Monday, May 4, 2009

When Accidents Happen: The Icing on the Cake

It's confession time...again. Sometimes (*gasp*), I cook something that doesn't quite turn out like I hoped or thought it would. I feel obligated to tell you this, because it is just too tempting to only tell you about the things that do turn out. So, it looks like this may need to become another regular blog feature..."When Accidents Happen."

Generally, when accidents happen the results are still edible. They just aren't that pretty. Or, not as pretty as they could have been. Remember the poundcake accident of 2008?

One of my 2009 cooking resolutions was to tackle cakes. I just don't eat much cake, but I love how they look. I have been making baby steps. Cheesecake I can do. Cupcakes, no problem. My favorite recipe so far is a single layer chocolate cake with a ganache on top. What I really had in mind though was one of those multi-layered cakes with fruity filling and fluffy white icing.

My freezer is small, so every month or so I need to assess the contents and use up what has been hibernating inside. I had some Meyer lemon juice leftover from Arlene, so something lemony was in order. I keep all my old issues of America's Test Kitchen, and came across a recipe for a layered cake with lemon curd and fluffy white icing. Perfect.

Let me start by saying that the lemon curd turned out perfectly. The rest...not so much. It was tasty, but was not the prettiest cake by the end.

The trouble started with the cake. The layers turned out really thin. So thin in fact that I needed to call in the craftsman (Gavin) to evenly slice each layer in two. The recipe said to cut a notch in each layer, so I could line them up after spreading the lemon curd between each layer. Good tip, but I still ended up with a lopsided cake.

On to the icing. The recipe was for something called 7-minute icing. In the depths of my memory, I recall hearing something about this icing. It called for cooking the eggs whites and sugar over a double boiler first. To 160 degrees. Sure - easy peasy. I've cooked various custards and egg-based sauces, so I wasn't too scared about this step. My thermometer however, either was not accurate or was not shoved deep enough into the pot. By the time I realized this, The egg white mixture was at 185 degrees.

The thing still looked OK. So, I whisked it in with the other ingredients in my stand mixture for 7 minutes (see, that's where the name comes from). I whisked it for about 15 minutes though but it never reached "stick peaks." Fuck it. It was thick enough and company was arriving any minute.

I had my cake layers stacked, with layers of lemon curd in between and was ready to begin applying the icing. I've watched Martha frost enough cakes to have absorbed some knowledge and recalled something called "the crumb coat." So, I started by applying a thin coating of the icing. Thing is, this stuff was more like marshmallow fluff than frosting so it kept pulling up crumbs with it. Gah! Eventually I got ahead of the crumbs though and managed to apply all the icing. It wasn't fluffy and it wasn't pretty, but no crumbs were showing either. It was a little lopsided, but otherwise looked OK.
When we sliced into it though, the lemon curd had not spread to the edges of the cake. A testament to my perfectly thickened curd? I'm afraid not. Looks aside, it tasted great and was devoured.

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