It's Time To Be Daring Once Again!

I missed doing last month's French bread challenge - which sucked. I had everything lined up and then the crap hit the fan.

Oh well.

This month it's cake! Woot! Perfect timing - as you know - for my daughter's birthday. I usually make her a nice dinner with the dessert of her choice. This time I told her I had to make this cake and she was cool with that. I figure she just wanted to rubberneck at the impending disaster.

The Daring Bakers' challenge this month was Dorie's Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s
Baking from My Home to Yours. It was hosted by Morven over at Food Art and Random Thoughts. Thank you for giving us another wonderful challenge. And it was a challenge - I rarely if ever bake real cakes from scratch. My mother was never much of a scratch baker - she had had her fill of it when she was a younger woman. Imagine making butter cream icing with nothing but a hand whisk. *waits for the horror to set in* Yeah - you can see where my mom's generation thought that pre-made icing and cake mixes were a godsend. Personally, I usually stick to mixes - *gasp* - for things like layer cakes.

I jumped into the project with a lot of zest - lemon zest (har-de-har-har -nudge nudge wink wink). The whole flavor theme of the cake was lemon. Lemon zest and extract in the cake, lemon juice in the icing along with raspberry jam in between the layers.

The batter came together pretty dog-gone well. It was nice and silky looking as I put it in the pans and stuck it in the oven. However, it failed to rise properly. The layers came out flat - damn flat. Having read other bakers' comments I had used cake flour and made sure my leavening was very fresh. Personally, I am wondering if not flouring the pan had something to do with it. The recipe does not specifically call for greasing and flouring the cake pans. I thought that was in contrast to some kind of "cake wisdom" - I remember my aunt always flouring her pans. But being a neophyte cake person, I just went with the flow on this one. Also, I think my oven is running too hot again. I had my landlord adjust the thermostat about 6 moths ago, but its an ancient piece of crapola - and who knows if the adjustments need made again. Looking at the sides of the finished cake - plus the fact it was done about 5 minutes early suggest that this would be a factor.

You can see by the crumb that I also over-mixed the poor batter. Those tunnels - bad bad bad.

So basically I ended up with flat dry cake. Not good. In retrospect, I probably should have brushed on some raspberry liquor to help moisten things up some. Nothing I could do about the height. Because of the height issue, I decided not to attempt splitting the layers. That and I am a chicken. Cluck cluck.

So on to the icing. It sounded good - but the recipe calls for a meringue butter cream - lemon flavored of course! The first step is to heat the eggs and sugar over simmering water until all the sugar is melted. This went fine. I then beat the egg whites and sugar as directed. It didn't really fluff much. I was not sure if this was correct or not. I felt the recipe was a little short of "indicators" like - "after 5 minutes of beating, you should have stiff peaks" or " if your egg whites look flat you should just go buy a can of frosting, you git." It would have been a big help.

So, soldiering on, I starting dropping the butter in - 3 WHOLE STICKS!!!!!!!!! The icing looked great. All creamy and buttery... Assembly got a bit messy. I was never any good at icing my cakes - it is all a matter of practice and I just don't do it often enough to be proficient. A telling sign - my daughter came in while I was embattled with final coat and said" Wow Mom - I am sure it will taste better than it looks!"

So here is the final cake. It isn't very decorative. That's OK - we ate it up anyway.

The good news - Mom is much better at Photoshop than she is at icing a cake - so here is the cool cake I would have liked to have made....

Happy Birthday Annie!!

Like sands in an hourglass....

Well here I am!
The last three weeks have been very interesting. A funeral, a snowstorm, and a birthday - you have to learn to love the roller coaster of life.
I've been to a lot of funerals in my 40 years. My parents were older - so a lot of my relatives passed on when I was young. Many of my friends have only been to one or two funerals. Many of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and parents are still alive. And since funerals are for the living, I expect to attend a lot more funerals in the next twenty years. It's important to the people you know that you show up and say "I am sorry for your loss." And to bring a covered dish for the post funeral dinner. That was how I was brought up - you say good bye to the dead and fed the living. I still remember all the food at my dad's funeral - a ham, casseroles, salads, cakes and pies. The leftovers fed us for a week while we figured out that we could keep on going despite the huge hole that was left in our lives. Yes, funerals are uncomfortable - especially when you happen to run into that cousin you pissed off years ago - but they are as important as births, wedding and all the other happy times in our lives.
After being emotionally drained by the prior week, the snowstorm was a much needed vacation. Yes-vacation. It is really nice to say, "Sorry, I can't make it. Circumstances beyond my control." We sat around the house, cleaned out closets, watched movies together, cooked some fine pot roast and hash, finished novels that have been on hold, played games - it was fantastic. I loved it. Our family did not have one bad word to say to each other - we were just happy to be safe at home together. Saturday evening, I ventured outside to liberate my car from its snow drift, as I had to be at work on Sunday, and - bless their hearts - two of my neighbors joined me. We dug out our cars, snapped pictures of the interesting snow formations and I shared some homemade rolls. We were being neighborly. Everyone was happy - even when we should have been tired or worried. Why should kids have all the fun? We all need snow days as adult every now and then as well.
Here is a picture of my improvised wine and beer chiller (since no designated driver was needed!)...

My car (Couldn't have DWI'd if I wanted too)...

And the roof of our house ...

And at last - the birthday. My daughter turned a glorious 17 this past week. Scary, scary! I can truthfully say that it is very hard for me to come to grips with the fact that the tiny crying, poop-producing machine of seventeen years ago is the same creature as the large crying, poop-producing machine of today.
Annie's friends pitched in and bought her a cake from Mrs. Goodman's bakery here in Worthington. It was a pretty darn good cake. Of course I missed getting pictures of it - as the pack descended on it within minutes of arrival. Annie was sad that there weren't leftovers. She had wanted to eat it for breakfast the next day. I promised her another cake sometime this week. You'll see details of that soon...
I also took time to make one of George's favorite dishes - Italian Beef. I talked about making Beef way back in 2006 - it is a fairly intensive process - with the making of rolls and the slicing of beef, but oh so worth it.

See my battle scars from making the bread? I tangled with the 500 degree oven and lost. The hubby says that he is scared when I bake because I always burn myself. No - I do not burn my self every time. Usually only 30% of the time. Of course that doesn't stop him from eating his share of the goods.
So that is pretty much it on the homefront. I have been cooking a lot lately - so I hope to get caught up and give you all the steamy details. Cakes, casseroles, soups...making you hungry? Good.