Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Just Like Riding a Unicycle

I have returned! I'd apologize to my readers but life has just been insane this summer so you get no such apologies. Since you last left your hero, she has baked exactly once. And the only reason for that was the necessary baking of crumb cake to bribe dissertation committee members to let me get my doctorate. Fun fact: it worked! Another fun fact: you can totally write a dissertation in one summer. It just requires a lot of support and a lot of coffee. So anyway, between the getting a doctorate, getting engaged, and trying to sell my house (which means that my KitchenAid mixer is neatly hidden in a closet instead of out on my counter begging me to bake) it's been hard to find the time to bake. Good thing that the one instance of baking was an adventure and a half!

My grandmother makes delicious crumb cake. I mean, it's just out of this world. So I decided that for my dissertation defense at 10:30 am, I would provide this delicious crumb cake for my committee. I got the recipe from my grandmother on an adorable recipe card and embarked on a journey in which I realize that I've forgotten how to bake. Also that I can't really do math. So here's the problem: the recipe calls for a 15x10x1 inch pan. However, I wanted to use a disposable tin pan so that I wouldn't have to worry about cleaning up after my defense and that size isn't made in the disposable pans. Now picture me standing in the supermarket trying to figure out what size pans I could use to get the appropriate area if I doubled or tripled the recipe. I kid you not, it took about 8 minutes of me standing there. Eventually I figured out that if I doubled the recipe and made 3 crumb cakes with a particular size (I forget which) then I would be pretty close. No problem, right?

Problem. I always forget that doubling affects things like the size bowls that I need. The key to this recipe is that you actually use boxed cake mix but you modify what is added a bit. Actually, you really just substitute sour cream for the water that's called for in the recipe. It makes the cake extra moist and unhealthy. Things actually went fine with the cake part because I used my biggest bowl so there were no issues. Meanwhile, once the cakes were in the oven, I had to go about making the crumb topping. Naturally, I chose a bowl that was too small so that led to some very very careful stirring. But more importantly, I forgot how to do some very basic things.

First of all, I ran out of flour. Now, I know I've said before "Who runs out of flour?!?" but it happened to me again. I guess I underestimated how much 7 cups of flour is. So I sent my (at the time, not quite) fiance to the store to get flour with the direction "just get regular, unbleached flour." I figured I could trust that. While he was out, I set to the task of melting the butter for the crumb. I don't know what sort of stroke I was having at the time but when I tell you that I chose my smallest Pyrex bowl to melt 6 sticks of butter in, I can only wish I were kidding. My logic here was "when it melts, it takes up less space!" Yup. Flawless logic. I should also point out that melting 6 sticks of butter in the microwave takes a long time to do. And no, I don't know why I didn't just melt it over the stove. That would have been smart. So after a lot of time and a lot of mess, I ended up with a bowl of butter that was just barely under the rim of the bowl. Also, it made me realize just how unhealthy this cake is.

As I'm pouring the butter into the crumb mixture, the boy returns triumphantly saying "I asked at the store which flour is best for baking and the person said to get this one!" It's whole wheat flour. I know enough about baking to know that whole wheat flour is not a 1-1 substitution for regular flour because of the gluten content. Basically it behaves differently. And makes cookies really crunchy if you substitute which I've never EVER done before. Of course. Anyway, since I only needed a cup and a half of the whole wheat flour, I decided to go ahead with it because it was only for the crumb.

When you're making the crumb topping, pretty much you mix the melted butter with the dry ingredients until crumbs form. The only way to make this happen is to get your hands dirty. But that's ok because it was sort of fun! I mashed the ingredients and rolled them between my fingers and made a big mess but eventually, I got crumbs. Then I stuck them on top of the three cakes (of course making another mess in the process) and made sure I had a somewhat thick crumb layer. It could do with being a little thicker though. I think my conversions were a little off somehow. Anyway, I baked them up and since there were three cakes, got to keep one for myself to taste. The pictures sadly don't have the powdered sugar on them but since I was making these in advance, I was actually very professional and brought bagged powdered sugar and a sieve to sprinkle the final touch on right before consumption.

This cake is so delicious. I just love it. The cake part of it came out a little crumbly and fall apart-y and I'm not entirely sure why that happened but I'll take that over an awful dense cake. And carefully wrapped and stored in the fridge, the cakes were still very moist and delicious when I brought them to my defense three days later. So I sort of forgot how to bake efficiently but I had a lot of fun doing it. It's been so long and I was just that much happier when I was finally baking.

One final anecdote: Here's why you always bring baked goods to a dissertation defense. During the private grilling portion of the defense, Professor A said, "You're doing great, I just have five more questions to ask you." Professor B jumped in with, "Five more?! There won't be any crumb cake left!" To which Professor A responded, "You're right! I have two more questions to ask you." Statisticians really love their sweets.