Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sticky Situations

I have a confession to make: I recently cooked with another man.

Chastise me if you will. Call me a cheater. Slap me with a wooden spoon. I deserve it. Though, since my husband doesn't mind, I don't know if it's any of your business. Or that I should tell you at all. Who are you to judge me?

Okay--enough silliness. Let's get to the food.

A few days ago, a friend of mine needed help making a plum cake. Being the enthusiastic cook that I am, I was thrilled to help. It was a recipe I had never tried before but had long wanted to--a plum cake tatin from an episode of The Barefoot Contessa--and even though I'm not the biggest plum eater, this cake wasn't for me so I didn't feel wasteful in baking it. It was a somewhat challenging recipe, and yet we pulled it off. I wish I had taken a picture.

One of the most challenging parts of cakes like this--similar to pineapple upside-down cake in execution--is getting the cake to turn out, plums and all, without sticking to the pan. The last time I tried it was my dad's birthday pineapple-upside-down mush a couple years ago, when I misread the recipe and melted the sugar and butter together instead of buttering the pan first and adding the sugar second. It still tasted good, sure, but you eat with your eyes first--and if this cake hadn't been meant for my family, I'm not sure anyone would have eaten it.

The problem is the caramel in the bottom of the pan, which ends up on top--in the plum cake recipe, it was actually caramelized sugar that bubbled away on the stove while I put together the batter. This sugar did leave traces in the pan--a lovely hard candy that tasted of caramel and plum liquor--but most of it came out on the cake. I might have shrieked when it turned out. I get excited when things work in the kitchen, as my friend now knows. He probably thinks I'm a nutcase now. But he probably thought I was a nutcase before.

So--here's my tip for all upside-down cake makers: BUTTER! I used an incredibly heavy layer of butter on this cake, and it turned out perfectly. And you know what? Butter tastes good. Nothing is better than butter. So you can't have too much. You really, really can't.

Everything's better with butter.

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