Failure Cake: A Non-Recipe
From where I’m writing this, I can look at around 95% of my cookbooks. As part of arranging things in the new house, they’ve been given their own bookcase, next to the really old looking reproduction drinks cabinet. They sit in the dining room, lording over the table from behind the clutter that has been deposited in front of them.
My obsession with buying and hoarding cookbooks was somewhat passed down to me. In fact, most of the books were my mom’s. (Though I have made a few important additions to the collection.)
All of this brings me to my failure cakes. In some perfect world, I’d never make a failure cake, or failure main course, or failure anything. It does somewhat go against my perfectionist nature.
However, what goes against my nature even more is faithfully following a recipe from any of the many cookbooks that I’m staring at right now. Instead I research, looking through one or many of them, then wing it.
I might have some basic ratios in mind as I attack an idea, but very rarely much beyond that. Sometimes I’ll have some scribbled notes, but that’s usually when there are multiple ratios to consider.
On Tuesday, my winging it attempt didn’t go exactly right, so I ended up with a failure cake. As with all failure dishes, though, I got to learn what happened if I did x with y ingredients. It’s a failure cake, but it’s also a way of experimenting with things.
This particular failure cake had a failure that I was ready for. After lovingly whisking my egg whites to stiff peaks, my flour — instead of sprinkling as it was meant to — plopped itself right there in the middle of it. I ended up with something sort of dumpling batter-ish, leaving me to add in a few other wet ingredients to get it passable for baking.
Tasting the failure cake (even when things go wrong, I think it’s important to taste, to see what worked and what didn’t, to get a feel for how something done intentionally in that way will hit somebody’s mouth), it ended up tasting like a weird variation of banana bread. I’ve made some mental notes and will have another attempt — at some point — at what I was going for.
In the meantime, it has been added the long list of failure cakes that have taught me something. I figure it’s all part of coming up with cool recipes. There are going to be failures.
Besides, following recipes out of books can be so boring. And anyone who talks about baking being a detail-oriented chemistry obviously forgets that the best part of any chemistry lesson is watching things explode every now and again.