Yep, that’s what it’s been like at my house. I’ve attempted two desserts—one for Christmas Eve and one for New Year’s Day—and both have been failures in one way or another.
Desserts are my forte and I usually attack them with gusto and typically produce great results. But recipe errors, missteps, and my inability to make a presentable layer cake all contributed to these epic fails. Well, maybe not epic. Both desserts were tasty, but not without some wasted time, ingredients and consternation.
Let’s start with the Christmas Eve dessert. I actually found this dessert back on November 28th and excitedly sent the recipe to my brother, who we would be spending the holidays with. We love to collaborate in the kitchen, so I wanted his approval for the Four-Layer Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart. He wholeheartedly agreed, so I made sure I packed all the requisite ingredients before making the trek down to SoCal.
Now, I had read the recipe, but had failed to notice that it required a 13 ¾ x 4 ¼-inch tart pan. This is not a standard item in any kitchen I know of and on Christmas Eve it was going to be hard to find. Actually, make that impossible. We made a beeline to Jane’s Cakes in La Canada, who have everything under the sun for baking, but no tart pan in that size. (Note: subsequent searches have found that a 13 ¾ x 4 1/4 pan doesn’t seem to exist. 14 x 4 or 14 x 4.5 is available however.) So we had to make do with an 8-inch round tart pan, which is roughly the same size, just different in shape.
This recipe takes hours to make, as each layer has to be made and then chilled or baked and cooled. My brother and I should have made the tart shell dough the night before, but were having too good a time with friends, and wine was involved, and well…you know. So we began on Christmas Eve morning. We made the dough with no problem. Then chilled it for 2 hours. Then we kneaded and rolled and got it into the pan and chilled the dough again for 30 minutes. Finally, after 3 hours of the clock ticking by, we were able to bake the first layer. Gonna be a long day…
We let the crust cool, and moved on to the fudge cookie layer. I thought that the ingredient list felt like it was missing something. The only liquid was egg and there was no baking soda or powder. But we persevered, made the dough, and popped it into the crust and then the oven. We waited 25 minutes and no crack in the layer, as the recipe indicated. Another 5 and still no crack. We finally had to take it out of the oven before the requisite crack appeared as it was pulling away from the sides and looked to be overdone.
Again, we let the two layers cool to room temp and then set about to make the caramel layer. Four hours off the clock….
NOTE: Now you might think that making this tart was all we had to do for dinner, given the amount of time we have thus far spent on it, but that was not the case. We also had to grate 2 pounds of fresh horseradish for our beef tenderloin, prepare 6 pounds of potatoes, clean and trim brussels sprouts and broccoli, set the table, prep hors d’oeuvres. Arghh…I was definitely second guessing my decision to make this dessert!
My brother made the caramel layer as directed but it never actually looked like caramel. It didn’t get amber colored, it didn’t thicken, it definitely was not right. We re-read the recipe and we did everything correctly. We tasted it and it was disgusting. The ratio of cocoa nibs to the other ingredients was way off. In fact, the nibs were completely unnecessary. As the caramel never thickened, it could not be used, meaning we had to dump it and start again. Not taking any chances, and not wanting to waste any more time, I used a more traditional caramel recipe that I knew would work and we omitted the nibs entirely. Poured on top of the fudge cookie layer, now it had to cool completely before we started layer #4. Tick tock….
Finally, a simple ganache layer was made, the tart was completed and tucked into the fridge until serving time. Total time, right around 5 ½ hours. So if you add up my brother’s hourly wage and my hourly wage along with the ingredients, this is an $850+ tart. Was it $850 worth of good? Absolutely not. It was tasty but not mind-blowing. And because the whole family had witnessed all the missteps, frustration, and bitching about the missteps, they all oohed and aahed appropriately. Bless them. But I will NEVER EVER make this tart again!
So after that debacle, you would think I would stick to something easier, maybe an oft-used recipe or something recommended by a good friend who had found success with a specific dessert. But no. I tend to try and get back on the horse and ride. I don’t like defeat, I want to learn from it and persevere. Such was the case on New Year’s Day.
I know that black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Year’s in the South for good luck, but I prefer to make red beans, along with rice, collards, and cornbread. (And the family is happy to eat it all up.) This meal made me think of moonshine, which made me search for a cake with whiskey. I found this chocolate whiskey cake with salted caramel buttercream on the Jet + Indigo blog (food pictures to die for!). It certainly filled the bill, having1 cup of whiskey in the cake alone!.
Of course, it was a 4-layer cake with both a salted caramel and a buttercream, which should have set off warnings in my head. Well, it actually did. I sent the recipe to aforementioned brother with the subject line: Glutton for punishment. Yeah, that’s me.
Once again, I didn’t have the right pans. The recipe calls for a two 18cm pans, which is a 7-inch cake pan. I have 8, I have 9, I even have 10, but I don’t have 7. In fact, 7 isn’t really common in the States. And my pans don’t have the high sides required for the cakes. So I had to—again—punt. I used two 8-inch lower-sided pans, and 1 8-inch springform cake pan with higher sides. I put half the batter in the springform, and divided the rest among the two cake pans. This will allow me to cut the higher springform layer into 2 and combine with the other 2 single layers for the final 4 layers.
After translating the grams into cups or ounces, I set out to make the cakes. All good. Baked up fine. I let them cool as I made the caramel, which is where I again had an issue.
Now I don’t normally have a caramel problem. I make bacon caramels all the time and caramel for cupcake filling, etc. So I’m not quite sure why both these recipes vexed me so. But when I finished following the directions, this caramel sauce was very runny. I waited. It didn’t thicken. I waited some more. Still no luck. So I decided to push on with what I had, particularly since I didn’t have enough cream to make another batch.
Next up was the buttercream. I knew there was something wonky when I saw that I needed to use 3 sticks of butter but only 2 cups of powdered sugar. And yep, I was right. Once you whip up the butter and add in the liquidy caramel, it takes a lot more powdered sugar than 2 cups to stiffen up to the point that it won’t fall out the sides or totally off the cake. In fact, I added 2 more cups (and should have added even more!).
When it came time to assemble, I followed the instructions. Cake, buttercream, salted caramel, repeat. Finish with the buttercream on top and sides and drizzle with caramel. Nope. There was definitely not enough buttercream to do the sides. I skimped a bit with it on the layers, but there is no way I would have enough. I know I used a slightly larger pan, but I added 2 more cups of powdered sugar, which should have provided more than enough buttercream! And even though I added that extra 2 cups, it still was running a bit off the sides, as was the salted caramel.
I did what I could and rushed it to the fridge. It did set up by the time I served it. But I could not actually drizzle the caramel on the cake as it would have run off onto the table. So, I just drizzled over the pieces of cake once they were cut.
Needless to say the cake itself looked like shit. (The original is on top, with my final result right below it. Notice a difference?) Entirely unpresentable to anyone but those closest to me, who forgive me my cooking sins and will eat anything I put in front of them.
Flavor? Everyone like the cake. It was very dense and heavy with good chocolate flavor and the whiskey really came through. The buttercream wasn’t too thick, so it was a good balance. But even a small slice was a bit much. So this cake does, in fact, serve 12-16 people easily, because really all you need is a sliver.
So maybe with some refinement, this cake could be a winner. But for me, it’s a tosser. Once and done. And the saddle will be empty for awhile. No new cakes on the agenda for a few weeks at least. My waistline will be happier for it anyway!
Happy New Year to you all!