Sometimes a cooking failure is not really a failure, as such.
I have a friend whose birthday is today. Her son also has a birthday this week. She invited my husband and I over for her birthday dinner, and I asked immediately, “What kind of cake do you like?’ I’ve been to her house many times in the last four years for parties or dinners, and invariably I bring a dessert. It’s what I’m good at. She loves my desserts, and answered, “Whatever you bake, it will be my favorite.”
She’s so sweet like that. I love her because she’s very no-nonsense, and when I need advice on how to handle a difficult situation, she is very honest about it. And she honestly does love my baking. If she didn’t like something, she’d tell me.
Now, for some reason, I started off with baking a version of Hershey’s Black Magic Cake that I had found in a kosher cookbook from when I was working as the Kitchen Manager at Hillel House for a semester as part of my B.S. degree in Restaurant Administration. It’s a kosher pareve cake, which means for those who don’t understand Kashrut (the laws of keeping Kosher) it contains no dairy products. It’s a good cake to make and bring if you are going to someone’s house who can’t have butter or milk, as it’s made with margarine and soy milk.
I did not use margarine, as I don’t keep that on hand any longer. I used real butter, and I also used milk because I didn’t have any soy milk around. I did have almond milk, but it had gone off. I got the batter put together, greased and floured the bundt pan, and threw it in the oven.
When I checked it, I noticed that a LOT of the batter had crawled out through the middle hole of the pan and onto the floor of the oven. Crap! The pan was too small! The cake was done, so I took it out of the oven and put it on the stove to cool, meaning to get a wire rack under it and then spacing out on that step. I went upstairs to do some work and came down half an hour later with a mess of cake on a plate. My husband, being helpful, decided to remove the cake from the pan because he felt the top and it was cool. (Sigh, eye roll, and “Please leave my cakes alone”)
I have now almost run out of cocoa powder, and I have run out of sugar, so I need to go to the market and get these ingredients to make a second version of the cake. Well, I can get some caramel sauce to drizzle over it, and I have heavy cream so I can make whipped cream to serve with it. It has now become a deconstructed “Better than Sex” cake. I know I have another, larger bundt cake pan in this house somewhere – I will use that and put a sheet pan on the lower rack to catch any overflow, should it happen.
The second cake pan was slightly larger. Some of the cake batter did escape the pan and it was caught by the sheet pan underneath. I allowed it to cool for an hour, on a wire rack, and after cutting the bits that were gripping the central cone of the pan, I was able to get the cake out intact. I put it on the cake carrier base to allow it to cool thoroughly before attempting to put a drizzle on it.
The first cake sat on its plate on the stove, in chunks, waiting to be eaten. My husband and I picked at it, like crows eating road kill. I did grab a small bowl to try it with the caramel sauce. Yup, it was wonderful.
See, I could have stopped at the first cake failure, said screw it, I’m bringing a trifle instead. Gotten some pudding, and made a chocolate, vanilla, and caramel trifle and topped it with real whipped cream. A cake that overruns its pan, but still tastes good, is not a failure. A cake that falls into chunks when you take it out of the pan, but still has big enough pieces to serve, or can be used for some other dessert, is not a failure. It’s also not a cake any longer, it’s an ingredient in something else.
Sometimes in life, we do things that don’t work out quite as we had planned. I bought a Honda Pilot as a tow vehicle for a pop-up camper that I had bought a few months earlier. When I went to have the tow hitch installed, I learned that I couldn’t tow with that vehicle due to a large amount of rust eating the attachment points away. Later, we learned the roof of the camper was rotted and we would need to completely replace it. It will cost about a grand to fix the Honda so it can tow, and it will cost about $300 to replace the roof of the camper.
In the meantime, I had a vehicle that I was much more confident with driving when we got snow, that allows me to see over the snow banks when I’m getting out of my driveway in the winter. I’m happier with this vehicle. The camper lid replacement got us thinking about a possible side-business of renovating old pop-up campers for new users, to get more families out camping who might not be able to afford a brand new camper. We’ll either repair the Pilot or replace my husband’s aging mini-van with a pickup truck.
Sometimes, one has to think around the edges to use the flops in one’s life to make sometime different.