Friday, July 31, 2009

Week Fourteen: Introduction to Cakes

We had Monday evening off from school this week, which was a nice treat after the stress of last week.  Mike and I made reservations at Blue Smoke, a BBQ place we had been wanting to try.  The food was a bit of a disappointment, the quality didn't seem to match the prices they were charging.  Due South BBQ in Christiansburg is a tough place to beat. 
But the company was enjoyable and it was nice to have an evening together that didn't involve me traipsing home at 11 PM, debating whether or not I had enough energy to clean the coffee pot and immediately falling asleep.
On Tuesday it was rainy and chilly and the weather reflected my mood.  I was still wishing the past weekend could have been longer and, after the blow-up in class last Thursday night, let's just say I was not bubbling with excitement to return to class.
Before class began Tuesday evening, one of the administrators and our chef-instructor talked with the class about last week's events.  My friend, the girl who made the mistake of standing-up for herself and thereby catching a lot of the grief, decided to take a break from the program and join up with another class in September.  The administrator was furious with everything that happened and I was embarrassed that he had to speak with a group of "adults" about their childish behavior.  I was embarrassed to be associated with a group of people who is radiating that image.
The evening proceeded quietly and awkwardly.  Given what happened last Thursday, combined with the fact that our class is now down to only six members, our Chef Gerri told us all to work around the same table for the evening (the class is normally spread out over two large tables).  To my surprise, but not disbelief, her request was met with groans from several people in the class.  But I thought it was a good idea - mostly because after my trail, I felt like I needed to practice working quickly and efficiently in a small work space.
The third module of the program is focused around cakes and cookies.  While I am a bit of a cookie feign (how else do you think I acquired the loving nickname "Cookie Monster" from both my Dad and Mike?), I realized last night that I had surprisingly little experience with cakes.  The first cake we made was to become a double-layer chocolate cake, but the cakes had to be held in the refrigerator overnight before we could frost them because they had a very fudgy texture.
The second cake for the evening was carrot cake.  This particular cake was ruined for me by my loving grandmother when I was quite young at the Festhaus at Busch Gardens.  All I could see of the slice of cake was the frosty, white icing, which Mum always used to frost chocolate cake.  "Oooohh, is that chocolate cake?" I squealed.  To which my grandmother assured me it was.
Wrong.  It was carrot cake.  Imagine being seven years old expecting to take a big, unhealthy bite of gooey chocolate cake with sugary icing and instead getting a mouthful of dry, spicy cake with foreign shreds of carrots.  "" I choked.  "Well, I was a little confused as to why someone who hates carrots would choose carrot cake," my Dad laughed as he pointed out the little iced carrot on the top of the cake.
I successfully avoided carrot cake for the next sixteen years, so I was not especially thrilled to bring this streak to an end.  We baked the cake in a half sheet pan, placed the two halves together and placed globs of cream cheese icing on top for the finishing.
I did try a piece of carrot cake.  It was not as bad as the version I have forever embedded in my mind.  But it was not that good either.  If I'm going to eat cake, it's not going to have vegetables in it.  And I like vegetables, now.
We also made muffins.  I come from a family where if you can't make good blueberry muffins for Sunday morning brunch, you might as well just stay in bed.  The family muffin recipe is right up there with pancakes and biscuits.  Since blueberries were quite pricey, and not always that tasty in Virginia, I took the family recipe for the muffin base and added coffee cake crumble.  This is when I was in middle school.   So, let's just say that when it comes to muffins, I have high expectations; which is why I usually make my own.

My partner and I made lemon poppy seed muffins.  They looked nice, but were seriously lacking in the flavor department.  They were plenty lemony, but they were not sweet enough, which is saying a lot since muffins aren't that sweet to begin with.  Another team made fig and orange muffins, a flavor combination I really liked, which would be far superior in a decent muffin base.
Wednesday night we moved to high-ratio cakes: financiers and pound cakes. 

The financiers were cute and compact and it was easy to see how they had received their name: the dessert is a good size and texture for financial workers to eat with one hand.  I wish Mike liked berries, because it would be a perfect dessert for him.  But the doormen were happy to take the extras off my hands.

Then we made what turned out to be one of my favorite recipes of the program: ginger pound cake with lemon glaze.

This pound cake was simply incredible.  The taste was so fresh and light, it made you forget you were actually eating something not exactly healthy.  Sweet without being sickening, spicy without being hot; all combined in a melt-in-your-mouth base.  Pure heaven.

On Thursday, we created a traditional pound cake which uses mace.  It was not good.  While it had a nice crumb, the taste was just not appealing.  

We also made a sour cherry crumble, which I thought was very tasty.

I am not usually a big fan of cherries, but I guess the loads of buttery-sugary crumble on top of the cherries tricked my taste buds into enjoying it.

We also made muffins for the second time this week.  After the disappointing, but not unexpected, results of the first creation, I did not hold much hope for the second batch.  My partner and I set about making bran muffins, only to find the school had run out of bran.

So we decided to make banana muffins.  I love banana bread, but I do not like banana muffins (strange I know).  This recipe did not change my mind.  The mushy bananas in the muffin reminded me of baby food.

Another team did, however, make a wonderful muffin - lemon raspberry.  These disappeared quickly, so I really only got a little taste.  But I know they would be even better in Nana's recipe.

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