For this week’s quip, I thought I would take readers through a couple of scenarios in which baking a cake can go awry. As a Chinese language major, the nuances of the language bleed into the various facets of my life, including the kitchen.
In Mandarin Chinese, when you run into an unfortunate situation and feel the need to shout out your frustration, zaogao is a pretty common expression. Now, you may be asking yourself, What does a Chinese cry of distress have to do with a foodie column? Here’s your answer: Zaogao’s direct translation into English is “wretched cake.” And honestly, when you think about it, what could be worse in a kitchen than taking the time to make something, especially a cake, only to taste it and realize you messed up.
As I wrote in my previous column, cooking and baking are about taking risks. I would definitely propose that when you first start your culinary adventures in the kitchen, you must recognize that success is one part skill, one part intuition, two parts precision and a whole lot of luck. So even if you think you’ve made a mistake, make sure you try to problem solve a bit before abandoning your culinary efforts.
So, here are some tips for when things get dicey in the kitchen so that you don’t have to start over from scratch, literally:
1. If you have noisy roommates who jump around too much or you mistakenly slam the oven door at the wrong moment, your cake could collapse in the center. It could be still tasty, but if you were aiming for presentation, the Chairman from “Iron Chef” would definitely take off points. Your cake goes flat due to the fact that the rising process was disturbed. As the rising agent (baking soda, baking powder, etc.) works its magic, the stability of the cake’s structure becomes more sensitive to disturbances that affect the chemical processes.
Remedy: Never fear, icing is here! If you’re concerned about the looks of your cake, and you’re planning to frost it, the icing will cover up any sunken-in appearance the cake may expose. Additionally, flipping the cake upside down and then frosting it will give you an even surface.If you want to add an extra ingredient to your solution, fruit could be used as a cake topper that fills in the space where the cake went flat.
2. On some occasions, you might sit down with a lovely slice of cake only to realize it’s incredibly dry. This usually happens when the cake pan is too shallow for the amount of batter, or if the cake has been left in the oven too long.
Remedy: One way to prevent this from happening is to use the “toothpick method.” First, make sure you check on your cake a few minutes ahead of the suggested bake time. Often the time a cake needs to bake varies based on the oven, altitude and ingredients, so it never hurts to check a couple of minutes early. Second, stick a toothpick straight into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean or with a couple of crumbs, you’re basically done. If you’re very worried about dryness, then don’t wait for the toothpick to be clean, and take the cake out when only a few crumbs are left.
Now, if you’ve already removed the cake and found it is incredibly dry, here’s a creative solution: Pour something on it. Yes, it is as simple as pouring a bit of liquid over your finished product to add some moistness back. A bit of orange juice will give it a citrus flavor or a cup of coffee can curb the sweetness while rejuvenating the cake’s texture. And, for the over-21 crowd, a little Bailey’s never hurt anyone. The sky’s really the limit on what you decide to use, but be sure to pour in small increments so as to avoid flooding your creation.
Elizabeth A. Sabol-Jones is a junior in the College. She can be reached at [email protected]. CULINARY QUIPS appears every other Friday in the guide.