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Daring Bakers July 2008 Challenge

I joined a nice group of folks called The Daring Bakers. They choose one thing a month as their “challenge,” bake it, and then post the results later in the month, all on the same day. This is my first challenge, a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter.

I read the recipe, and…it’s really hard. No, I’m serious about this. This cake is hard. I’ve never made a cake like this before. I’m freaking out.

After I hyperventilate into a small paper bag, I look at the recipe again. This cake presents a number of challenges, but mostly, it just looks hard. I decide to break it down into steps, which turns out to take all three days of the 4th of July weekend, causing the cake to be renamed “all effing weekend” cake.

Putting into practice the theory that anything is possible if broken down into small enough steps, I start with the easiest thing; the simple syrup.

So far so good. Aside from my family thinking that it will become yet another thing that I abandon in the fridge (which is admittedly filled with things like small containers of egg whites waiting to be made into meringues), it is my first (very small) success and I am so happy with the result, I decide to push on and roast the hazelnuts. Unfortunately, the heady victory of the simple syrup made me a little too relaxed and I over-roast the nuts. That’s ok! I decide that this will give a deeper flavor to cake when done.

The husband and I celebrate the 4th and my cake triumphs by eating a very fine potato salad and brats in beer.

On to day two and the more daunting task of praline and buttercream. Fortunately I’ve made brittle before (why I have no idea) so the praline doesn’t scare me

and comes out looking very well.

Unfortunately, again filled with hubris from minor success (or maybe it’s the G&T I’ve been drinking), I am not paying exact attention with the final stages of heating the praline and smoke comes off the pan. I don’t have any more hazelnuts (and at $6 a bag, I’m not about to go out for more) so away we go, making the paste.

It does have a distinctly roasted smell and is not overly sweet, but doesn’t taste burnt, so all seems to be okay.

The buttercream is tackled next (tasks getting progressively more complicated) – I’ve made a fair number of icings, but not one using this exact method. The husband is enlisted in helping add the sugar and ta-da –

a very nice looking meringue is born. Adding it back into the butter and adding the hazelnut paste is easy, if gadget and bowl consuming. I think I washed every bowl in the kitchen that night.

Day three and the task I dread – the cake. I have never made this style of cake successfully, and have no reason to think that today, with a less than adequate oven and pans, will be any different. The one good thing about never having made anything but a decent chocolate cake is that I don’t expect it to be good and if it is anything but a sponge-shaped rock, I will be pleasantly surprised. Either way, by the end of the day, there should be a lovely to look at cake, which is half the fun of baking.

So I melt the butter and sift some flour and…okay, truth be told, I’m not entirely sure what I did, because I stopped writing as I was going along. The cake made the ribbon did what it was supposed to do

a bunch of stuff got folded in

and got poured into floured pans.

It was baked. And baked. And baked a little more and was finally done, but not without the oven demanding her ritual sacrifice. At one point during baking, I managed to grab the oven rack without a mitt and very successfully burned my finger.

I didn’t have cooling racks, so the cakes were left on their own on a board to cool, making them a little mushy on the tops. Since I didn’t have the right pan, I actually had four layers to play with, cutting off the mush and when one layer fell apart completely, it was no problem. The cake was assembled, glazed and ready for icing.

Ganache? No problem. Could make it in my sleep…or maybe not. The chocolate and cream mix that had always been so easy to pour and make into a mirror smooth finish…it just wasn’t setting up. I cooled it, I stirred it – no, not happening, not today. So I poured it anyway. Sunday night radio was starting and we needed to get dinner on. I did the best I could, but the glaze, while sort of holding after a while, was not mirror-smooth. The perfectionist in me really wanted to quit. The cake was going to be ugly. It wasn’t round, it wasn’t level, and now, the one thing I thought would cover everything and at least make it into a nice photo that would fool everyone into thinking that I was a halfway decent baker, was refusing to come together.

One great thing about this challenge is that it’s so expensive. It’s not really all that great when I’m actually in the store buying everything, but when it gets down to a time like this, when the cake has had a series of setbacks and now it’s looking like the thing is going to be ugly…well, there’s no turning back. I’m not going to make a new cake. I’ve promised to make this cake this month. This is it. This is my cake. It’s the one I’ve made.

After a few “it is what it is” and “it’s all good” moments, I convince myself to just let the cake be. It’s going to be fine. And then I take out the buttercream for pipinig.

In my own defense, I’ve never made this kind of buttercream before, so when it came out of the fridge and was hard as a rock, I think it was perfectly natural to assume that I should go ahead and put it in the mixer for a bit to soften it up. WRONG.

Now I had a lumpy cake with icing that looked like something my old sick cat would leave on the carpet. Oh please can I quit now? I know I promised these nice ladies that I’d make this cake, told them I loved to bake, told them this would be so much fun, but really, this is too much.

After making a pouty face for about 15 minutes, the husband gives me a look like “really?” and I suck it up. It’s a CAKE for crissake!! Having gotten rid of all my decorating supplies when we moved here, I make a pastry sleeve out of a ziplock bag (the husband loves this – he digs it when I get a bit of can-do pioneering spirit in me) and pipe the damn thing.

And in the end, my cake looks like this!

The piping ‘weeps’ down the lumpy sides, but the cake actually tastes remarkably good (much better than we thought it would). Everyone at work raves about the cake and is amazed that I made it (I’m not sure whether or not that is a compliment). The neighbor guys both get a piece and thank us for it profusely later when they return the plates.

Ok…maybe I’m not such a bad baker after all. And maybe that’s not the point. In spite of myself, I had a blast making this cake. It reminded me why I bake – because it’s one of the few times I lose myself completely in a task and nothing else matters. That and I really like to eat sugar.

Bake on daring ones, bake on!

7 Comments

  1. vmcgrady says:

    OK, now I for sure need to move back into the neighborhood … success!

  2. Marianne says:

    Yay Pink! Love this story!

  3. Lauren says:

    Mmm, your cake looks amazing!

  4. Dan says:

    Your kitchen looks bigger in these pictures than it actually is … some sort of ninja power I suppose. &, OH!, is that a bottle of wine in the piping picture? You & the husband drink wine?

  5. vmcgrady says:

    Dude, update! What’s next? Do you have a madeline pan?

  6. Robin says:

    Hey there! I had a great time reading your post. I was thinking about joining that Daring Bakers group and after reading this, I definitly think that it will at least be interesting! Keep on baking, woman! Your next buttercream will be gorgeous, I’m sure.

  7. Mom says:

    “At one point during baking, I managed to grab the oven rack without a mitt and very successfully burned my finger.”

    How many times have I told you the oven is HOT……NO NO NO, HOT HOT HOT……….see?

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