Because I’m The Blade’s food editor there is a presumption that I am an expert cook.
If I’m ever asked to bring a dish to a dinner or to a party, there is anticipation for something wondrous, something wonderful. Often, I am proud of contributions I make to potlucks or to family celebrations. Sometimes, as they say, I even amaze myself.
And then, just to make sure I stay humble, there was last week’s scenario to remind me that yes, I am human, too.
My boyfriend’s sister, Suzanne, had been so excited, when we’d last visited her, to hear me tell about a chocolate cake made with Guinness. She happens to like the deep, dark stout, and was gleeful thinking about a decadent dessert that features it. I promised to bring it to a family dinner.
So I followed my own recipe, which is an adaptation of another I’d found online. I watched the cake rise beautifully, luxuriating in the fragrance of the chocolate wafting through my home. I inserted a tester into the center of the cake, and it came out perfectly clean. Just to be on the safe side, I baked the cake for five more minutes; I was using my new oven, and I’d only baked the cake for the minimum amount of time. I wanted to be sure it was set. I took it out to cool, admiring my handiwork and waiting for the applause as I presented this beautiful creation to my loved ones.
And then ...
I checked on the cake a little while later and it had sunk. This wasn’t a minor depression to fill with an artful arrangement of berries. It resembled a sinkhole that would be a lead story on CNN, as the station aired footage of cars disappearing into the Earth.
I was not happy. I’ve made this cake before. I’ve even enshrined it on my blog, complete with a photograph that I took myself, so I know that I’ve made this cake successfully and that no magic Photoshop wand was used to make it appear edible. I know I wasn’t just dreaming it. I was appalled and oh, so disappointed.
But my philosophy is this: Never admit defeat. If it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, then re-purpose it, re-name it, and re-invent it. I decided to slice the cake, toast it, and call it Chocolate Guinness Biscotti.
Except that when I went to slice it, there was a pool of pudding in the middle of the pan. Despite my cake having risen, and the testing skewer having come out clean, this mischievous specimen wasn’t even finished baking. Toasting a baked slice of cake was one thing, but toasting a slice of cake with moist goo in the middle was another.
So, my next idea was to cut the baked part of the cake into cubes, discarding the goopy parts. We would serve the cake cubes in small dishes, à la mode — a deconstructed ice cream cake. Thankfully, the dessert was a huge hit ... whew!
Right before Christmas, I’d baked a beautiful chocolate chip Bundt cake which fell out of the pan when I turned it out ... or, at least, half of it fell out while the other half clung to the pan desperately. So I crumbled the cake, mixed in some cookie crumbs, and stirred in a bit of almond milk; I rolled the mixture into balls, then coated them in some confectioners’ sugar. I called them Chocolate Cake Truffles. They were even more popular than the fudge I’d brought to the same event. As they say in Galaxy Quest, one of my very favorite movies: “Never give up. Never surrender.”
The lessons to take away from all of this? Never presume a food writer has 100 percent success while playing in the kitchen and trying to feed her own family. And never let a chocolate cake with an attitude get the better of you.