Sometimes the solution can be worse than the problem. I was asked to make dessert for a friend’s engagement party – a simple enough request and a task that I know the organizer felt I was more than capable of executing. Except that I’m not a baker. I don’t have the temperament for it. I have an aversion to precision, preferring to improvise or riff off established recipes adding my own spin. Baking, though, does not reward this trait. In the same way that Santa divides the world into naughty and nice, I divide the world into baker personalities and non-baker personalities. I am, without question, a non-baker personality.
The cake that I decided would be worthy of this occasion was a lemon cake, but rather than finding a recipe for “Lemon Cake” I decided to adapt an old family lemon tea bread that I’d made many times with great success. Let’s just say that adaptations of anything are rarely as good as the original.
The problem arose, not because I chose to make a minor tweak, but because I decided to overhaul the whole thing – flour was decreased, baking soda added, a third egg slipped in, yogurt introduced. The batter was outstanding! It went into the oven with pride. Sadly though, there is little correlation between successful batter and edible cake.
Forty five minutes later when pulled from the oven, I knew there was trouble. It was depressed in the middle and barely higher than its pre-cooked state. I cut a sliver (I would just squeeze the cake together later) to test my suspicions. Worse than suspected. It was tart but at the same time not lemony enough and dry.
But dinner was starting in an hour and options were limited. And so I did what any non-baker would do, I added ingredients after the cake was cooked. I heated sugar and lemon and water and drizzled it – dumped it – over the cake. It was absorbed rapidly, growing heavy and wet. I took another sliver to test and concluded that the solution was far worse than the problem. It was bloated and soggy – a state with no chance at reversal.
When a dessert fails, the only chance for salvation is whip cream. So I picked it up in large quantities on the way to dinner, whipped it on site, dumped it onto each plate, encouraged second helpings (of the whipped cream, not the cake), and knew I had good friends when they left not a crumb.
I share this simply as a cautionary tale, at a time of the year when bakers and non-bakers, are often called forth to bake. The learning?
- There is such thing as too much creativity in the kitchen
- You can not make a cake moist by adding moisture later
- Yogurt is heavy – use it sparingly (if it all) when baking
- Baking soda is more tart than baking powder, use it only when the recipe asks you to (don’t question this as I did)
- Whip cream is the duct tape of baking – keep a pint on hand
Here is the recipe, in its unadulterated state, of the original lemon bread (also pictured above). It would make an excellent Christmas Day sweet, and though it’s called “bread” that’s really only because it’s cooked in a loaf pan – honestly, it’s cake and nothing needs to be done to it to make it any more cakey.
Care to share any cooking failures and successful cover-ups?
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