Monday, February 25, 2013

Mixed Plate: Breaking Up is Hard to Do (with cake)

The parenthetical (with cake) seemed a requirement in today's title because, really, everyone knows Facebook is the place to post devastatingly personal milestones in small, graphical icon tags. And so it was, a softly-lit, slow-dance crescendo moment of The Way We Were... an intense, short-lived romance destined to be as memorable as it was tearful. Star-crossed lovers in a whirlwind romance... Me and Milk Chocolate Cake...and then it all went wrong. (roll sad music and end credits)

The Cake-Up - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I would have titled this The Great Cake Break-Up, but that would imply that I'll never eat cake again. That's just lunacy. I love cake. OK, I love ice cream more, but cake is a very close...third after custards/cheesecakes. Last month's pressure-laden faux-mance holiday, Valentine's Day, was a reminder that despite its ooh-la-lah presentation value, baking a whole cake for two people is ridiculous. And yet I spent a second year in a row doing it, and then wondering why I'm such a gullible rube. Actually, it's pretty simple -- Blame Martha Stewart. I was of course completely bewitched by the sorcery-laced magazine, Martha Stewart Living. I should have been wary of its adorable pink heart-shaped cakes adorning its cover -- cakes made of Pure Diabetes. Its sugary siren song drew me into its many chocolate-themed desserts, and my gaze became affixed on the Chocolate-Flecked Layer Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting. A Medusa, this was!!! I got it in my noggin to make this for a special dessert for Valentine's Day because it really was quite stunning. And I'm not even a milk chocolate fan, just the idea of a milk chocolate frosting sounded like it would be like a cloud of cocoa sweetness over multi-layer cake heaven!

A celebratory-worthy cake, indeed - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I have a love/hate relationship with baking. I appreciate how methodical it is, and there's no room to cheat on steps or UnRecipe when it comes to true baked goods -- you gotta follow the recipes -- so it forces you to be more disciplined, like it or not. And as long as I'm in the right mindset, baking can be downright theraputic. It's not even the reward factor, the money-shot of eating of the finished piece, because you literally get a contact sugar high from handling all the ingredients, especially in this cake recipe. "Flecked" is a new F-word because it's a chore to break down chocolate into tiny little snowflake flecks that eventually dot the cake batter like confetti. It probably would have been a little easier if I were shaving chocolate off a block, but I had chocolate chips, which are a beast to chop with a chef's knife. And don't think the food processor is going to do a better job, the friction from the blade will start to melt the chocolate before it renders it down into flakes. But I followed the recipe like a good Wasabi and came out with perfectly even cake rounds flecked with chocolate. And Praise Jeebus for parchment paper -- even with the butter/flour coat in the pans, having a round of parchment at the bottom of each pan makes for perfect cake removal.

Behold... The Frostening... There can only be one!! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The cake could have been made in a single day, I chose to bake the cake rounds one day, wrap them in plastic, and then save the icing for another day. This might be why I like baking cakes -- you can literally stop the clock once the cake part is done, and do the frosting later. It's usually better that way, to make sure the cake is fully cooled before putting buttery icing on it. While I Just Say No to icing that comes from a can, I will admit that making your own icing is akin to partaking of Forbidden Fruit. It's a Sight That Can't Be Unseen when you're whipping up a literal POUND OF BUTTER with about a pound of melted chocolate. And don't think this recipe is different from any others -- homemade icing for a whole cake will require about a pound of butter, plus whatever flavorings you decide to add, there's no way around it. Don't get me wrong, the frosting is beyond wonderful -- it's the most amazing thing you'll have the delight of licking off a spoon. You may even have a cake-based religious experience, I daresay. But there's that nagging awareness of the ingredients that went in it. It's like knowing there's ground up kittens in the frosting. But it's still incredible, so you just shrug it off and lick the bowl anyways.

The appetizer before the main cake course - Photo by Wasabi Prime
So... a two-day decadent chocolate cake, and a nice dinner at home of broiled salmon with a wine sauce, served over seared Brussels sprouts with capers and lemon. Celebration! Romance! I cooked fish! That was a big deal, since I don't love the fishy smell that perfumes the house after making seafood, but it was Valentine's Day, after all. The Mister came home with gourmet chocolates and a nice bottle of Port, plus several awesome finds from a little spice shop in Seattle -- way better than $50 roses, if I may say so! We had a nice, at-home dinner and a very relaxing night without the fuss of fighting for a table on one of the worst nights to hit a restaurant. And was the cake worth the two-day effort? Absolutely. Imagine a chocolate chip cookie in cake form, covered with a rich chocolate milk frosting. Despite all the rich ingredients, it wasn't overly sweet. Both the cake and the frosting had sour cream, which adds both moisture and a slight tartness to counteract all that sugar. It was extremely balanced for a dessert, and just a thin slice of four-layer cake was more than enough to satisfy the sweet tooth. I would absolutely recommend using this recipe... for more than two people.

A great appetizer for cake - salmon and Brussels sprouts. Classy! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And here's where the drama of a Cake Break-Up comes in: I threw most of the cake out a few days later. It was a perfect dessert, nothing wrong with it, I just had an alarmingly odd moment of clarity that this much dessert for two people is all kinds of wrong. I saved a couple of slices for us, but into the trash the rest went. Crazy, I know. Some of it was given away, but it seemed like the neverending dessert, and something this decadent is hard to foist onto others because even they know it's quite a beast. Common nutritional sense was too strong -- and this came to me after a few glasses of wine. I think the wine fortified my nerve as I hurled the dessert into the trash. I felt like Miranda from that Sex and the City episode when she threw cake into the garbage and still considered eating it, so she covered it with dishsoap. I'm not saying I did that, but I did throw some unappealing garbage over it to prevent any second thoughts. I'm the last person to waste food, but oddly this felt like the right thing to do. I totally Old Yeller-ed this cake.

Where's the love? EVERYWHERE -- except for the cake in the trash - Photos by Wasabi Prime
But don't fret -- I saved the other sweet treats from the holiday for us to savor. Our sweet tooth cravings did not want for much because, hey, marshmallow maple bacon. Whaaaaaaaat? I saved the treats that could linger in our Snack Bowl a little longer than cake, which can get stale and soggy pretty fast. I came to the realization that while cooking is nourishing, baking is more zen -- at least for myself. I have to hold back from eating all the Pad Thai when I make it, but if I spend two days baking a lovely cake, I'm pretty comfortable with walking away from everything once it's on the cake stand. Cake, I guess our love was never meant to be. But I'll enjoy the romance of making cakes, even if that's the extend of our non-committal relationship. 

It's a Wonder we haven't Made ourselves sick yet - Photo by Wasabi Prime

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