Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cake Fail

I follow a blog called The Bitten Word that does what I could only dream of doing - actually cooking the recipes from their monthly supply of food magazines.  Now, granted, the only food magazine I subscribe to is Cook's Illustrated, which comes every two months and definitely lends itself to well-intentioned stockpiling on the bookshelf with promises to myself of, "I will definitely make that someday."  Anyway, the folks at The Bitten Word issue a yearly challenge to help them cook every recipe out of the September issue of Bon Appetit.  I signed up this year, and was issued the task of making this: buttermilk cake with sour milk jam and gin-poached cherries (whew).

All my ingredients.
It was less than impressive.

It incorporated several elements of baking that I find vexing - like the need to go to Whole Foods for a strange and expensive ingredient (juniper berries?), the finished product requiring complex assembly, the use of three (3) separate complete elements, and a wholeheartedly unrealistic amount of time spent doing active work (not, say, cooling something on the counter or baking something in the oven).  So, not only was it a great deal of work, but it tasted gross.  This saddened me.  But!  (There's always a but.)  I had fun making something that I never would have made otherwise, and the cake part itself tasted delicious.

First, I planned.  I got most of the stuff I needed on a grocery run - in the process acquiring more dairy than our fridge has held in months: buttermilk, whole milk, and creme fraiche.  Then, I traded picking up a friend at her mechanic for a cup of leftover gin she had since I didn't want to buy a whole bottle.  (Meanwhile thinking to myself, isn't a cup of gin, like, a LOT of gin??).  Finally, I resigned myself to going to Whole Foods after class one day to buy a four-dollar jar of dried whole juniper berries.  I will be personally indebted to anyone who finds another recipe with which I can use any more of the (barely touched) bottle of juniper berries, by the way.

The cake part, like I said, was delicious and simple enough.  Just a yellow cake batter, using buttermilk, which gave it a lovely soft crumb and a delicately sweet flavor.  Scrumptious.

Then, I spent 45 minutes cooking down milk and sugar into a syrup of such sickening sweetness that even mixing it into 8 ounces of creme fraiche didn't make it not taste like a cavity.

Finally, I followed the recipe exactly and attempted to make a gin, sugar, juniper berry, and dried tart cherry syrup thing to also put with the cake.  Total fail.  There was nothing syrupy about it, and the cherries were macerated within minutes.  I took one taste after cooking it for at least twice the amount of time called for (in an attempt to reduce the vast volume of liquid) and it was like taking a shot of gin in a spoon.  I'm not in college anymore, so this made me gag.

The finished product.
I took one bite of it all together, threw the sour milk "jam" and the alcoholic cherries in the trash, said a silent apology to the friend whose gin I'd wasted, and ate a piece of the cake with my hands.  Whomp whomp.  I'm very curious to see what others who made this recipe thought of it!  And I was at least happy to note that my instincts when looking at this recipe (looks complicated, and, is that seriously going to taste good...?) were spot on.

Anyone else had some recent cooking adventures they'd like to share?

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