The night before last, I decided to bake my husband a Russian-style honey cake. We split a generous slice of such cake a few weeks ago at a Dolan, a Uyghur restaurant in Cleveland Park, and it was love at first bite! I’m a reliably good baker with an untidy (aka creative) flair. However, this episode of “Whimsical Kitchen Therapy” was brought to you by the letter “D for Disaster”!
I’m usually intuitive when it comes to substituting ingredients and when I’m unsure, I turn to Google. I ended up pulling an “Elsie,” a term my mom coined to describe my step-grandmother’s approach to the culinary arts: take the original recipe and replace all the ingredients with something else and call it the same thing.
My heavy whipping cream was expired and smelled bad and I didn’t have enough wildflower honey or sour cream and I was shy by one egg. I opted to make up for the egg by adding one thoroughly mashed, ripe banana and I combined wildflower and mesquite honey with a tad of agave. Most of the honey is put on the stovetop and intentionally burnt, so I was happy with the already burnt-ish taste of Mesquite and figured agave was a good way to reduce sugar content.
My first mistake was that the wildflower honey was no longer liquid-y but congealed. I should’ve doubled the amount because it wasn’t in a liquid state. It was on par for the taste but the consistency not so much. It was too thick and therefore didn’t spread smoothly or thinly enough to get eight layers of honey-sponge. This caused mistake number two: half the layers and very unevenly distributed at that.
The failure was in the frosting. My substitution for heavy whipping cream wasn’t wrong, but neither was it right … for baking. It might’ve worked fine if I had used whole milk and Greek yogurt, but I only had 2% milk (i.e., not enough fat content). It did form the soft, fluffy peaks the recipe called for. But when it came to step 11 of the recipe, “add the ¾ cup of sour cream and remaining burnt honey mixture and whisk until stiff peaks form,” my peaks were flaccid because I added ricotta to my one-quarter cup of sour cream.
And when that didn’t work, I panicked. I added melted butter to increase the fat content. No luck. I added frozen cool whip and till no firm filling firmaments. I reasoned that a little cream of tartar would whip my mess into mountains of luscious frosting. Next, I did what any stubborn person would do (I think): I kept my KitchenAid running on its fastest setting, intent on frothing the heck out of my cake filler and topper. What ensued was bedlam! I have photos to prove it.This fiasco was worse than that time when my husband and I weren’t yet homeowners, so it didn’t matter that I managed to fill the entire kitchen with flour (it looked like I was trying to grout the floor) or that other time that I painted the kitchen walls cocoa-powder brown with actual cocoa powder.
And then a miracle happened …I decided it didn’t matter! I even threw all but the freezer-baggie full of mashed up crumb coating away. There didn’t need to be a rescue mission. I didn’t need to try again tomorrow to make the perfect cake as penance for my poor performance or lack of polished product. I’m 51 and I’ve earned the right to say, “Fluff it!” But you don’t have to be my age to give yourself a bit of grace for not achieving perfection.
I laughed and texted my photos and video to my husband and our best friend. I might’ve even referred to my arms and clothing as resembling the aftermath of a lewd sexual act. What did matter was that I tried, I learned what not to do, and that one failed experiment doesn’t mean that I am a failure. Afterall, I started my Facebook Page “Whimsical Kitchen Therapy” precisely because I enjoy having fun with food!My challenge to you is this: give yourself permission to try something you’re afraid to do. Maybe it’s baking that dessert you can’t pronounce that you saw on “The Great British Baking Show,” painting a la Bob Ross despite never having picked up a brush in your life, or pretend you’re James Cordon and belt out some tunes in your car. The worst that can happen is you’ll be embarrassed—or you’ll have spent a little money on supplies. Embarrassment passes and the money won’t have been wasted for your effort.
Life is too short not to live it with gusto!