Thursday, July 17, 2008

Birfday Cake for Hubs!

I had a pretty rough time trying to decide what kind of cake to make Andy for his birthday. And by rough, I mean kid-in-a-candy-store (bakery?) rough, not Guantanamo Bay-rough. There are so many choices! I was already thinking cheesecake, so it was a fortuitous sign when my box o' registry completion goodies arrived from BB&B just as I was thumbing through HTCE trying to pick a recipe. The nice UPS man brought me exactly what I needed...a springform pan!

Also in that box were
a kick-ass rolling pin (although I would have accepted a crappy rolling pin, since this is my first time owning one and my life is now complete), and a ridiculously expensive rice cooker! Even if it cooks rice that winds up being the same quality as our cheapo current rice cooker, it's yellow, so that definitely justifies the almost-$200 price tag...right? YAY for kitchen goodies! I am so grateful to have them, that I promise myself I will use them all.

Oh! I almost forgot, a mini muffin tin was in the box too. I must say, I was surprised that no one bought that off the registry, especially after seeing some of the other random and relatively mundane things people picked. Regardless, it's mine, and mark my words, I WILL be making mini muffins soon. Maybe tomorrow, to use up the rest of the rapidly rotting cherries. Ooh, or maybe some of the cherries we dehydrated! Both?!

So, back to the topic at hand. I thoug
ht it would be a good time to make cheesecake because now I had a handy-dandy springform pan, and cherries are a classic cheesecake topping. My main criterion for the cake was that I was able to somehow use cherries. The plan was to bring the cake over to Eric And Shelby's, where Geoff and Annmarie and a couple of other guys were joining us to watch the Wire (boys) and Project Runway (girls). I knew that this crowd probably didn't care if the cake looked crappy, and would also be nice to me if it didn't taste great. So, I decided to just go for it and make my first cheesecake!

WELL. What an adventure. In the end, it rocked, but it was definitely an experiment in the kitchen if I ever did one (and Andy and I have done many between us). I started out making the Graham Cracker Crust (pg. 686 of HTCE). It was so much fun food-processing the graham crackers!

Have I mentioned that my food processor, stand mixer, blender, and toaster are all KitchenAid Blue Willow? LOVE! They were also all wedding gifts, except for the mixer.

Here's the crust in the pan:

And then there was the great cheesecake saga of 2008. I used the recipe for Lemon Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping (pg. 728) and omitted the sour cream topping since I made a cherry sauce. Everything was going fine, la-dee-dah. KitchenAid mixer, fun fun. Soft peaks, good times.

I put the cake in the oven. 4 minutes go by, I'm washing dishes, getting ready to make the cherry sauce and I think to myself, OH CRAP, I forgot the flour. But it was onl
y a tablespoon of flour, which didn't seem like a lot relative to the whole 9" cake, so let it be. 10 more seconds go by. OH CRAP, I forgot the sugar. An entire cup of sugar. Not something that could really be ignored. So I had a complete meltdown. I was totally flipping out, it was like an out-of-body experience because I never get that mad. Like, throwing oven mitts on the floor and stomping around mad. I kinda had a tantrum.

I was upset because it was Andy's birthday, and even though he would be happy no matter what I made (he's awesome like that), I just wanted it to be perfect. I had been working all afternoon to do this nice thing, and I thought all my work would just be wasted. So, he stopped what he was concentrating on (the Google Programming Contest-- he made it past the first round by the way!!) to find out why I was being such a weirdo and came in the kitchen to help me.

At first I thought the only way to fix it would be to redo the whole thing, but I obviously didn't have a spare box o' grahams and 3 packs of cream cheese lying around as an insurance policy. So, my darling husband took the cake out of the oven, and as I'm in hysterics (literally, I don't know what came over me) stirred in the flour...and stirred in the sugar.

I'm still flipping out because it was this whole delicate process involving the folding in of egg whites at the soft peak stage after the re
st of the ingredients (including the should-have-been flour and sugar) had been mixed together, and...well, you get the idea. So I'm yelling through my tears that it can't just be stirred, it needs to be beaten with the mixer, and so he stirred harder. Amazing.

By the time he finished that and the cake was back in its little makeshift water bath, I had calmed down, but I was emotionally drained and exhausted. I know, it's ridiculous. Completely hormonal outburst. I can't believe I just wrote on the internet that I had
a hormonal outburst. Anyways, to make an already-long story short, the cake came out perfectly. Like, it couldn't have been better. It was amazing, I got so many compliments on it, but Andy was the unsung hero of the cake. He totally saved it. I would never have thought to fix it like he did.

The finished product (I wish I had a picture after I took it out of the mold and served it, but I forgot to bring the camera to Shelby's). The cherries are there to cover up a little blemish that appeared when I tried t
o put plastic wrap over the top and it sank into the cake and stuck. The cherries were another one of Andy's save-the-day ideas.

While the cake was baking, I made sure the cherries were pitted, and then I made Raspberry, Strawberry, or Other Fruit Sauce (pg. 672). This was the first thing I've made from HTCE that I wouldn't make again. At least not with cherries. There's a chance I didn't let the syrup get syrup-y enough before I added the fruit, but it just didn't thicken. It's supposed to cook for 2+ minutes, and I had it on the stove for almost 40 because I wasn't happy with the consistency. I added cornstarch towards the end, which was not in the recipe (gasp!), but helped. The other thing I didn't like about it is that it just tasted like butter, so much so that it masked the flavor of the cherries. I refrigerated it for a while during dinner, and the fat all rose to the top. Gross.

However! I nuked it when we got to E&S's house, and that seemed to solve the fat problem, plus it was nice to serve it warm. Serving it with the cheesecake seemed to solve the flavor problem. So, in the end, it was all good. Yay. No pictures of the sauce, sad.

I learned a really important lesson about baking yesterday. I've always (and even moreso recently) thought that baking is an exact science. It has to be precise and orderly in proportions and timing. I've also always thought that I rock at baking because I'm good at following recipes and directions. I now know that a) I am NOT always good at following recipes, and b) that's okay because there is definitely room for error and creative modifications to recipes in baking! It really couldn't have come out better, and the best part of it all was that Andy was so happy with his cake! Yay!

A couple notes: I didn't have a baking dish wide enough for a water bath, so I used our biggest skillet, which worked perfectly. It was just the right depth. Also, it was such a moment for me when I sprung open the pan and out came this perfectly formed cake, no cracks. Of course I had just talked to Nana, who told me that a cheesecake is not good unless it cracks. Gee, thanks Nan. I'd say it was a rousing success overall.

Good times.

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