Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If Bobby Flay Presents Opportunity for a Throwdown - Sleep When You're Dead

Last week was verrrrry busy. Not only was I traveling for work Sunday through Tuesday, I suddenly had THREE orders to fulfill by Friday morning. Eeeek! Sleep when you're dead, they say. And I'm still barely sleeping, even this week. You really don't catch up 'til you're dead.

The first order was from my friends Colleen and Mary for an engagement partycake for three of their newly engaged friend-couples. (Are we really at that age already?? Looks like I am getting old, and my death-sleep is coming sooner than I thought...) The second order was a surprise referral order. Remember the drink-cakes I made this summer? After hearing from my coworker Becca that carrot cake was my specialty, one of the attendees, Emily, held onto my business card in anticipation of her mother's birthday in September. She commissioned 18 carrot cupcakes, her mom's favorite. The last order came on Monday; my coworker Sarah wanted a cake for her friend's birthday Saturday. While that order officially pushed the workload into "sleep when you're dead" status, I could not say no - better to be super busy than not at all! So I got to planning exactly what had to be done each night before going to bed in order to stay on track.

Let me tell you... all that planning still wasn't enough. Thursday night was still a free-for-all. In this post I am only going to cover the carrot cupcakes and the birthday cake. The engagement cake will be a separate post, as it was a project that's been on my to-do list for awhile.

So, the carrot cupcakes first. Carrot cake studded with plump raisins and toasted pecans, topped with swirled cream cheese frosting, and sprinkled with more toasted pecans. Went off without a hitch. I could probably make carrot cake in my sleep now (which, if that were actually possible, would have been helpful last week, given my 4-5 hour nights). I am also mastering quantities: I now know that I can get exactly 18 cupcakes from a half recipe. I also finagled my cupcake inserts (i.e., cut into rows) to fit 18 in one larger box, rather than wasting a whole box on only six. Slowly learning the tricks of the trade, I guess. I didn't take any pictures of these cupcakes because I want to keep readership and am afraid posting pictures of carrot cake every week will bore you to tears (not to mention I was running around frantically and barely remembered to take any pictures)... But, if you must, they looked just like this past order:

I spoke briefly to Emily later, and she said they were amazing. Additionally, she said one of the birthday party's guests expressed interest in contacting me about making treats for an upcoming benefit. Dolce + Decadence's first charity treats? We'll seeeeeeeeeee...

Now, the birthday cake for Sarah's friend. Sarah and I did a lot of back-and-forth on her friend's favorite flavors. First, we talked gingerbread. Then, when Sarah was unsure about that, we moved onto angel food cake and pineapple. I wasn't thrilled with the recipe I thought of for that (angel food cake layered with a pineapple pudding/whipped cream mixture and strawberries), so my attempt to think of something different brought us to hummingbird cake (banana-pineapple cake, cream cheese frosting), which sounded good, but reminded Sarah that her friend liked coconut. So then I suggested a toasted coconut cake, which Sarah loved and decided upon. And after thirty minutes of seemingly disconnected back-and-forth, the ADD birthday cake conversation ended.

The recipe I adapted was a Bobby Flay Throwdown cake: four-layer white cake brushed with a coconut simple syrup, sandwiched with coconut custard whipped cream filling, enrobed in a coconut custard buttercream frosting, and cloaked in a toasted coconut siding. The cake baked well, but cutting into layers is always a challenge for me. I got a cake leveler, but I hate it - I feel like I can never get it to cut the cake layer perfectly in half, and often end up lopping off chunks. So lately I've been more into my long serrated knife, but it's not a particularly exact cut. I'm hoping it will come with practice. Or maybe the purchase of a sharper knife. That's all I really want for Christmas every year but never get: nice, sharp knives.

This recipe needed a LOT of tweaking, let me tell you. Thankfully it was efficient in that even though it had what felt like nineteen components, two of them used the same coconut custard.  I was a little disappointed in the custard's flavor once finished, so I amped up the rum-coconut flavor. Then, when I added the custard to the buttercream frosting base, I was semi-disgusted at how buttery it was - I felt like I was nibbling off a butter stick. I love butter just as much Paula Deen and Julia Childs, but damn, this was a little much. I could feel my heart clogging as the tiny dollop of frosting slid down my throat, reminding me vaguely of the first and last time I ever ate a Krispy Kreme donut. When I finally took the time to compare the butter to sugar ratios of this recipe to my normal buttercream, I realized how incredibly off it was - there was about nine times butter to sugar, which is INSANE. So, I kept adding more sugar and coconut and rum flavor until the buttercream reached the flavor and consistency I typically make. Then, the filling.... again, not enough flavor, and didn't make enough to fill three layers, so even more tweaking. How was this cake good enough for Bobby Flay? I hope he lost that throwdown, because as-is, that recipe sucks.

At this point it was close to 11pm Thursday night, so I was scrambling. But, it eventually came together, and looked pretty good - the buttercream smoothed nicely, and the toasted coconut added a nice texture to the sides. The bad thing about cakes, though, is that I can't taste them to give the official Dolce + Decadence seal of approval. So, I had to take a leap of faith that Sarah and her coconut-loving friend would love it.

And they did. Whew. Sarah and I somehow found time in our super busy Friday workdays (surfing the web can be really exhausting at times...) to do a cake photo shoot:

Sarah made up for passing my business cards out to homeless people on the train Friday ("They thought your cake looked awesome!", to which I replied, "Yes, and I bet they spend all the money they get from begging on boutique cakes.") by texting me live party pictures of the cake and those enjoying it, saying that everyone loved it and that it was "moist and magnificent":

So, the coconut cake recipe could make a comeback, but definitely with the tweaks added in from the start. I should call Bobby Flay in for a second-round throwdown. Bet it sucks to lose twice.

Aside from on-the-fly recipe adaptation, the main thing I learned from these orders is time management: you can never get enough done ahead of time. The worst feeling was being tired and frustrated and anxious at 2am, with an unfinished cake still sitting in front of me. Looking back, there were various things that week I could have sacrificed in order to get more done before that point - yoga, dinner with friends, etc. So, going forward, I am going to be much more realistic about how much time it takes to complete my orders - and hopefully that way I can sleep before I'm dead.

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