Monday, January 1, 2018

The Poop Cake and Other Holiday Disasters

All was jolly and bright...before I started baking!

I am quickly garnering a reputation for inciting some vortex of kitchen disaster in the 24-hour period preceding major holidays. Thanksgiving...ah, who can forget Thanksgiving. Not only did I fail, and fail miserably at making a cheese ball that looked like a turkey, I was also the would-be mistress of the vegetarian gravy for this event. The gravy tasted fine, but it was not quite silky smooth enough. So I poured the hot gravy in the blender, put the little hat on the machine, and flipped the can imagine how that ended. I spent the two hours before Thanksgiving enrobed in aloe vera, frozen packs of peas, and lavender oil. Well, after enough champagne and Advil, such details fade. I looked almost perky in the family photos.

Queue the triumphant Christmas music. Although this year my town was threatened by catastrophic flame (google Thomas Fire) and many people, including me, evacuated, my family still pulled together a fantastic Xmas celebration in Los Angeles. Keen to redeem myself from Thanksgiving, I volunteered to make a chocolate bundt cake filled with cheesecake and cherry filling. Rolling into the checkout, eyes bulging at the realization that it was going to cost $40 for this cake, I thought "Christmas happens once a year, it's worth it." And for once, I didn't improvise. I followed the instructions with the precision of a watchmaker. Every step attended to, done correctly. But by the time I had put everything in the pan, I did have a little worry wiggling at the back of my mind, as it seemed rather in, full up to the very rim of the cake pan. Queue hysteria as I watched the cake slowly rise in the oven a good inch above the rim of the pan as it cooked, and remained steadfastly jiggly, well past the appointed cooking time.

So far, so good....

Ah ha ha, you fool!

Yeah. Wrong size bundt pan. Didn't even know there were different size bundt pans. I do now. With the top of the cake well overcooked, it tested clean with a knife, but I didn't think to do a second check toward the inner funnel of the cake....which was not even vaguely cooked. When I unmolded it, the insides of the cake slithered out, collapsing into a coagulated mess. I was obliged to put a bowl over the entire thing, invert it, and pretend that I'd *meant* to make a trifle. But there was no way I was bringing that to Xmas dinner. Nuh-uh. So, Plan B. I grabbed the tree-ring pan, a box of Duncan Hines, and read the instructions...which said, explicitly, that the pan could be dusted with cocoa instead of flour. And it being a chocolate cake, I thought that sounded reasonable. But I now know that if you flour the pan with cocoa too heavily, it fills in the details of the trees, so that what emerges, although quite tasty, looks like it was baked by the poo demon of Golgotha.

The poop cake

And that, dear friends, is how I ended up buying an obscenely expensive buch de noel on Christmas Eve from a very good patisserie in town. I will happily report that the buch de noel was a big hit, that it looked quite charming with meringue mushrooms and some Lindt truffles scattered about it. I would share photo evidence of its grandeur, but the photo itself was so dark that no amount of Photoshop could save it...almost as if the universe was having one last Christmas chuckle at me. But I did manage to take a passable photo of one slice...

What is this strange holiday cooking curse? The other 360 days a year, I can be relied on to show up with a perfectly decent casserole, a bowl of mashed potatoes, cheese enchiladas, cupcakes....I mean I'm not Anthony Bourdain, but I can cook basic things basically fairly well. Just not in the 24-hours leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter....

Next year, I bring a bottle of champagne and a carton of ice cream.

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