Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Week of the baking brown thumb

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I know it may seem like I’ve got this whole baking thing figured out (if you ignore all my posts about hair-tearing), but I do sometimes make mistakes.  Usually, though, they’re few and far between in the grand scheme of things.  But not last week.  Last week was the week of baking disasters.

It started with a cornbread, which the bf had requested weeks ago and which I decided on a whim to make dairy-free for an impromptu writing group meetup at my place.  Big mistake.  It looked gorgeous, but as it turns out, cornbread without butter and milk is just dry cornmeal in a cake shape.  Worse, it was the first time the other three ladies had ever tried cornbread– I think I may have ruined Southern cooking for them, despite their kind lies about it being delicious.

Next up was a chocolate cake, which I’d been craving for days.  I had the cocoa left over from the brownie debacle, so I went to town.  Except I didn’t have 2 layer pans, so I used my new pyrex 9x13.  I was sure it would be fine, but within minutes of being in the oven the cake looked like it had a skin disease.  And that didn’t change with the full baking time:

And then, although a cake tester had come out clean in multiple places, upon cutting in we discovered the cake was all squidgy in the middle.  To the point that I stuck it back in (after the bf had eaten about 1/4 of it) for another half hour.  And yet it was still gooey!  But at least it was edible...

But the last straw came on Saturday night, when I was preparing for an impromptu brunch the next day (hm, I’m starting to see a pattern here…).  I had already been grocery shopping with the bf, and then cooked and prepared the strata to pop in the oven in the morning, but I’d foolishly decided to wait until dark to turn the oven on and bake my blueberry sour cream coffee cake.  It gets dark here around 9 or 10 in the summer, and by the time the bf and I had finished our episode of Come Dine With Me (a totally amazing show that everyone should be addicted to) it was 11:30 pm!  So I threw the cake together, trying to be careful not to screw anything up, and I felt triumphant when I stuck it in the oven around midnight.  But then we pulled it out at 1am (after a cake tester had come out clean from multiple places!), and when I flipped it over only half came out.  The whole top was gloop!

So… I lost it.  Like a total spaz.  As in, tears and punching walls and hair-pulling.  I’m not proud.  But if I didn’t share the effects, embarrassing as they might be, of the recipes I test, I’d be lying to y’all. 

I blame the weather for all these problems.  It’s been hot as Hades (well, one of the cooler circles– nothing like the US east coast, but still) in London the past couple of weeks, which I’m pretty sure has affected my baked goods.  I’m certain it’s addled my brain.  It’s also meant that when I flop, I freak, because it took four times the energy (both mine and the kind we pay for) to bake anything in this stifling heat.

In my defense, these disasters weren’t really as disastrous as they felt; the cornbread was dry but it did have a nice flavor, and the entire chocolate cake was consumed within 2 days by the bf and me (mostly the bf) and in fact looked ok once cut up, and the blueberry cake did taste pretty delicious after a night upside-down in the turned-off-still-hot oven, but to me they were all flops nonetheless.

See, back in my high school days, when I was just baking for the fun of it, or for the sugar fix, it didn’t matter much to me what my baked goods looked like.  As long as they tasted good, and my friends and family were happy, I was happy.  Then, in college, I got kind of a reputation for my baking, and suddenly I was whipping up treats for people who didn’t know my history in the kitchen, which meant I was judged on one or two attempts instead of a lifetime of goodies with a few baddies thrown in.  And the pressure was on.  Only from me, but still.

And then I started this infernal blog, which I love so much it’s like my less-expensive, less-noisy child, and the pressure tightened like a noose.  Suddenly I'm a real baker.  With a website and everything!  And now, every time something looks hideous, I refuse to serve it to anyone but my poor bf (we can’t have a dog because I’m allergic).

Except the blueberry coffee cake.  That went into the office with him this morning, cleverly sliced and laid in a Tupperware to disguise its deformity.  Hey, I can’t expect him to eat all my failures away!

If you want to try your hand at any of the recipes (which I’m sure aren’t to blame for my failings), I've told you where to find them below, because after all that work and stress, I'm not about to write them out!  Gah.

From Joy of Cooking (I highly recommend following the recipe, rather than subbing water for milk and oil for butter/bacon fat)

"Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake"
From Big Oven

Blueberry Sour Cream Coffeecake
From Allrecipes


  1. Oh no! I'm sorry the baked goods didn't turn out like you wanted. It's all about learning right. At least they tasted good. That's def. all that matters :)
    Would you mind checking out my blog? :D http://ajscookingsecrets.blogspot.com/

  2. It is indeed all about the learning. And I'm convinced a little hair-tearing is good for the soul, anyway!
    I'm headed for your blog right now, not that I need any more food blog addictions!

  3. I've definitely gone through those moments. I understand how you feel completely. I am disappointed with the photos of my latest post, but I decided to put up the photos anyway because they tasted great. However, I get sort of down every time I can't produce something decent for the blog. I completely understand.

    Anyway, the cake (which comes from Hershey's and is my go-to recipe) and blueberry coffeecake still look amazing. I would eat them up!

  4. Hi Memòria,

    I totally understand the frustration of disappointing photos (as I'm sure you could assume based on the snaps in this post!). But yes, the cakes were both pretty tasty, and once we ate them all we didn't have to look at them anymore– win win!

    I'll keep posting my disappointments if you will! We bloggers have to stick together.

  5. Sorry you had sucha rough week. I'll never forget the time in high school when I decided to make SIX different types of Christmas cookies the day before my family's Christmas Eve celebration. It all ended in tears, and the only thing that turned out were my chocolate chip cookies. I was so upset, but as it turns out, everyone was just happy to have come home-made classic cookies. As much as you want to beat yourself up over disasterous endeavors, it's a learning experience, and you just have to take the bad with the good!

  6. Oh my god, Lauran, that's like a story out of my life! Why is it that the worst disasters always happen on a time crunch??

    It is about the experience overall, though, and you're right that we just have to take the bad with the good. Without the bad days, how would we know to appreciate those rare days when everything goes just right?

    Those days do exist, right?!


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