Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pain in the Bundt

Most of the time, I am over the fact that I'm not a domestic diva. I have a history of collapsed soufflés, glue gun misfires and scrapbooking debacles attesting to my status as perpetual home ec reject.

Hey, we can't all be good at everything, right? It really shouldn't bother me that the only kitchen appliance I've mastered is the microwave. I've got a family that loves me despite the fact that I repeatedly misunderstand recipes, which, in my opinion, leave way too much open to interpretation. (Like when it comes to "lightly beating" eggs, don't we all have a different understanding of how much force to use? Your version of "lightly beating" might be my version of "briskly smacking.")

Barry likes to tell people how when we were dating, he came over for dinner one night and found me in the bathtub of my tiny studio apartment, crying, with a bowl of potatoes in my lap and the handmixer plugged in where the hairdryer usually was. (I was 22; I didn't know you had to soften the potatoes by boiling them before trying to blend them, and hard shards of potato had been flying all over the kitchen, so I took the entire operation into the bathtub to control the mess.) I've gotten better (a little) since then, but still, it's not without good reason that Barry begs me not to bake, when I'm "so good" at picking out exactly the right dessert at Publix instead.

But every now and then, I just want to be Rachel Ray. I just want to take the power of the immerser blender into my hands and create something decadent, fattening and perfect. I just want to see the fruits of my labor, in the form of the perfect fruit tart, formed by my very own fingers. (Part of my problem is a cake mix box won't do it for me, so I either am strictly a take-out kind of chick, or I'm attempting exotic pastries from scratch.)

Tonight's the night before Thanksgiving, and I had been hopeful to see once again whether there might be a gourmet goddess lurking within me, despite my track record with recipes for disaster. I'd secured the recipe for a truly decadent Bundt cake that seemed pretty much idiot-proof: eggs, butter, milk, shortening, baking powder, sugar, and five types of extract (vanilla, butter, coconut, rum, lemon.) My coworker had made this for a bake sale recently and it was seriously one of the most simple yet exotic desserts I'd ever tasted, and I wanted to share this find with my family. (I'm not sure if rum and lemon go well with turkey and cranberry sauce, but again, this is not my forte.)

So I bought the extracts (I already owned all of the other ingredients), dusted off the Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer (which hadn't been used since last Thanksgiving) and thought, "piece of cake." Singing a little ditty ("Mama's little baby likes shortening bread" if you must know), I followed the instructions--this time to the letter of the law.

"Beat five eggs until they are as yellow as butter." I dropped each one in, turned on the mixer, and voila! Yellow-as-butter raw eggs. I went to remove the mixing bowl from the base of my Kitchen-Aid so I could move onto the next step in the recipe...and this is when the rest of my evening went kaput.

The bowl was stuck to the base. As hard as I wriggled, jostled, cajoled and cursed it, I couldn't get it out, and the eggs were in there! With sweat bursting across my forehead, I had a flashback to 12 years ago and remembered the mashed potato/bathtub scene. That was when I had the sinking feeling that this cake was headed for a similar fate. I called in Barry, and after calmly asking me--yet again--if I wouldn't rather pick something up at Publix--he tried to release the bowl, and failed as well.

Then I spent a good half hour on the phone with Kitchen Aid tech support, and employed the following tools, unsuccessfully, in my attempts to free the bowl: Pam spray (to lubricate the bowl), a hot wet towel, changing the surface I was using from the countertop to the floor.

Finally, they told me to get out a hammer, and that worked.

So that obstacle was cleared, the rest of the recipe went smoothly, but I suspected the jammed bowl had been merely Act I of this domestic misadventure. I felt a flash of hope when I took the Bundt pan out of the oven an hour or so later, and saw how perfect and lightly browned my cake was. Jacob and Rebecca smelled the cake and came running into the kitchen to see if they could have a piece, but I just smiled and explained no, this was a Thanksgiving treat.

Act II occurred when it was time for me to free the cake from the Bundt pan, so I could apply the home-made frosting. I must have not greased the pan thoroughly enough (I just used Pam, not butter) because as soon as I turned it over onto the cake plate, it fell apart into big chunks.

I let out a sob as I tried--in vain--to piece the cake back together again. Fragrant from the rum-coconut extracts, buttery and velvety, the harder I pushed them, the more they crumbled.

My little protector, Jacob was by my side instantly, as soon as he saw my distress. "Can I have a piece now?" he asked.

Defeated, I handed him one giant crumb and said, "Sure, why not? The whole thing is ruined now."

Jacob quickly gobbled it, like a squirrel devouring a chestnut, and said, "Mmmm, Mommy, this is delicious! Who cares what it looks like? It tastes great!"

Awww, mama's little baby did like shortening bread! Which instantly cheered me up. What a sweetie. "Do you want a bigger piece?"

"Oooh, yes, Mommy! Thank you!"

I sliced and frosted the least messy remains of the Bundt cake into squares that I will serve tomorrow night. Then I dished out the sloppy, gooey, rummy part for us. We definitely enjoyed it. As far as culinary disasters go, this one was rather exquisite.

Jacob said again, "Thank you, Mommy, for this delicious cake!"

"You're welcome."

"And Mommy," Jacob added, "you should say thank you to me, too."

"Oh? Why?"

"Because I made you feel better when your cake fell apart."

I laughed. "Yes, you sure did. Thank you, Jacob."

Happy Thanksgiving to Jacob. To you, Rebecca and Barry I am indeed very grateful.


Cammie said...

ohhh, How sweet Jacob! Isnt it wonderful that our kids think we are superheros even when we are not? fwiw....the ONE time I tried to bake cookies for my kids...they could have broken their teeth on them....domestic?? Not so much

Erin said...

What a sweet boy and such a great little story. I always enjoy your writing Jorie. This one left a little tear in my eye. :)

melissa said...

After a night of losing not one, but TWO delicious lemon cakes to the same fate, I learned that if you use the pam spray with flour in it (and use a LOT. I mean, A LOT!), you shouldn't have that trouble with it falling apart again! ;-)