Friday, November 20, 2009

The Upside Down Debacle

In the past 2 weeks I have made 12 upside down cakes. This long yet entertaining odyssey began with Chef's longing for Thomas Keller's Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe from his new cook book Ad Hoc, which by the way is fabulous and if you have anyone in your family who likes to cook get them this book for the holidays. It is full of recipes that are simple, beautiful and brilliant...I mean it is Thomas Keller, and I will always shamelessly promote his genius as a matter of patriotism.

The simple pineapple upside down cake is one of Chef's favorite cakes of all time. He decided he was going to make it himself one weekend, but then I told him that "I love to bake, I will make it for you babe." This little offering led to a much bigger baking extravaganza than I could have ever imagined.

I didn't get around to making the first cake until about 2 weeks later. It was remarkably easy and I was proud of my lovely little cake. Three mamas and lil' ones came over for a coffee play date and I served it up. Of the four of us women, three are pregnant and I had to put the brakes on because we would have devoured the whole thing, and Chef had not had a slice yet.

The mamas left and I went to put Lil' Bit down for a nap. I left the cake perched on my grandmother's crystal cake plate sitting dead center in the middle of our dining room table, with only one chair anywhere near it. When I returned 10 minutes later the cake was gone but for a trail of crumbs and our little mutt Pumpkin was scurrying out of the dining room. Never underestimate any dog with Jack Russel in their blood.

I felt terrible that Chef who had waited patiently for this cake would not have a bite to himself. That being said, I went ahead and made another one that day. This time it turned out even better than the last. I gave half of it to my grandmother and the other half Chef, Lil' Bit and I enjoyed together.

Five days later, Chef threw me a curve ball, and of course I took a swing. We were doing a special 4 course prix fixe at the restaurant this week in honor of Douglas Gayeton's new book Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town, and the dessert course was a fig upside down cake. I asked what I could do to help, because that is my nature. "You know what would really help...if you could make the fig cakes." I took the bait.

"Okay, I can make the cakes." Why? Why do I do it to myself?

This was on Sunday and the cakes had to be made by Wednesday. My mood over the following three days immediately soured. Chef kept asking "Are you aggravated with me?" And I would say "No, our daughter has unleashed her inner toddler and I am having a tough time with her." Which was true, but the reality is that I was wicked stressed out about the cakes. I have never baked ten cakes at once before, and given that they had to be fresh it really left no room for error given that the only time I could focus my hormone fogged brain well enough to follow the recipe was when Lil' Bit was asleep. Ugh.

Monday night I made the shmear which goes on the bottom of each cake. It is the yummy golden caramel like goo that the fruit bakes in at the bottom of the cake. Tuesday night, with all my ingredients laid out I began the great cake bake...hoping to do all ten before 10 pm. Fat chance.

I put the first five in the oven at around 9 pm, and prepared to start my second round of batter. 15 minutes later I smelled smoke. One of the cakes had bubbled over, maybe 2 tablespoons of batter was burning at the bottom of the oven. I opened the door and the smoke came billowing out. Knowing that it is a big no no to pull a cake out of the oven before it is done, I saw my 5 beautiful cakes and panicked. I frantically called Chef at work. He told me to pull them out, which I did but the batter in the oven kept burning. I slammed the oven door shut and locked the smoke it, but it was too late a haze had filled the house.

I threw open all the doors and windows and turned on the fans. I was terrified that the smoke alarms were going to go off and wake the baby. Chef came home and looked at the cakes. "I think we are going to have to throw them out." I gave him the death stare and responded, "No way. You are going to take those cakes to the restaurant right now and finish baking them and try to salvage them." There was no discussion. There was no way in hell I was going to let those cakes go down without a fight. He loaded them up and raced off to the restaurant.

As I watched the headlights pull out of the garage I heard Lil' Bit on the monitor. She was screaming. At this point I wanted to sit down and cry, but I put on my game face and when to her. I thought maybe the smoke had snaked its way upstairs and that she was choking and gasping for air, but she had just crapped her pants in her sleep. Poor thing. I changed her, sang her a lullaby and put her back down to sleep. Her room was smoke free.

Downstairs was terrible. The kitchen was a mess. There was no way to continue baking because Chef had made the executive decision to put the oven on the cleaning mode. This was one of those moments when I thanked God for dishwashers. I loaded everything imaginable into our machine and hit the start button. Then, I decided it was time for me to go to bed. Around 1 am Chef came into the bedroom and told me that the cakes were perfect and amazingly delicious.

The day of the event, Wednesday, I whipped out the last five fig cakes four hours before the dinner, and they too were wonderful. Our customers devoured them, and Chef told me our fellas in the kitchen said "Nan killed the cakes!" Code for...amazing job done. Whew.


inmotion said...

great story nan! i have never heard nor thought of a fig upside down cake! sounds delish. job well done honey!

Anonymous said...

You know your great!!

Anonymous said...

sorry my grammar sucks.. I should always proofread!