Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy Half-Baked Birthday, Lars-of-Ours!

Lars, Anders, & Yet Another Transformer
There he is, my 10-year-old son.  Lars celebrated his birthday at home with family on December 26th.  The laser tag party with friends from school won't be until next week.

The gift unwrapping went without a hitch.  Lars received a couple of duplicate toys, and surprised us all by generously offering them to Anders instead of exchanging them for other toys for himself.  This was also the first birthday in our household that the non-celebrant boy didn't have to be physically restrained in "Grampa Jail" to prevent him from "helping" his brother unwrap gifts.  Ah, they grow up so fast!

For his birthday cake, Lars requested that I just "surprise" him.  I know he's not a chocolate fan, so after pouring through Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible I opted for the Cordon Rose Banana Cake with a Lemon Buttercream Mousseline frosting.  Sounds delicious, doesn't it?  I've made this cake several times before, both times frosting it with a chocolate ganache frosting, and it was heavenly on previous occasions.  I always get nervous about making frosting from scratch, but even when it doesn't look pretty it still tastes a whole lot better than the stuff I can buy in a can at the grocery store.

I did happen to read a variation for this recipe on Rose Levy Beranbaum's baking blog that suggested reducing the butter in the original recipe by two tablespoons and adding two tablespoons of canola or safflower oil, and I tried that this time.  Also, whereas in the past I've used King Arthur Flour's Queen Guinevere Cake Flour for cakes, this time Bernie went to the Earth Foods organic grocery and came home with King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend instead.  It wasn't self-rising cake flour or anything goofy like that, and the package didn't suggest any recipe modifications.  What else?  Now that I'm thinking about it four days later, I don't remember actually adding the sour cream with the other ingredients, but I was sick and drugged up on Alka Seltzer cold tablets at the time, so who knows?  I used my Magi-Cake Strips as Beranbaum recommends, just as I always do, and I started checking for doneness after the minimum baking time.  I think I baked the cake for about 32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake came out clean and when I touched the center of the cake, it seemed to "spring back." 

Lars's Birthday Cake, Fresh From the Oven
Doesn't that look delicious?  I set the cake on the wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before I loosened the sides with a thin spatula and then inverted the cake onto the cake plate to cool completely before frosting.

I was a nervous wreck about the frosting.  I lowered the thermostat in the house and opened the back door so my kitchen would cool down, since the recipe warns that too-warm butter will result in frosting that "breaks down irreparably."  I nervously worried about how to tell whether the egg whites were at the soft peak or stiff peak stage, and although I followed the directions as best as I could, I ended up with a frosting that was grainy and goopy looking.  Only when I added gobs and gobs of lemon curd did the frosting thicken up to the point that I could put it on the cake.  I glopped it on, sprinkled some chopped macadamia nuts across the top, added candles, and told myself it was okay if the cake was ugly because it was going to taste fantastic!  Ah, the power of positive thinking!

Lars Wishing With Ugly Cake
...But positive thinking has its limits.  My cake was all RAW BATTER inside!  It was ruinous, revolting, and almost completely inedible (to adults, anyway; the kids ate some of it).


Bless his heart, Lars told me it was okay because he doesn't like cake anyway, he just likes the frosting.  Still, it was pretty disappointing to have spent half the day working on the cake and end up with a gross, goopy mess.  Don't you just love how my buttercream frosting looks like small curd cottage cheese?

I think I'll order a bakery cake for his party next week!

UPDATE JAN. 4, 2010: I just read a FABULOUS buttercream frosting tutorial on Baking Banter, the King Arthur Flour blog.  There are wonderful photos showing every step along the way (so THAT'S what the soft boil syrup stage was supposed to look like!) as well as tips and trips to "fix" buttercream frosting disasters in case things go awry.  I'm bookmarking this for the next time I get up the courage to tackle a cake baked from scratch!


Janice the MAnice said...

That's okay, James is positive that Lars' wish will still come true despite the uncooked cake. Happy Birthday, Lars!

Joann Mannix said...

Holy Batcaves! The fact alone that you attempted something that could break down irreparably if the butter was too warm, is admirable in itself. I think I'm going out on a limb when I sprinkle the funfetti's carelessly.

Happy Birthday to your sweet little man and Happy New Year to you and yours.

Allison@KingArthurFlour said...

What a bummer! The flour shouldn't have caused this to happen - but the folks on our Baking Hotline may be able to offer some suggestions if you want to give them a call! Happy Birthday to Lars - what a nice boy he sounds like.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Allison! I use King Arthur flour for all of my baking; you're my favorite so I know defective flour wasn't to blame! I just wondered whether I should have ajusted another ingredient, or increased the baking time with this particular flour. The whole thing was just a weird, freaky mess!

Anonymous said...

Hey Mom!!!
Lars Says Hi!!!!!!!