Sunday, April 1, 2012

Table Talk - You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Today's dessert was a fiasco.

Yes, a total fiasco...THREE TIMES OVER!!!

Last night I tried a new recipe.  It's called "Tres Leches," which means "three milks" in Spanish.  It's a cake that is very popular throughout Central America.  I've eaten in it Mexico and in Costa Rica.  It's a sponge cake that soaks in a rich, creamy sauce of three milks---evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and regular milk (or half-n-half).  The cake absorbs the milks like a sponge, making it exceptionally moist and creamy and, supposedly, delicious.

I planned a Mexican-themed meal for Sunday dinner today---fajitas, beans and rice, tortilla chips and guacamole with virgin mojitos (fizzy lime drink) and then wanted to end on a sweet note with a slice of this rich dessert topped with fresh whipped cream and sliced mango.

But the cake would not cooperate.

Cake #1 was hard and flat and wouldn't absorb a single drop of cream.  I threw it in the garbage.  I went online and found a different recipe that seemed to me to have better ingredients and definitely had great photos and step-by-step instructions.

Cake #1

I started over...7 more eggs, separated, with the whites whipped until they stood at attention and the yolks beaten until they were creamy and pale and then both folded gently together and added to the other ingredients until I had a beautiful, thick, airy batter. 


Until I took it out of the oven.

Cake #2 was hard and flat and wouldn't absorb a single drop of cream.  I threw it in the garbage.  I went to my recipe book and selected a tried-and-true recipe for a basic white cake that I had made many times with many variations.

Cake #2

The batter's texture and taste was exactly like it always is.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I put it in the oven.  It would be done baking right before my guests arrived.  I would have just enough time to pour the cream over the warm cake and then pop it in the fridge to chill while we ate dinner.

Cake #3 was hard and flat and didn't absorb a single drop of cream.  We ate it anyway.

Cake #3

After I doctored up that poor cake with a pretty dollop of whipped cream and garnished it with mango and raspberries, it looked quite presentable.  But the taste was heavy and bland.  What a disappointment!

But what a conversation piece!  My failed cake was definitely the Table Talk of today's dinner!  Everyone had a suggestion or a solution.  But when the third cake was a flop, I knew:  It was the baking powder.

About 8 months ago I decided to try organic, chemical-free baking powder from the organic food supplier I get a lot of my specialty foods from.  I began thinking back on all the baking I've done and how it seemed a lot of my desserts hadn't turned out very well.  I didn't realize until today that the flops had always been a baked good and not fruit crisps, pies, cheesecake or ice cream-based desserts.  I spoke my suspicion out loud, and Kate instantly remembered the Tarte Tropezienne for her birthday two months ago that was also heavy and dense.  I had chalked that up to a bad recipe because it had come from France.  But then she reminded me that our French exchange student Laure could not make it either, and she knew the recipe by heart.  We had decided then that translating French measurements into American measurements was the reason for her heavy, flat cake.  Then there was the flat mocha layer cake for Jeff's birthday.  I had just accepted the thin layers as the way they were supposed to be because I had never made the recipe before.  And then there was the coffee cake that the kids accused me of using whole wheat flour instead of white because it was so heavy.  I had used half whole wheat and half white, so I agreed that was the problem.  But now my mind was going back to other desserts...flat brownies, flat cookies, dense banana bread, heavy biscuits.  I even said to a friend, "I don't really like baking.  It's so fussy.  Cooking is a lot more fun."

My sweet potato spice cake that was supposed to be
light and moist but weighed a ton!  Each layer
pressed down on the layer below it, squeezing out
the toasted marshmallow filling.
Nobody could finish their piece.

See how dense the layers are?  I had photographed
this cake to share on my blog, but when it turned out
so poorly, I threw away the recipe and didn't bother
putting up any pictures.  Now I want to try the recipe again!
Kate's terrible Tarte Tropezienne birthday cake
No one finished this either and I threw it away a few
days later.  All that work  : (
(But the filling was fantastic!!)

All these months of bad baking...all because of bad baking powder!  I am so excited to buy a brand new box of non-organic, chemical-laden baking powder and bake me up a mile-high layer cake!!  I am soooo going to have my cake and EAT IT too!

No more cakes in the garbage...this time I'm throwing out the baking powder!


  1. I was going to suggest that you try the Tres Leches recipe I gave you. It's wonderful. But, yes, it probably is your baking powder.

    Martha Stewart has a recipe for homemade baking powder that I used to use. It's good. It gives you a bit more control over what goes in. Maybe that would work for you if you don't want the standard shelf brand.

  2. I'm glad you finally solved your mystery- that would be so horrible to throw out cake:(

  3. Wow...I would be totally ticked to see all the work put into these desserts. Good baking powder is a must. All non-organic spices, flours etc, are not all bad. Glad you finally found out the problem. You certainly have perseverance.
    Happy Easter to you and your family.
    We love you.