There's something undeniably special about homemade birthday cakes. Handcrafted with care for one person.
The one above was for D. Never mind handcrafted. It was slaved over. Have you ever tried to make a chocolate curl? A million different blog entries made it sound like a piece of cake. It was not.
I tried the first method I came across -- warming large chunks of semi-sweet baking chocolate in the sun then grasping the softened, gooey-edged block with my hands and pulling my vegetable peeler across it. I was rewarded with decent half curls. But because the temperature had to be just so (causing me to alternate between refrigerate and warm, refrigerate and warm, until my whole evening became absorbed by this back and forth), I decided there must be a better way.
One might think it was a safe assumption, no?
You might notice the lack of pictures. As D. knows, my camera's SD card is overflowing with food pics documenting the minutiae of every meal.
Everything but the end product got overlooked this time as I struggled not to become churlish at the lack of chocolate curls. (My fingers were also too chocolate coated to grasp a camera.)
The second method proved a bit more effective, though just as temperature fussy. It came from The Pioneer Woman Cooks! blog, and was perhaps the most thorough explanation of chocolate curl making I've ever seen or want to see.
I won't explain it all but basically it boils down to melting the chocolate with some shortening in a double boiler, spreading it on the bottom of a cookie sheet, chilling in the freezer and then scraping it off. You'll notice her curls look far fancier than mine. Not that I'm comparing.
At this point gobs of chocolate were splattered everywhere and hardened chocolate coated bowls, pots, pans, spoons, my fridge...
The easy part was the cake, made from a recipe in Cooking for Mr. Latte, a foodie's Bridget Jones-style tale written by New York Times writer Amanda Hesser. With a name like Chocolate Dump-it Cake, I thought it couldn't go wrong. Hehe. Well, I won't go into it but at one point, I thought I'd be whipping up another batch. But it all turned out in the end. Even the sour cream and melted chocolate chip icing, which was another feat of temperature control.
As I tucked the cake into my fridge and wiped down my chocolate-speckled kitchen counter, I thought about it all and figured I'd learned two lessons from the whole affair:
- Some people are bakers and some people are cooks. It's unlikely you will gravitate to both. I am a cook. I like the control you have over flavouring and adapting the dish until the very last moment. There is something terrifying about not knowing what life your cake will take on.
- And perhaps the most important lesson: What looks to you like deformed chocolate curls seem gourmet to others. And they need never know the troubles you went to. Unless you put it on a blog for all to read, of course. Oops! Oh yeah, and it's the thought that counts ... right?