Thursday, February 14, 2008

Able Baker Not

Or, a St. Valentine's Day Eve calamity, written up 'specially for ABC-Alongers.

Cake baffles me. I can whip out bread and cookies and pie and even the occasional hoity-toity mille-feuille pastry, but not cake.Birthday cake One of my life ambitions has been to bake a decent cake, one that rises evenly without cracking, shrinks away from the pan, bounces back smartly when pressed, releases perfectly, sheds hardly at all when frosted, and cuts to reveal neither a tough crust nor pesky tunnels. And, of course, tastes very, very good. Surely not much to ask, yet the modest desire for fine crumb has loomed ever larger over time, even as other life goals have been achieved or let go. There are so many occasions that call for cake, and nothing else will do (at least not at Casa Jersey Knitter).

ABundt cake bit of coaching from prolific cake baker Deb proved highly effective. My cakes improved markedly. I turned out a birthday cake and a pretty Bundt cake that received the highest accolade – they were devoured. (There's nothing so sad as a leaden cake that lingers.) Flush with success, I even considered claiming that C is for cake.

Alas, the dread gods of baking punish hubris, even when committed only in thought. Here's what's left of the cake I baked last night for Valentine's Day.

Cake cinders

That would be C is for cinders. When I said I wanted to start a Fire project for Project Spectrum, I didn't mean literally.

The first clue things were not going according to plan was the smell of overly rapid carbonization, followed by billowing fine particulate matter in the air, followed by the insistent shrilling of smoke detectors – downstairs, upstairs, basement! Which meant said smell and particulate matter went pretty much everywhere, downstairs, upstairs, basement, including closed rooms and clothes closets. Not to mention I'd just washed my hair.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the fons et origo of the catastrophe, smoke was pouring from every vent in the oven. The batter was boiling, very like a Yellowstone mud pot, and had overflowed into the gas jets. I've had grease fires before (memorably the not intentional flambé duck with potholders), but nothing like this. When recollected in tranquility, superlatives of volume come to mind; during the actual crisis, many curse words. Also, a curious bit of science: smoke curls are so complex, the mathematics to describe them does not exist. Even computers can't quite track them.

Sure enough, the fire was easily extinguished, but the smoke is still in the house, despite open windows, fans, a cold night, more curse words, wipe downs with vinegar, etc. This morning I found a coil suspended in mid-air, silently twisting in the powder room. Whoa.

No serious harm was done, but my holiday weekend will now be spent de-smoking things. One moral of this cautionary tale might be I really should stick to my knitting.

Socks in progress

Not least socks in progress. This lot has no single finished sock, but [cough] is more than a pair equivalent (l-t-r: Fawkes, Scar, Birch Leaf 2, Birch Leaf 1). Ah well, off to stock up on Febreze.

ETA: Blogless Ina let me know that Suze Orman's book, Women and Money, can be downloaded free in English or Spanish from Oprah's website until 8 p.m. EST this evening.


Anonymous said...

Oh my golly, what a night!!!

I hope you don't mind a little laughter from this end. You wrote a mighty fine description of your evening.

Hope the de-smoking goes well. It took me a couple of days to get the stench out after I smoked a pot of green beans (i.e. beans + pot + burner heat - water in the pot = smoked green beans. UGH!)

Bezzie said...

Oh man, de-smoking in winter is the pits.

But your cake looks lovely. I think we all have culinary white whales. Mine is pie crust.

--Deb said...

Oh, wow, that sounds like, um, quite a night! I don't think I've ever had cake batter BOIL. But, you know, you can't have ALL successes, at least you're improving--and trying. That's what really matters.

And, really, I'm going to tackle that pie crust thing again one of these days....

Kristen said...

That is a scary tale; what caused the fiasco?
I have no luck with cakes either, except pound cakes, which aren't as tempermental as layer cakes and whose appearance doesn't matter so much. But I do make a mean pie!

Carole Knits said...

I'm sorry your cake was such a catastrophe!

Will Pillage For Yarn said...


But it made me giggle real hard, so, thank you for sharing!

Jessica said...

OMG that goodness you caught it in time! That could have been Very Bad. Do hope the smoke smells clear up soon.

Kim said...

Sorry about all the stinky nastiness! But I can't help but smile at your funny & eloquently told saga of baking disaster. Thanks for the reminder about Yellowstone Mud Pots. Those were my favorite thing among many amazing wonders at Yellowstone. That's so odd that the cake batter would boil & bubble over.

Devorah said...

At least you are taking it in good humor! Sorry about the cinders!

Nancy said...

Ummmmmmm...cinders are a flavoring ingredient I hadn't thought of ;o)
I'm glad you caught the flames in time!

Brigitte said...

Heh, that sounds (and looks) pretty much how my cakes would turn out... Well, I wasn't hungry before reading this - I am now!