I like to bake. It's something my mom taught me to do when I was growing up and I really enjoy it. I like the entire process - picking the recipe, gathering the ingredients, the measuring and leveling, the mixing, liquids and solids separately, then together - all of it. I'm also pretty good at it. 99% of the time what I bake turns out well. Really well. People like my baking. They ask me to bake things. Cakes, pies, cookies, tarts, cheesecakes - I can make you fat in 180 different ways! Let me try! :-)
Then there's the other 1% of the time. Disaster. Not just "oh, not my favorite" or "well, it 's just a little too sweet for my taste " or "nice, but I prefer your Chocolate Coma Cookies." No, I'm talking disaster. Un-savable, inedible, unmitigated disaster. Like yesterday.
I'm hosting some friends for dinner tonight and I'm cooking Italian. I decided that I wanted an Italian-inspired dessert. In searching for something appropriate I came across a recipe on a website I visit regularly for Limoncello Cake. Just the ticket. I like Limoncello. The people who are coming to dinner like Limoncello. Cake is easy - it's, after all, cake.
So I was reading the posted reviews for the recipe and came across one that wasn't particularly positive. Normally, I would decide that one less than stellar review was easy to ignore. However, this review was by someone whose opinion I trusted and she used the one word that triggers me - bland. The last thing I wanted to serve was a bland Limoncello cake. She also mentioned that she had a recipe that was so much better.
So, I wrote, asked her if she would share her recipe, she graciously replied with a 'yes' - and I was in business. Operating under the assumption that any cake with booze in it will always taste better the second day, I decided to bake a day early. Thank God. I baked. It was a brick. Really. A solid brick. The cake bakes in a loaf pan so it was the shape, the size and the consistency of a brick. When I took it out of the pan and put it onto a serving plate, it was as heavy as a brick. When I tasted it, it tasted - well, you get the idea. Clearly, I screwed up!
So, back to the recipe I went. I went back over the process in my head. I did everything the recipe called for. I added every ingredient the recipe called for. Now what? But the more I looked, I began to realize what had gone wrong. The recipe did not include either baking soda or baking powder, the 2 common ingredients in baking that chemically react with the liquids and cause baked goods to rise. How could that be? Everyone knows you need one of those things in a recipe. What dope wrote this recipe and didn't include that ingredient?
I had pretty well decided the author of this recipe needed a little instruction in the basics of baking when I read a little further. "Self-rising cake flour." Not just cake flour but "self-rising" cake flour. Hmmmm. So maybe the author of the recipe isn't such a dope after all and I need a lesson or two in reading the directions more carefully! Now, in my own defense, I didn't know there was such a thing as 'self-rising' cake flour. I thought cake flour was cake flour. Period. But that's a pretty weak defense. I didn't read the ingredient list carefully, and the result was my brick. My delightfully lemon smelling and beautiful lemon colored - brick.
So my lesson was a pretty obvious one. Slow down. Don't assume you know what's coming just because you've done something before. Take time to consider that there might be an alternative way. Read the directions!
So, today I'm baking another cake. This time, I'm going to use the first recipe that I looked at and rejected. I've read it carefully; it calls for baking powder and baking soda, both. This sucker should rise. Given the 'bland' comment, I'm going to toss in a little more lemon zest and juice than the recipe calls for, but I'm going to give it a shot.
Am I going back to try the other recipe again? Yes - just not today. I'm going to give it another try when I can take my time and really pay attention to what I'm doing - and when I have the time to find a store that sells 'self-rising' cake flour! And in the meantime, I'm spending a little more time reading directions.
By the way - I've gotten a couple of lovely compliments on the photo of the lemon cake. I can't take credit for it - I snagged it off of this website and want to make sure they get the credit. They'll sell you the cake for $27.95 plus shipping! Looks good, huh? http://www.collinstreet.com/pages/online_bakery_gift/lemon_cake
16 hours ago