A real catastrophe came and went, and I’m really glad to say that I laughed through it all. Maybe it was because I had been up since the crack of dawn that day, but the whole kitchen disaster was really funny to me even though my hands were shaking the whole time, too.
Let’s rewind. We were supposed to make a beautiful pistachio and chocolate Christmas log cake. The pistachio paste appeared kind of creepy to me; it is bright green and reminds me of the Slurpee I sneakily downed behind my parents’ back and then promptly threw up on the sidewalk when I was five. The chefs casually mentioned that the pistachio paste isn’t the best quality, either, and hence the flavour wasn’t very pronounced. It is a really pretty log cake to look at, though, and very festive.
Anyway…so I had a long day that day, starting with the pithiviers in the morning, and then the demonstration on the log cake, and then a night time practical making the log cake. We passed the time in between classes at Starbucks making our notes and chatting, and I played Scrabble on my phone with Kasia, too. I arrived in class feeling pretty happy and excited. We whisked egg yolks, egg whites, pistachio paste, blah blah blah. When I finished folding my cake mixture, the chef peeked over my shoulder and complimented me on a job well done – my batter was light, fluffy, and a very nice green colour. He told my friend to check mine out since hers was a bit more liquid-y and darker in colour.
We put our cakes in the oven, carried the whisking bowls to the sink for the dishwasher, and then I was faced with disaster. My little bowl of flour was still sitting on the worktop. As in, my cake had no flour. As in, quelle catastrophe!!
I had measured out the flour to add in at some point but it got lost behind all the big whisking bowls…and my notes failed to remind me about this particular step of adding flour.
I turned around to the chef, the young one who has continued to be in a great mood most days, and told him sheepishly I had no flour in my cake. His eyes widened. He tried not to laugh. He looked at my cake in the oven and said dryly, “You’ll see what happens. It’ll shrink. It’ll be very hard to work with. Good luck.”
Riiiiight. My cake baked beautifully, I’ll have you know. I have nothing to prove it except for eyewitnesses, but this flourless pistachio cake puffed up like it was infused with rainbows and unicorns. Then when it was done, we all put our cakes into the flash freezer for a few minutes to cool down. When I took mine out, it looked like something completely different.
It was like the flash freezer was an aging machine, and my cake had gone from being a vibrantly fluffy and happy teenager to a shrivelled up old woman nearing 100 years old. While my classmates trimmed off the excess, I had nothing to trim. The chef gave me one of his signature smirks as I carried my cake back to my work station with dismay.
Slowly I hacked away at my cake to make it into thirds, with one of my classmates looking on anxiously and stepping in to help me when I looked like I couldn’t decide whether to cry or laugh. My friend, in the mean time, was trying to be supportive but every time she looked over she would burst out laughing. Just imagine cutting up the most shrivelled piece of toast that you’ve sat on a few times – horizontally, into thirds. It was hard work!
As I filled out the log-shaped mould with chocolate ganache and what remained of this cake, I felt better. After all, where I lacked in cake, I just filled up with chocolate! The end result looked pretty good, if I may say so myself. The only thing is that I worked the chocolate ganache a little too much from all that over-usage, so my ganache started to separate a little bit by the end.
We had to slice the cakes in the front and back, as is tradition with these logs…and I heated up my knife a little too much. My knife is now a little yellow-tinged (oops), and the chocolate totally singed and burnt on the cake (double oops).
In the end, the chef’s comments were most surprising and uplifting. He was incredibly supportive of my ordeal. When I presented him my cake, he told me with a smile that I had a difficult challenge with my cake, and he was really pleased to see that I made something beautiful with it. He told me my cake would taste much better without the flour covering up the taste of pistachios, and he was totally right. He was even forgiving about my lumpy looking ganache, saying that he didn’t blame me for having it separate eventually (I did have a really great ganache to begin with…).
So there you have it, the biggest mistake I’ve made in a practical, with a happy ending. It was really funny, and I’m glad to have lived through the experience to know what to expect the next time something goes wrong!
The ‘ugly’ side from cutting