When I first started baking as a teenager, I was adventurous and fearless. When I tured out my first piecrust (not terribly well-shaped, but nicely flaky) somewhere around age 15 or 16, I thought there was nothing I couldn't bake. I had more time in those days (who didn't?) and I made my first attempts at things like cream puffs and massive loaves of wholewheat bread. I can remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I made my first angel food cake.
I never let it get to me if things weren't perfect. I can remember my multi-layer chocolate mousse cakes. I got the recipe off of a package of Nestle's semisweet baking chocolate. It required me to split the cake layers. I was never good at that and my layers were never even. Covering the cake with the thick ganache glaze didn't help things much. I always had a lopsided cake with unevenly spread glaze. Nonetheless, it was so delicious and everyone loved it so much, that I didn't let it bother me.
Now that I have less time to regularly hit the kitchen and bake something extra special, I am starting to fear baking. I don't fear it in the Rachael Ray sort of way, but I fear doing anything slightly complex. I fear that if things don't look right, people won't cut me the kind of slack as an adult that they cut me as a child. Even last summer when I was trying to bake a dessert each week, I tended to stick to the basics. The hardest thing I did was make a tart with a sweet tart crust that didn't need to be handled with kid gloves. Anyone who reads this blog regularly understands my fear of a simple Bundt cake. How far I have fallen!
This weekend is my mother-in-law's birthday. I posted about this in an earlier blog about how I was a little afraid of having to work around possible dietary concerns of Kevin's cousin David. Well, it's not an issue. He has no dietary concerns. I guess his religious side ends at sending cards at Jewish holidays and wearing a yarmulke at his mother's grave. I can serve meat for dinner and fill my desserts with dairy. Woo hoo! But what would be for dessert?
A couple of months ago, the "Last Bite" column in Food & Wine magazine featured a really great looking cake. I thought it would be perfect for my next dinner party. When Kevin and I decided we would host his mother's birthday dinner, this cake was the first thing I thought of.
Then I saw the recipe. Did I really want to do all of this work? Could I? I saw this recipe and thought, "I have to split a sheet cake into layers!" This panic was despite the fact that I bought a layer cake splitter from King Arthur a few months ago. I thought, "Maybe I should do my classic Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Cake (a different cake from the Nestle mousse cake of my teen and college years), which carries very little risk of messing up. I considered doing something even easier than that like homemade warm brownies with homemade caramel ice cream. I wanted the easy way out.
After much deliberation, I remembered my new year's resolution. I said I would make something I have never made, or haven't made in a while. I am supposed to branch out and challenge myself. I'm not making duck or quail for this party after all (I'll post more details on the menu after the party), so if I'm going to do something new and different and challenging, it has to be on the dessert.
Tomorrow morning I will embark on this culinary adventure. I have purchased an insane amount of Callebut milk chocolate, peanuts, almonds, cream, powdered sugar, and Rice Krispies. This cake had better be good for all of the money I spent on it.
I do worry that even if the cake comes out perfectly, no one will like it. The last time I hosted my MIL's birthday party, I made a chocolate layer cake that tasted really good to me. The cake was beautifully textured and flavored with buttermilk and coffee and it had a rich fudgy frosting. Hardly anyone ate it. Even my brother-in-law and nephew, who are chocolate lovers and picky eaters about everything but desssert, ate only a few bites of dinner and then even after not eating much rejected my dessert. There were 10 people there that night and when I cleared the table, I got back 9 barely-touched pieces of cake. I was heartsick.