Monday, October 27, 2014

A Tale of Four Cakes

I often feel like I need to post more than once every 3-4 months, but today I was reminded by a very wise person that I don't have to blog if I have nothing to say.  In fact, I shouldn't.  But that's for another day.

Deep down, I bake because it makes other people happy. Nothing compares seeing the look of pure enjoyment on someone's face when they take a bite of a homemade cookie. That's why I do it - not for the compliments or for the sense of accomplishment, but because sometimes I feel the only way I can make other people happy is by stuffing their faces full of sugar, butter, flour, and vanilla (and sometimes chocolate). No one's day has ever been ruined by a chocolate chip cookie. And (French Revolution aside) wars are not started or fought because of cake.

 As great as the feeling of giving out happiness is, I also know I enjoy baking because I am good at it.  For the most part, following recipes just comes naturally to me. Once I've tried something once, I'm very quick to learn from my mistakes, or if it was a success to start with, try to make it my own.  I try to be humble, but I have a knack for recipes turning out the first time (although not necessarily the second or third time).

 I am by no means a great baker - I can't whip a cake up without a recipe, and my creativity in flavour combination and decorating is average at best. But I can make a great tasting chocolate cake. And vanilla. And carrot.

 And that is where this whole post is going - Carrot cake. You see, my dear sister generously offered my baking services to a friend of hers who got married a while ago and whose (now) husband wanted carrot cake for their wedding. A little unusual for a wedding cake maybe, but that's what the groom wants and he wouldn't budge.  I hadn't made carrot cake since the first time I was in university, so I didn't have a go-to recipe sitting around.  And if there's one thing I love as much as baking, it's doing comparitive taste-tests.  So I collected four recipes for carrot cake: two that came highly recommended by the internet, one I personally thought would be interesting, and one from my mom's neighbor that my mom swore by. I baked all four on one weekend, gave half of each cake to the bride and groom, and shared the rest with my family.  The results are thus:

Carrot Cake #1 was firm and used applesauce to keep it moist. It was dry, bland, and reminded me of carrot cake from the grocery store's bakery cooler. My sister liked this one the best, but everyone else thought it was merely edible.

Carrot Cake #2 used pineapple. It was sweeter and moister than #1 and tasted like I remember homemade carrot cake tasting. The crumb was softer than #1.

Carrot Cake #3 had too much baking soda, and you could taste it.  It was dry and crumbly, and personally my least favourite of the four, so I won't bother you with the recipe.

Carrot Cake #4 was rich, decadent, and exotic (well, for carrot cake).  Candied ginger gave it a nice snap, and notes of tangy orange complimented the cream cheese frosting really well.  It doesn't really stand in well for "traditional" carrot cake, but I'll definitely be making it again in the future.

What I Learned About Making Banana Cream Pie

First attempt was not a failure, but not what I call a success.  It was very tasty, but it very much fell apart.  Here's what I learned:

1. Only homemade crust will do.  And don't forget to blind bake with pastry weights.
2. Only homemade custard will do.  No instant pudding for this lady.
3. Speaking of homemade custard... if you think it's not thick enough, it's not.
4. When slicing the bananas, if you're not sure if they're thick enough, they're not.
5. When making the whipped cream, if you're not sure if it's sweet enough, it probably is.

There are definitely more custard-based pies in my future.