So when you cook a lot, like almost every day, because you have to feed people, then more on weekends and for holidays, parties and friends because you enjoy it, there are definitely highs and lows. Recipes where the payoff is HUGE for a small amount of effort and dinner makes you look like a pro. Times when everything is just so-so and you kinda wish you just ordered Thai food. Then there are abject failures. That’s just life. It happens. It also sucks. Especially when, inevitably, the biggest failure took a lot of time and effort to make. I try to roll with the punches and not get too upset when something goes wrong. And truly, I’m so busy being a perfectionist in my day job (occupational hazard), I’m far from it at home. Still, failures in the kitchen, like failure everywhere else drives me nuts.
This weekend I planned on making the cutest cake for my brother-in-law’s birthday. My sweet and stylish brother-in-law who is the best uncle and playmate to the kids, who is always happy to help when called upon for anything from babysitting to reorganizing the garage, carrying anything heavy, giving someone a ride, you name it. Uncle John.
Ever since Emmett was old enough to be captivated by the thought of a birthday Uncle John has had a birthday cake. The kids usually decide the theme. This year Emmett wanted to make him an “Irish cake” and Isla wanted something bright and childlike, so we decided on a rainbow. I was thinking Leprechauns, pot of gold, rainbow - Emmett didn’t get what the rainbow had to do with being Irish but he was still game. I looked through all of my my baking books and decided on a devil’s food cake and cream cheese frosting from a new book that I had been excited to try out. Truth be told, I was hesitant and thought maybe I should just use my go-to chocolate cake recipe. I poo-pooed myself for being overly conservative and forged ahead.
I think I sort of sabotaged myself. In my attempt to be more organized than usual, I measured out all of the ingredients ahead and put them in little bowls, everything that is, except the baking soda. Woops. Yes, I forgot the baking soda. So while the cake tasted good, it was gummy and dense. I was too distracted to notice because once I started the buttercream, I had bigger problems.
The buttercream recipe called for making a vanilla custard with milk and eggs first, then whipping butter and cream cheese together until fluffy and slowly adding the cooled custard. I have no idea what I did wrong but this was a D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R. At first it was sort of grainy and loose, then runny. I tried my best to save it and then decided that the only thing to do was to keep the cake refrigerated (which only exacerbated the texture issue). I really should have thrown the whole thing out and just made regular cream cheese frosting with butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar. Sometimes I’m too stubborn for my own good.
I ended up completing my unleavened disaster-piece, runny frosting and all just in time for dinner. The only upside was, surprisingly, the the kids still loved it. Isla thought it looked like something out of Trolls, her favorite movie. Emmett and Isla were both beside themselves with excitement, opening the fridge every few minutes to catch a glimpse of it. And when it was time to eat, Emmett happily scarfed down two pieces.
That night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I wondered to myself what happened to the cake part of the cake? Why was the texture like that? Then, suddenly it dawned on me, the baking soda. Ugh. I could have strangled myself. Of course this is not the first time I have forgotten the leavener. It’s actually one of my most common mistakes in the kitchen, why I’m not much of a baker and prefer cooking - less precision required.
It took me about a day to get over this birthday fail, which I know sounds silly, especially when there are hurricanes and earthquakes and so many people with real problems in the world. In my defense, I think it was the fact that I wasn’t 100% healthwise, feeling run down and overwhelmed and letting it get the best of me mentally.
Sharing it here actually makes me feel better. Now I see how the whole thing is inconsequential and funny and how the cake is still cute in it’s own silly way. I also think that it’s wonderful, magical even, to see things through the eyes of my children who still believe that cake was beautiful and delicious despite all evidence to the contrary.
No recipes today - for obvious reasons - just a message to everyone who’s had a big fail in the kitchen. Carry on! You’re doing great! Failures and all.