On further adventures in foreign kitchens

First, I should say that I’ve been terrible about posting regularly, and I still have pictures from Spain that I intend to post, but life at Smith is busier than life in Spain, and when I have free time, I’m likelier to fill it with other things rather than this blog. But I still do intend to post on it now and then. Check back every few weeks?

I seem somehow to have been nominated The Person Who Bakes among my group of friends. I suppose that this is the result of making myself a birthday cake sophomore year, since I knew that no one else would, and making a few birthday pies at various points. I cannot, regretably, manage everyone’s birthday, but I do try to bake something when I’m not too busy.

What all of this means it that when, at some point during January term when someone was browsing the internet and a group of us stumbled upon some sort of cake blog that featured a luscious-looking raspberry layer cake thing, my friend Mel turned to me and said, “Miriam, can you please bake one of those for my birthday?” I looked dubiously at the crisp layering of icing and told her that it wouldn’t look nearly that nice, but that I could try for the raspberry layered-ness.

So, some months later, I set out to find a recipe for such a cake. As is my usual wont, I looked at half a dozen recipes online and somewhat followed them. I wound up with a recipe lemon cake with lemon-raspberry-chocolate filling and whipped cream icing. (I had some thoughts of posting the recipe here, but I don’t have it with me right now, so I guess that won’t happen). I was pleased and surprised to discover that my house’s kitchen had a range of round 9-inch cake pans to chose from. I acquired some lovely frozen raspberries from rumorofrain and transversely, obtained the other ingredients, found myself a free afternoon, and considered myself ready to begin. The first hitch in my plan showed up when I discovered that the cup of milk I had grabbed from the dining hall and stowed in my littlest water bottle had frozen in the house refrigerator overnight. After some thought, I put a pan of hot water on the stove and put the water bottle in it to heat up. My next concern was that the eggs might also be frozen. I had never seen frozen eggs before, but then I don’t recall freezing my milk before, either, and I wasn’t really sure what I would do about frozen eggs. After some shaking, I decided that they were okay, if a bit cold, as was the lemon. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that adding cold eggs to melty butter firms up the butter very quickly . . .

A good deal of beating later, I had small chunks of butter floating in cold scrambled eggs. The adding of the flour, sugar, etc was accomplished without further incident (beyond a regrettable lack of rubber spatulas; wooden spoons just aren’t quite the same for cleaning out bowls), and I proceeded to the filling. This was the part I was most dubious about, as none of my recipes called for chocolate in the filling, but I had a bag of chocolate chips left over from fudge-making (an annual fencing team fundraiser), and I thought it would taste good, but I wasn’t entirely sure that raspberry juice would thin down chocolate properly, or that the mixture wouldn’t solidify again after it cooled. That all worked excellently, though, and the raspberry seeds weren’t noticeable in the final product, which was good because I didn’t have anything to strain them out with. I put my cakes on plates to cool and stuck the slightly grainy raspberry-chocolate pudding in the fridge to cool off (hoping it wouldn’t freeze).

The next day I had a class that ended only 40 minutes before dinner, and I waited patiently through towards the end of class, less patiently though the last five or ten minutes, and not very patiently at all through the ten minutes extra that the prof held us after class (I’m aware that it was the last class and the prof was sorry to see us go. It is, however, an hour and 50 minute class, and I had things to do).

I rushed home, was surprisingly successful in cutting each cake in half horizontally (okay, the second cut was pretty bad. But I managed to get another piece to patch that hole), and got out my whipped cream, filling, and reserved raspberries. One of my recipes suggested mixing half of the whipped cream with the filling, and I had dreams of a creamy, brownish pink filling, so I glopped some of the filling into a bowl and tried to add some whipped cream.
It wouldn’t come out.
I shook it.
Nothing inside the can shook. I realized that the whipped cream had frozen.
This shouldn’t have surprised me. The milk had frozen, after all. But it simply hadn’t occurred to me that cream is also liquid, and subject to the same rules as other liquids.
There was no way that I was going to heat a pressured container, so I shook it a bunch and tried to give it some body heat. I wiggled the little cap off, and poked at the squirty bit. After a while, I managed to get some cream to come out, looking rather like edible silly string. I tried putting the little cap back on to make it floof. A bit of cream came out, and then it stopped. After fussing with it for a bit and getting lots of nowhere, I decided that the filling didn’t actually need cream, after all, and just slathered it on. I eventually managed to get some cream out of the container, and even to mix some of it with the filling (it got a slightly lighter brown. Next time I’ll try making a cream cheese icing and mixing that with the filling). A great while later, I had the cake more-or-less covered with whipped cream that was already wet and runny. I put extra raspberries across the top and around the edge, cleaned up, grabbed my cake and headed to dinner.

By the time I got to the dining hall, I had cream dripping down both of my wrists (the biggest plate in the kitchen was big enough to fit a cake with raspberries around it – I just didn’t think about icing sag). I thought it a rather sorry-looking specimen, especially as it needed a raft of napkins before I was willing to set it on the table. The filling was too wobbly (or maybe I just put too much in. But I figured that it was the best part of the cake, and what was I going to do with leftover filling?), especially the parts that had had whipped cream mixed with them. The cake sort of collapsed sideways after I cut the first half, but it was really yummy.

One of these days I’ll figure out how to make yummy cakes that don’t fall apart, drip everywhere, or look like they escaped from a demon baker.

Not an adventure in a foreign kitchen, you say?
Have you ever tried cooking with only one decent-sized pan, an unreliable supply of cookware, and a refrigerator that freezes half of your ingredients. I’d say pretty foreign.


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