Anybody who spends time in the kitchen can recount stories of disasters and near misses. I’ve had my share. At the top of the list are two. The first was an exploding glass pie pan that got heated (we still don’t know how to this day) by an electric burner that appeared to be off. When it exploded, chance kept me and my friend from being in its direct line. We thought a gun had gone off and somebody shot through the window — the inside window of a 3rd floor apartment. Unlikely, but the brain does amazing things when panic is triggered.
The second was a recipe that didn’t specify that it made two loaves of cinnamon bread. I put it all in one pan and squashed that inner voice that thought, “huh, this seems a little full” by thinking “maybe it doesn’t rise very much” even though I knew it had all of the chemistry of a normal recipe. It was like Vesuvius erupting in my oven. The bread rose, got a lovely crust, and then the middle just kept pouring over the top. We put a pan below to try to catch the dripping batter and then kept replacing it with a second as the stuff was burning. For the life of me, I can’t remember if we actually ate the bread that was in the pan or if we threw the whole mess out.
The only common denominator for both was my patient friend Miki. She ate a lot of my early kitchen experiments and she helped me survive the shock of both of these disasters. More importantly, she helped me pick broken pie plate shards off the carpet in my rental apartment. I wonder if the people who live there now occasionally find a piece of glass and wonder where it came from…
Last night reminded me a bit of my history of near misses. I had a more adventurous recipe that I have been meaning to try, but as I got off work last night, all I wanted was to throw something in the oven and let it cook while I relaxed on the couch. Not a hard day. But I was tired. I threw some leftover spanish rice with veggies and some cheese and a pan of turnips for roasting into the oven and then contemplated an old and getting older small carton of buttermilk in my fridge. I bought it for the more adventurous recipe, but it was one day past expiration and I didn’t have the energy.
While the rice was baking, I did a quick search on buttermilk recipes and found what looked to be the simplest of cakes, originally meant for raspberries. Again stocked with more Oregon strawberries, I decided to do a quick substitution and utilize the already hot oven for a quick cake. It’s a good recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Raspberry-Buttermilk-Cake-353616.
Here’s what the cake looks like on the recipe site after baking:
Here’s what my cake looked like coming out of the oven:
Not so beautiful. Ruined, I thought. Burnt beyond repair.
The recipe calls for cooking at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes. I routinely do the lower time. Sometimes even less just to be safe. Instead, I set the timer for 25 minutes and walked away. Mistake. Potential disaster. What came out of the oven looked dark, ugly, and just plain bad. It didn’t necessarily smell bad, but it wasn’t good.
As the cake cooled, something miraculous happened. What looked dark brown and burnt kind of mellowed in color. I think part of the issue is you sprinkle quite a bit of sugar on top to make a crust. That crust is really brown, at least it was in my case. If I were to cook it again — and I will since all recipes deserve a second chance — I’d still stay at the high temperature but take a look at things at 20 minutes and then go from there.
I’m glad I left it in the kitchen to cool. Later, when I went back, I thought, “well maybe I can’t serve it to anybody else, but it looks like it’s worth giving it a taste.” So I did. It had an interesting texture — maybe from the buttermilk and more liquid to dry ingredients ratio. It was a little spongy. And the strawberries that were floating on top kind of sink to the bottom and the sugar turns into a bit of a crust.
Good enough to eat two small pieces. Maybe even good enough to share. Not such a disaster after all…