Learning from your mistakes

Earlier in the month the NYT ran a recipe of Maida Heatter’s famous lemon cake.  It was photographed in a bundt pan.  Having tossed out my old one years ago, I decided to trot down to Sur la Table to get a new one.

While surfing the net, I discovered a recipe for “Best Lemon Bundt Cake” from Bella Rachelle on the Genius Kitchen site.  As it listed buttermilk as an ingredient—and the expiration date on my carton of it was looming—I opted for this recipe instead of the NYT’s.

The cake was made, and it looked fantastic, but it was dry.  Disappointingly dry.

Over cocktails with Deborah Mintcheff, my go-to food authority as she is a cookbook author and recipe developer, I asked what I had done wrong.  Between sips of her Quintessential—the popular gin and tonic drink at the Barclay Intercontinental—she asked “What was your oven’s temperature?”  As there is always a difference between the oven’s temperature and what the two inside thermometers read, I never know how close I am to what the recipe requires. Big problem with baking!

Deborah explained that most home ovens vary 25 degrees either way.  I explained to play it safe,  I had set my oven for 375 ⁰ to adjust for the required 350⁰.  So my oven could have actually been 50 ⁰ higher than what was required.    

Then, Deborah asked when did I test the cake for doneness. Very proud of myself, I replied “Five minutes before the allotted baking time.  “Oh, no, no, no, Marsha!” she scolded me.  “When I bake, I start checking about 15 minutes in advance.”

Well, there you have it.  Two lessons learned.  Be more careful with the oven’s temperature (a trip to the store to get several new thermometers is in my future) and start checking for doneness earlier.

Since I had frozen the remaining cake for an upcoming luncheon, I wondered how I might salvage it.  I asked if I could try putting some Grand Marnier in a plate, drop the cake bottom on it and have it absorbed the liquid.  Deborah was losing patience with me.  “No, Marsha, the cake has to be warm to absorb anything,” Deborah replied rolling her bright green eyes as if she expected I should have known this cooking technique.  Lesson number three.

Thinking to myself that I might as well toss the cake, Deborah brightened up and suggested I serve it with mixed berries laced with a liqueur, ice cream or sorbet.  Lesson number four! How to save a dry cake.

While I may be set for my luncheon dessert next month, I still want to try the NYT version of the Lemon Bundt Cake which incidentally calls for the oven to be set at 325⁰.  No doubt, this lower temperature will produce a more moist cake…..unless my new oven thermometers let me down.