Fun fact about me: I hate failure. Obviously nobody likes it much, but it seriously grates at me. As a perfectionist with OCD, I can’t stand when things don’t work out correctly. Failure is like a festering wound into which I keep pouring salt in the form of continually obsessing about what went wrong and why things didn’t turn out perfectly. I feel the compulsive need to fix my problem, to make it right. Bear that in mind as I spin the following tail of woe.
On Wednesday evening, my family had a little get-together because my darling baby sister is going away to college in a few days, and we wanted to send her off properly. I found myself in charge of providing sustenance in the form of desserts of my sister’s choosing. First she decided that the Raspberry-Chocolate Chip Blondie Bars from Vegan with a Vengeance sounded mighty fine, so that went on the list, and after procuring a few choice items, we threw together the blondies with no problem. They came out perfectly; the Lindt dark chocolate bits we used in place of chocolate chips contrasted most deliciously with the raspberry filling. These were a huge hit – and they didn’t look too shabby, either.
Tantalizing, no? But we had to make something else, because a proper dessert gathering is all about having options. So, after much hemming and hawing, Sister Dearest decided she wanted something lemony. A lemon cake, perhaps.
But where to look for a sophisticated, lightly lemony cake recipe? It was obvious to me. I headed over to Have Cake, Will Travel to see what Celine could offer. I found perfection in the form of her Lemony French Cake. You all need to go check out Celine’s gorgeous photos of this cake to understand why I was so enamored with it. It’s truly a thing of beauty, understated in its elegance yet clearly sophisticated. Wildly eager to recreate this statuesque stunner, I followed Celine’s gentle hint to bake the cake a day ahead of time in order to to “let the flavors develop.” After successfully and easily pulling together the blondies, I imagined that this next endeavor would be – pardon the expression – a piece of cake. With only eight ingredients, I anticipated a surefire success. So imagine my dismay, friends, when ding of the oven’s timer revealed this to me:
Oh, the horror! I’m exaggerating, though; the baking of this cake was fraught with adversity and halfway through I knew with dreadful certainty that no good would come of it. First, my poor, helpful, little sister zested her finger instead of a lemon and was out of commission. Next, because of my local grocery stores’ lack of plain or even vanilla non-dairy yogurt, I had to resort to this “recipe” instead.* I’d used it successfully in the blondies, and it never fails in the muffins from Vegan Brunch I’ve made a few times, but I think that for this cake recipe, it’s just not right. Because I sort of eyeball the amount of cornstarch, I often tend to add a little too much, thus creating a quite thick “yogurt.” I also sometimes neglect to add the splash of lemon juice or vinegar the recipe includes, which in this case was a punch in the gut since I had lemons right there – this is, after all, a lemon cake. Then, because the soy yogurt was so thick, my cake batter was very, very thick. So I added a few squeezes of lemon juice (I was replacing the lemon extract with extra zest, by the by) and a dash of soy milk, and had to keep stirring to mix everything together. Only after I had thoroughly stirred my batter did I notice Celine’s note to “stir until just combined;” it was then that a 1000-watt lightbulb flashed on in my brain and I realized that this was a delicate cake, one that required a light touch and definitely not extra mixing.
Presentiments of failure began to stir in my head at this point, but I pushed them aside for the time. The final piece of kindling in this fire of failure was my lack of a 6″ x 4″ round cake pan; we only have the small 9″ x 1″ ones, so after doing some hasty math, my sister and I thought we might just make two of those size and layer them. But by the time I halved my batter and poured it into the two pans, it was too late to save the cakes. A few minutes in the oven revealed that they were obstinately refusing to rise; I’d overmixed them and allowed the flour to glutenize. And the shallower pans surely didn’t help matters; in retrospect, after seeing how little they’d risen, I realized that just one 9″ x 1″ pan would’ve worked fine. Anyway, 25 minutes later, I ended up with two very, very flat lemon cakes… they were more like pancakes, really. I felt irritated with myself because the failure was my fault; I should have intuited what sort of cake this was and not taken it for granted. There was no way I could show these cakes to my family the following night, but by then it was too late to do anything; I’d have to wait until the following day. I went to bed, and visions of tiny, mocking lemon cakes danced in my head.
I awoke the next morning with a few possible solutions. I could save the cakes for “personal eating” and make something totally new, or I could try again and work to perfect the same cakes. But neither of those possibilities satisfied the frugal penny-pincher that lives inside of me; it seemed like a waste to make something entirely new. So I decided that if the cakes at least tasted okay, they might be salvageable.
A tiny taste revealed to me that – hallelujah! – despite their refusal to rise and dense appearance, the cakes still tasted mighty fine! The way was clear for a salvaging mission. After a little quick thinking, I decided to stack the cakes and make mock-petit fours with a layer of raspberry jam in the middle, thus turning VeggaSis’s going-away gathering into a vaguely raspberry-themed event. I covered my faux petit fours with a simple glaze, and guess what? They didn’t turn out half bad.
These sweet squares looked charming and had a delicate lemon flavor that was complemented nicely by the raspberry filling. So even though my inner perfectionist is still bothered by my initial failure, I’m happy that I managed to save the cakes and turn them into something presentable. I’ll try the recipe again soon, armed with a little extra experience under my belt. ;)
I’ll leave you with another gratuitous blondie shot, because these babies were amazing. My one tiny criticism of the recipe is that the actual blondie layer is much more cake-like than blondie-esque, even if the flavor is spot-on. I might tinker with it some day and try to give it a denser, chewier texture. But even if I don’t, I’m definitely adding this recipe to my arsenal of no-fail favorites!
* I found this recipe while Googling for a quick homemade soy yogurt recipe, and I do believe that this must be an older blog of Celine’s, which I didn’t realize until now. Interesting!