In honor of National Pastry Day, I'm reposting an item from January.
Being a fearless baker for many years, I've had my share of kitchen disasters. The recent gingerbread debacle was the latest in a long line of near misses.
Regarding the failed gingerbread: I'm certain that my Eastern European Grandma Jean (who died a few years ago at 100) would have found some way to salvage it (gingerbread meatloaf anyone?) But I didn't and have the pictures to prove it. (If I did save it, I could have used it in Gingerbread Pudding, a 1919 recipe from When Mother Let Us Cook, which is basically gingerbread served with a vanilla sauce -- an early, simple version of creme anglaise.)
One thing I've learned about baking is that it's not one perfect cake after another. In truth, it's all about recovery, not initial success. Years ago, in a dessert class, the chef instructor put a pecan tart into the oven. When he checked on it, he discovered -- to his horror -- that the filling was leaking at a rapid rate from the crust. Before I could cry out, "It's ruined!" he opened the oven and, with the calmest possible demeanor, began to scoop the filling (with a spatula) back into the crust, a procedure he repeated every five minutes or so until the tart was done. When it emerged from the oven, it looked perfect. I don't remember anything else about that class, but the lesson from that one tart looms large.
Now I've probably baked and frosted dozens of chocolate cakes, but the one I most remember was for an event at my daughter's school. I made the cake and frosting the night before and left the frosting in a pastry bag on my high kitchen counter; I planned to frost the cake after work. When I returned home the next day, the pastry bag was on the kitchen floor! Somehow my tiny five-pound dog had managed to defy gravity, leaping so high as to set a new toy poodle pole-vaulting record. I momentarily panicked; I had only 20 minutes to show up (cake in hand) at the school. While Midnight, the dog, had gotten to some of the frosting, I could tell he hadn't touched a lot of it. After carefully transfering the "virgin" frosting to a new pastry bag, I began to pipe the frosting, but it was clear that I wouldn't have enough. A quick trip to the corner fruit store was my salvation. I simply placed some strawberries (and coconut) atop the cake and -- voila! -- a lovely presentation. (My dog was not nearly as thrilled.)
Happy baking -- the good news is, you can (almost) always eat your mistakes.