Life: Crumbling Cake Crisis

With my husband’s birthday last week, it was time to honor the yearly tradition of making his favorite cake, a chocolate cake with lemon frosting.  You may be thinking what an interesting combo which is exactly what I thought when I learned about this southern classic.  This special cake from his childhood was created by his mom who by the way is an amazing chef.  Let me tell you, the zesty lemon adds a refreshing twist to the traditional chocolate cake.

Over the years, I’ve switched things up.  Making the batter with different types of chocolates, changing the icing base from butter to cream cheese, etc.  This year, however, I did something radical.   I learned his mom used to make it out of a Duncan Hines box mix.  So, I decided to make the cake authentic.  I thought it would be super easy.  Cut open the mix, add the ingredients and presto, cake batter.

I did something else that was totally out of character for my cooking routine – I followed the directions step by step.  Well to be honest, I nearly followed all of the directions – except one seemingly teeny weeny thing.  The mix wanted 3 eggs.  Since my son B has an egg allergy, I added egg replacer for some of the egg.  There was no way an ingredient specially formulated to act like an egg could get in the way of my husband’s birthday bliss.

So after adding the ingredients, I followed the directions and mixed the batter for four minutes.  Let me tell you that the batter ended up looking like more of a mousse, which took me by surprise.  But rather than start over, I went ahead and put it in the oven.  After all, I “followed” the directions.

The cakes rose and baked as usual.  It wasn’t until I went to get them out of the pan that disaster struck.  It crumbled out of the pan.  The cake fell like the Tower of Pisa.  After initial frustration and anger, (oh, and my four year old consolingly asking “mommy what’s wrong,”) I decided to try to solve the problem.  I whipped up some lemon butter-cream.  While thinning the frosting with whole milk, I became hopefully optimistic.  After all, frosting can solve anything? right?  Isn’t frosting supposed to work like Spanx?  Shouldn’t it smooth out the lumps and bumps?  Well unlike Spanx the customary crumb coat didn’t solve anything.  It only made things worse. IMG_4070Again B asked what was wrong and sweetly offered to help.  So, I thought why not take out the second layer.  After all it couldn’t be worse than the first.  Maybe it would give some structure to the cake and hide the first layer? Like some bad game show or that second strike in baseball, the cake taunted me.  Again I was totally wrong.   Like a California earthquake the second layer crumbled more than the first and split in two.  I just had to laugh.  I thought about my options – could it be saved?  could I turn it into a trifle?  make it some sort of bread pudding? should I just start all over?

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m like most of the women in my family, extremely stubborn.  We attribute it to my late Croatian grandmother who was as stubborn as the day is long.  A lethal combination when coupled with my late grandfather’s Swiss-German steadfast persistence.

Determined to conquer this cake, I slapped on the rest of the butter-cream, broke out a bag of marshmallows and made a fondant.  I mean can’t fondant solve everything?  All I had to do was somehow sculpt this pile of crumbs into some sort of shape.  Ready to see it?  Well, this is what happened.  Isn’t this gorgeous!IMG_4071

I couldn’t even get the buttercream to stick to the cake!  It would just peel off.  Talk about a disaster.

Refusing to yield to this fricken cake, I broke out my battle axe and went to town on the fondant.  B and C helped flatten it out.  B colored some purple to make a Bat for daddy as daddy wanted a Batman cake.  C kept tasting things to make sure it was edible.  I would have been in trouble if he spat it out.  Luckily, he didn’t.

Disaster struck again – the fondant wouldn’t roll.  About to throw this cake in the kitchen sink, I took a breath and complimented B on his purple creation.  I kept trying.  Then, finally, a miracle happened.  The fondant yielded.  Like a choir of angels, things seemed instantly brighter.

Then came the real test, would the fondant stick to this Java the Hut type cake?  I wasn’t convinced and with how everything was going, I thought there was no way it would work.  There wasn’t a chance.  Maybe the cake would end up splattered all over my kitchen.  After taking a deep breath, I cautiously carried the rolled out fondant over to the crumbling cake.  Gently placing it over the top, I prayed it would hold in the mess and make it something beautiful (or at least presentable). IMG_4072Check it out – it worked!  What a relief.  Now, all I had to do was to cut out some shapes to decorate the top.  Bs purple fondant turned out with a marble effect, however.  The perfectionist in me was screaming, but the mom in me stayed calm.  So, rather than try to make it solid or have him change it, I decided to go with it.  After all a marbly batman symbol was unique.  B placed the shapes on top.

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Viola, what once was a sad lump of chocolate crumbs was now a “cake.”  It didn’t matter that what was underneath was a pathetic pile of crumbs.  All that mattered  was that it held together and would (hopefully) hold the candles for B & Cs daddy to make his wish.

IMG_4074Guess what?  The cake held together!  Like a blazing torch, the cake’s inner strength supported nearly 40 candles.  With that cake, I had my victory and B&Cs daddy got to make his wish. What was my wish?  Well to teach my boys to treat life like this conquest.  After all when life throws you crumbs, find some fondant.  Either make it yourself or go on a search to get some.

Roasting Up A Seasonal Snack: Pumpkin Seeds

photo(26)Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins!  Whether they are in baked goods, coffee or homes as decorations, I just can’t get enough.  As decorations, pumpkins have an additional feature.  Carving Jack O’ Lanterns has an added benefit to their luminescent glow, seeds.  The perfect opportunity to roast up some seasonal snacks.

For years, I avoided tackling the seeds, opting to purchase them at the store.  Mostly because of the time it takes to wash them and the inconsistency in baking them.  For whatever reason, the insides would always turn out stringy.  Now, though I’ve figured it out.

Interested?  Here’s a version to try:

Preheat the oven to 320.  Remove the seeds from the pumpkin pulp.  The easiest way to do it is put everything in a bowl of water.  Mix it all together.  And, the seeds will come loose from the rest.  As my son B says, they float!  So, you can just scoop them off the surface.

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Next, boil them in an uncovered pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil for about 10 minutes.

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Strain. Dump on a baking sheet.  I prefer the one by Chicago Metallic.   Coat with seasonings.  This can be a fun job for little hands.  My boys loved getting their hands dirty by mixing the seeds and spices.

Bake at 320 for about an hour, mixing around every 15 minutes.  Let cool.  Enjoy!  My boys and even our sweet pug love enjoying these as a snack.