For some reason, I decided on this cake recipe. OK. No bullshit. There’s a reason. The photos were lovely. The premise of the recipe is the allure of the boxed cake mix. Which is disgusting. Have you had one lately? They taste almost entirely of artificial flavoring and the time savings is negligible. Despite that, those beautiful photos on the boxes, well, those dream cakes look like they’d be amazing. They aren’t remotely amazing. Like the idea of doughnuts being so much more than the sad reality, the promise of cake contained in those photos is always way more than the reality can deliver. Nevertheless, I was seduced. What if someone could make a cake that really tasted as good as those photos? I gave it a try.
Remembering all of the stained shirts from all of the many stupid little food dribbles, change shirt. Choose sleeveless pirate t-shirt because Mr. Not Really My Friend liked it. Because it says “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.” Because fuck him.
Survey Kitchen. Question: Is it possible to cook in a kitchen like this?
Answer: It depends on how bad you want to.
Return bleach to laundry “room.” Have some pride for fuck’s sake.
Get out step stool, then climb up and retrieve cake pans, cake plate, and parchment rounds. Realize there’s not enough space to prepare cake pans. Clear a bit of counter space, which includes putting away a bag of groceries. Question: Is this fridge full?
Answer: Not even close. Make more space in the fridge by emptying contents of wine bottle into a glass.
Put on apron. Decide against plain blue one and striped one. Throw away Juventus one because it is flimsy and pathetic and no proper kitchen bitch would rely on it for anything.
Choose apron with rabbit. It’s got tomato sauce stains and chocolate sauce stains but it’s fresh out of the wash and it is exactly the correct apparel for a Dirtbunny right now.
DIRT bunny. Not dust bunny. Why those people at the Booby Hatch kept hearing “dustbunny” I will never know. Dirtbunny is a whimsical name made up to fit ME. Dustbunny is some crap made up of hair and dirt and insect scat and cruddy skin cells that you hope you find and vacuum up before you accidentally breathe them in.
Dustbunny. Sheesh. Talk about being marooned with a bunch of people who don’t have a clue. Not that I’ve ever been marooned anywhere with a bunch of people who did have a clue.
Butter the cake pans. Then put parchment rounds in the bottom of the pans and butter that.
Wash hands. Realize there are no dish towels because you put them all in the wash yesterday, so go fetch a stack of towels. Some nubby ones for drying hands and some smooth ones for drying dishes. Yes, more than one of each. You cannot dry hands on a soggy towel (Mom, Dad, ERIC), and if you try, all you’ve done is take clean hands and make them all germy and gross again without getting them dry. That is why, in a household of one, I have at least a dozen each.
Oh, then flour the pans.
TANGENT: Dirtbunny, why is the lighting in all of your kitchen photos so uniformly awful? Because the lighting in my kitchen is uniformly awful. I have no windows in the kitchen, so I depend entirely on artificial light. I have the one over the stove, which is useless, and one overhead fixture, which is useless. It might not be quite so useless, except that it has 4 adjustable light heads, and all of them are aimed more or less straight down, because people do all of their cooking in the middle of the kitchen on the floor, far away from things like counters and appliances, at least as far as people who install kitchen lighting in my building are concerned.
I could call the maintenance people and have them adjust it, but the last time I had them fiddle with something that was nominally functional but not working the way it was supposed to, I got a lecture to the effect that the kitchen sink backs up four inches deep before it even starts to drain because that is how sinks are supposed to work, duh, because there is only so much space in the disposal for all that water to go. As if I haven’t been using kitchen sinks since before he was born and have always found them to drain readily even when they were attached to crappy apartment-building garbage disposals. So I’ve been waiting for the motivation to climb up there and adjust them myself. But now we have a new maintenance guy, and the old maintenance guy who is not a dick is still here so presumably the one who is a dick left so maybe I could try maintenance again.
I MISS MY HOUSE.
Get all your ingredients together. If your recipe gives you measurements in weights, use them. Weighing things is fun. ESPECIALLY in grams, because it’s Unamerican, and there’s nothing more patriotic right now than being educated and Unamerican. NB: comment about fun ensuing from weighing things does not apply when weighing self.
Turn on oven. It matters what temperature your oven is when baking and I promise you that what your oven temperature actually is and what your oven tells you its temperature is are two different things. So use an oven thermometer.
Read recipe, reject obvious bullshit instructions, and revise according to non-bullshit proven baking techniques. For example, this recipe involves no complicated whipping of egg foam, lengthy processing of sugar and egg yolk to form “the ribbon,” or lots and lots of beating to incorporate air bubbles into the batter. On the other hand, it does involve a full tablespoon of baking powder. Thus, using our reservoir of baking and science knowledge, we know that the cake is designed to rise based on the chemical process resulting from the combination of ingredients without any mechanical assist from the method in which the ingredients are combined.
We also see from this recipe that we are meant to combine the sugar, flour, and leavening agents in a mixer, add cold butter cubes, and use Thor’s paddle attachment to combine them until the butter disappears and the mixture acquires the texture of fine meal. The author must be a lot younger than I am, because if you use a paddle attachment to push cold butter cubes around in flour, all you are doing is pushing cold butter cubes around in a bowl of flour for a VERY LONG TIME. Every go-round the bowl, a few molecules of butter break off the cubes and adhere to a a few grains of flour, and you need thousands and thousands and thousands of go-rounds before you break down all of the butter this way. I’ll stand still and watch fish swim around a tank. I’ll stand still and watch flower petals flutter in the breeze. I’ll sit on my ass and watch film of mechanical gears clicking through their maneuvers if the musical accompaniment is diverting enough. But I will not watch stock cars go mindlessly around an oval of asphalt, and I will not watch cubes of butter go around a bowl of flour. I’m old. I do not have that kind of time to waste. Put that shit in a food processor and get it over with in about 20 seconds. This is why you have the 14-cup Cuisinart with all the attachments plus extra blades and bowl. Because sometimes the journey is fucking tedious and it’s the destination that’s the point. BONUS: because this recipe is chemical (see above) and not chemical-mechanical (see above), you can then add the remaining ingredients directly into the food processor (once the butter is cut in first) and zip it around until it’s mixed and BOOM! it’s all over with.
Step Ten Prime
Recipes are basically guidelines. There are some rules you are just plain stuck with (you can’t deep-fry things in cold oil; a soufflé batter with no air bubbles in it will not rise; if you add raw egg yolks to something hot without tempering them, they will scramble) because of science. Beyond that, it’s just winging it. Therefore, when stupid recipe is stupid, reject the stupid parts.
This recipe fancies itself to be an attempt to recreate the appeal of yellow cake from a box. Yellow cake from a box is, um, really yellow. Why? Because of the artificial food coloring, obviously. But why, really? I dunno. I suppose that, during the war when we switched from delicious wholesome butter to nasty heart-attack-in-a-tub margarine, we forgot what color food is. I know this because my high school history teacher used to tell us stories about the war and how gross margarine was because it wasn’t yellow, like butter. Lard, he would say. So they packaged it with little packets of yellow food coloring that you were supposed to mix in so it would look more like butter. (I didn’t work for him. Lard, he said.) Eventually, they just put the yellow food coloring in margarine at the beginning and people in Middle America stopped using butter and people forgot what color butter was. “Yellow” cake got more and more yellow because people forgot that butter wasn’t really the bright Crayola yellow of imagined memory.
Which brings me to this recipe, trying to recreate the “yellow” of a yellow cake mix, which it can’t do with natural ingredients, and especially not butter, so it tries to get there with…TURMERIC. “Don’t worry” the recipe says. “You can’t taste it,” the recipe says. If an ingredient isn’t there for flavor, and it doesn’t meet any necessary chemical requirements (like baking soda, for example), then IT DOESN’T BELONG IN YOUR FOOD. So ixnay on the turmeric. I’ll settle for yellow cake that has the subtle yellow of yummy wholesome butter.
Pour batter into prepared pans. Use your handy kitchen scale and weigh those bitches to make sure they come out more or less even. Then put them in the oven and bake them.
It will look like you’re off doing something else, like eating lunch, or writing a blog post, but in the back of your mind, you are constantly thinking about that cake. How hot is that oven, really? And how long, really until the damn thing is done? It should be science. The truth is, deciding whether that cake is done or not is always just a matter of a hunch. The color, whether it springs to the touch, whether it pulls back from the edge of the pans, whether a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, I don’t fucking know. It’s a guess. So I guess.
To be continued