Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And now for something completely different...

Yep, you guessed it. Van's first birthday was yesterday.

I know this is supposed to be a Montessori baby-mama blog where we always talk about how best to respect and nurture our joyful children, but some of you are already familiar with my occasional dabbling in Nuclear Homemaking, often in the form of Pastries of Mass Destruction.

(see, I was able to get that out with no reference at all to yellowcake... almost.)

So here is a photo of his birthday cake. Laugh all you want. I'll give you the whole story.

Some of you will recall the Martha Stewart 15th anniversary series where she did a year's worth of "best of" issues, the crown jewel of which was the "year of cakes" issue. I still haven't recovered. This was my attempt at making Miss October, the "Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake", which I have dreamed of making for Van's birthday since about the 12th week of his gestation. Sadly, it took about six hours to make and wound up looking like a fairly substantial cow pie. This is why God made burnt sugar decorations. (Oh, wait. I made those, too...)

If I may, this is the worst cake recipe I have ever attempted. The instructions are completely asinine, and the thing simply will not hold together with the "meringue buttercream", It slid around like a jello mold until the glaze hardened to hold it together. Why anyone would take a beautiful meringue and deflate the thing with three and a half sticks of butter is beyond me. It further calls for a mysterious product called "hazelnut cream" which apparently no one on the first ten pages of a google search can identify, other than that every Whole Foods on earth is out of it. I have heard of people using everything from hazelnut coffeemate to Nutella (I chose the latter) to get hazelnut filling to go between the bazillion crepes it takes to make it this tall. It did slice in a nice stripe-y way, but collapsed after about half of it had been served, so the last third of it had to be eaten layer by layer, short-stack fashion.

The recipe included the cool candied hazelnuts with the long spikes, but when I tried to follow the sugar-candy recipe, I began to understand why so many of the other fallen bakers used strawberries to decorate theirs. What lunacy!! For the record:

Anyone who tells you that the first step to making caramel sugar is to add water to the sugar and boil the resulting syrup until it browns IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!

As I knew (but wanted to be a team player, so I tried it Martha's way), the way to make caramel sugar is to dump sugar in a pot, light a fire under it, and stir. Water is not necessary or helpful. I dutifully added it though, then boiled it away until all I had left was a bunch of lumpy sugar that made a cloudy, grainy syrup. Once I threw that away, I made the caramel sugar the right way, and got not only gorgeous candied hazelnuts, but plenty of extra caramel for making birdcages and other sugar-string delights with which to gild my cow pie. Splendid fun!

Van also had developmental follow-up today, so there is actually a relevant post to be made--but it's for another day! The one year Montessori stuff from Nuvy is here, disjointed as it was in the middle of our move. I'll try to do better this time.


Nury said...

Send this to Martha Stewart. I am sure she would be very interested. After all, she is an intelligent Barnard alum! PS- the cake tasted good, though...
Baba (another Barnard alum)

Gracie's Mom said...

Its not that bad...

I very much like the lovely tumblweed decoration on the cowpie. It definitely gives it that home-on-the-range look.

And if the cake tasted yummy, thats the most important part, right? teehee. Yes, I am full of it. We Kelly girls know better than that. ;)

I have to give you props for attempting it though. I would have never gone there no matter how much I loved it, but you are really inspiring me to attempt my own unique confectionary monument for Gracie's 2nd birthday... or maybe to celebrate her first life day!

mom said...

Only six hours??? Time flies when you are flippin' crepes.
I have to say that was quite an adventure but it ended well. What a wonderful birthday celebration and a splendid birthday cake.
I loved every minute of it.

NOLA mom said...

If it's not too late to inquire, when the recipe calls for adding heavy cream to the caramelized sugar (to make caramel sauce), would you still just start by stirring sugar (sans water) over heat? Every recipe I've seen says to do the water thing, which has not worked out for me either.

Still, how bad can anything covered in that much chocolate be? Happy birthday Van. ;)

Testdriver said...

I have to admit that I'm not too experienced with caramel sauce, but my understanding of the chemistry of it is that you can't brown sugar in water-- the temperature has to be higher than 212F. So, you have to start the same way. The recipe I found calls for melting the sugar, then adding the butter, and then the cream. I have a theory, though, that you might be able to cook the sugar in the butter (like a roux) and then add the cream afterward. I'll have to experiment with that...