. No wonder.
So I made it again. The second take thickened enough to go on the cake, but something was still off. It was thick, but kind of gloppy and didn’t spread well.
I decided to move on. The chocolate ribbons would distract the eye and cover all my sins.
No problem. I got this.
Well, the @#$%! ribbons didn’t turn out to be the @#$%! panacea I’d been counting on. They were floppy and flimsy and structurally unsound. I added powdered sugar. I froze them. I tried everything I could think of, but there was no three-dimensional bow in this cake’s future.
Uhhhh, problem. I don’t got this.
I had a bona fide cake wreck on my hands. (Before you ask, all photographic evidence has been destroyed.)
So, what happened? At first, I wasn’t sure. I checked the recipe’s comments on the Bon Appetit site, to see if there had been a misprint or some such. I grumbled as I read how easy and fabulous it was for everyone else.
I mulled it over. I re-read the recipe. I couldn’t figure it out.
Then, two nights later, I sat bolt upright in bed out of a deep sleep. I knew the answer.
I had incorrectly measured the chocolate.
I had used a different brand of chocolate than I normally do. My usual brand comes in 1-ounce squares, but the brand I used came in ½-ounce squares. So, while I counted out what I thought was the correct number of ounces, in reality I had only used half the necessary amount of chocolate – in both the @#$%! glaze and the @#$%! ribbons.
It was a total rookie mistake.
That’s the thing I like about baking – it’s a personal barometer. If my head isn’t clear, I make mistakes. I drop things. I mis-read recipes. I lose stuff.
Once I realized the chocolate problem, and stopped to think about all the other things I’d done wrong, I realized how cluttered my mind was, how stressed I’d been.
You may have noticed that I started posting fewer entries about that time – I needed to regroup, relax, get my head on straight. It took a while, but it worked – and then my world kind of blew up.
Once again, I needed to regroup, relax, get my head on straight. And once again, life settled down.
By then it was September. Yikes. Not sure how that happened, but I never lost sight of the @#$%! chocolate cake I wanted to remake. My birthday of my lovely mother-in-law, Eileen, is in September, and I saw my opportunity.
I made the cake. Again. This time, with my head on straight.
It was a bit of work, but each step was pretty easy, especially when you measure correctly and aren’t burdened with having to recover from, say, dropping the @#$%! thing.
And I have to say, it was quite lovely. Dense and highly spiced, it was a sneak preview of the flavors of Christmas. I felt vindicated. Victorious. Redeemed.
Two weeks later, my world blew up again when my dad died suddenly. (That might be the understatement of the century, actually – but you get the idea.)
I’m learning a hard lesson: this is life. Up, down, sideways. Sometimes backwards. But the important thing is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how strong the headwind.
Why? Because I’ve seen the alternatives. They aren’t pretty.
And they don’t get you any cake.