The community picnic rolled around and I wanted to make a cake, as per usual. I contemplated a sheet cake, reconsidered because everyone I asked recommended a hand-held dessert, such as a cookie or brownie. Then you gave me that Fabulous cookbook Miette, Recipes from San Francisco’s most charming pastry shop, and I thought, What the Heck, bake a cake, provide plates and forks.
I decided to make the Tom Boy cake. This is the picture of the Tomboy cake.
Who doesn’t want to make the Tomboy cake? What the picture doesn’t show is that the Tomboy cake is a six inch cake. All the cakes in Miette are six inch cakes except a few where they really go wild and make a seven inch cake. Miette says, “Scale, in particular, is central to the Miette philosophy.” They go on to say that when they see a nine inch cake in another bakery, they find it “alarmingly big.” This must make their boyfriends very happy.
I can’t serve a six inch cake at a community picnic in rural Virginia. I don’t have six inch pans anyway. I made a nine inch cake. They want you to make your cake in a six by three inch pan and then slice it into three layers. That seems like a make-work scenario, so I used three nine by two inch pans.
Maybe the pans were the problem, or maybe there is a curse on my kitchen or Mercury had just gone into retrograde. At any rate, the cakes didn’t really rise and they developed a flimsy crust, the kind that often forms on brownies.
Then again, maybe the problem was me. Miette says, “Don’t peek! You spent a lot of time and care getting just the right amount of air into the cake. Opening the oven door may cause the temperature to drop, causing the cake to collapse. Resist!” I didn’t resist. I peeked. At the same time, I hadn’t put that much time or care into the whole right amount of air thing. Not only do they want you to mix in the dry ingredients very gently and by hand, then you are supposed to pass the batter through a medium mesh strainer, into yet another bowl before transferring it to the pan(s). I mixed by hand and rolled my eyes at that whole strainer step.
Wherever the blame lies, the result was that as the cakes cooled in the pans, they sunk terribly in the middle. They were little Florida cakes, sink holes abounded.
When I turned them out of the pan, they crumbled and cracked. This might suggest that they were dry. They were not dry. They were fragile, nearly the consistency of a brownie, a moist, fragile, sunken brownie.
At this point, I abandoned the raspberry buttercream intention. I don’t like buttercream, it takes a lot of work, and clearly I was no longer making the Tomboy cake. I made my usual buttercream with confectioners’ sugar, butter, heavy cream and vanilla. The cake was so very fragile that frosting it was a little like trying to brush the dog hair off the car seat after you have just put lotion on your hands.
Miette says, “A revolving cake stand is completely essential.” And about the also essential crumb coat, “the goal is to set down a foundation for perfectly straight sides, a flat top and a beautiful final coat.” And several times, “transfer the cake from the refrigerator back to the revolving cake stand.”
I managed to frost it, fill it and glue it together without ever once refrigerating it. And to be honest, I don’t think a crumb coat would have helped. I think layer after layer of moist, sunken crumbs would have peeled away from the sides of the cake and mixed in the with the frosting until I had a cake version of a Blizzard ™.
I experienced a moment of weakness and wondered if perhaps I was, or should be, too embarrassed to serve it. But I knew it would taste good, so again I went with, What the Heck.
It was good. It was especially popular with the children. Actually, I think the children and I were the only ones to risk it. These are the same children who played with Kima with an enthusiasm and endurance that nearly matched hers. I think I’ve found customers for Magenta Arborvitae.