The Great Cake Debacle (and some raspberry-chocolate goodness)

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.

Chocolate and raspberry delight.

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:

Pancake-cakes!

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.

SUCCESS.

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!

Yum.

* 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!

Rhapsody in Blue: my love affair with blueberries

Happy Sunday, folks!

Guess what? It’s time to solve some math problems! Yep, you heard that right – Kelly the English major is breakin’ it down elementary school style for some word problems. So, in honor of my impending registration for the GRE (gag), I’d like to present a couple of math problems to you.

Question: If Kelly has 13 lbs. of handpicked local blueberries, how many bags does it take to hold them all?


Answer: 3 big ol’ bags!

Question: If Kelly has a boatload of blueberries and a copy of Vegan Brunch she won in a Twitter contest by the fabulous folks at Da Capo Cooking, what happens when she combines the two?


Answer: Bakery-Style Berry Muffins, of course! I like to make big, fluffy muffins to make ’em seem even more bakery-esque, and this recipe yields 10 good-sized muffins. My mom loves when I make these; she constantly compliments my baking in a blatant attempt to flatter me into making more. And honestly, I’m happy to oblige when the results are so yummy.

Question:If Kelly’s in the mood for something a little healthier than oil-rich muffins and and still has bundles of blueberries, what can she make?


Answer: What else but Susan‘s Blueberry-Oat Bars? I’ll admit, my version doesn’t look nearly as presentable or as scrumptious as Susan’s, but hey, I never claimed to be a fat-free kitchen goddess! And at least they tasted good, right? Next time I’ll be a better judge of my batter and distribute it more evenly between top and bottom.

Question: If Kelly’s getting a little tired of baked goods and is curious about exploring new flavor combinations, how can she use corn and blueberries together to create something delicious?


Answer: She can make the Cornbread Waffles from Vegan Brunch and top them off with a sweet blueberry sauce! I’ll admit that these waffles didn’t turn out as fabulous as I’d expected, but I think that’s because I used very coarse cornmeal. I froze the leftover waffles and LOVE popping one in the toaster and munching on it as a handheld brekkie snack.

Bonus question: If Kelly’s family is hungry for blueberry-laden baked goods and Kelly wants to mix up the flavor profile in her blueberry muffins, what can she use?


Answer: Orange juice! She can make delicious Blueberry Orange Muffins from Have Cake, Will Travel. Although I cheated and didn’t use fresh orange juice, these muffins were still quite tasty. I used a mix of white and whole wheat flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour called for in the recipe, and it worked out just fine.

And the easiest problem of all – if Kelly has 13 lbs. of handpicked local blueberries and just wants to have a delicious, simple, snack, what must she add to her blueberries to enjoy them? Answer – absolutely NOTHING. A bowl of fresh berries has got to be one of the greatest pleasures on earth.

I knew blue was my favorite color for a reason. Blueberries are the quintessential summer fruit for me. I love spending a couple of hours at the local U-pick farm with my mom and sister, feeling the hot sun on my arms and letting my mind wander as I scour the already picked-over bushes for hidden troves of berries. I love coming home with heavy bags bursting with the tiny blue orbs and going on a baking frenzy for a few days before calming down and freezing the unused berries in the hopes that they’ll last through the winter. In short, I love blueberries.

But, for the love of seitan, please don’t call blueberries “bloobs.” My mind works in strange ways and “bloobs” conjures up images the descriptions of which I will spare you. Just trust me on this one. ;)

Snickerdoodles, Studying, & Sunshine (with bonus chocolate!)

Happy Monday, folks!

I’m pleased as punch that summer has finally come to Rhode Island. If we’d gone the entire summer without a day over 90˚F, I probably never would have forgiven this state. Luckily this week promises to be hot, humid, and sunny – just the way I like it. I celebrated by doing some GRE studying (ugh) outdoors (yay) and then lounging in the pool with VeggaSis. My dad has some ridiculous packrat/collector tendencies, and I remembered that he’d gotten this huge Star Wars Clone Wars blow-up pool floatie thing years ago, so we convinced him to bring it out and pump some air into it. This sucker is AWESOME. Not only is it a fantastic floating lounge device, but it’s Star Wars themed! AND it has cupholders. ;) Love.

But before hitting up the pool, I baked some cookies. Normally I’m not a morning baker, but I made a batch of these snickerdoodles from Have Cake, Will Travel a few days ago, and my mom liked them so much that she requested I make a batch for her to bring to the big back-to-school bash she and all her teacher friends like to have at the end of August.

Nom nom nom!

That’s a photo of the first batch I made, but the second came out just as delectable-looking, despite a minor mishap wherein a quarter of my wet ingredients had a surprise meeting with the floor. These cookies are seriously delicious, soft and sweet and bite-sized. Needless to say, I doubled the recipe (which is halved on Have Cake, Will Travel, anyway) because 7 cookies just isn’t enough for this family. ;)

Yum.

Mmm. I also whipped up a batch of the Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies from VWAV for a get-together with friends a few nights ago, and these little chocolate lovelies were devoured in no time. I always alter this recipe slightly, substituting vegetable oil for the peanut oil and extra vanilla extract for the almond extract, to make it nut allergy-friendly. I’ve never actually made them with the original nutty ingredients, but the nut-free versions are little morsels of chocolaty perfection, chewy and moist and adorable.

Thanks, Isa!

The cookies in that photo have apricot and cherry preserves in their centers, but for the batch I made for my friends I just used cherry, since I think anything with a cherry and chocolate combination is automatically delicious and sophisticated.

And that wraps up today’s helping of cookie p0rn! I highly recommend both these recipes; they’re fast, easy, and – most important of all – delicious.

Ciao!