“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” – Proverb
There are several things to consider when making a “welcome home” coffee cake. The first is whether or not the person you’re welcoming home actually has a way of getting home. Since Lauren made arrangements with another friend–one not busy making a “welcome home” coffee cake–I considered that hurdle cleared as I set about my task.
The second thing to consider is which coffee cake to make. Surely there are many worthwhile options. You might, for example, make a coffee cake with chocolate in it. You might even call it “Chocolate Coffee Cake.” Or perhaps one with actual coffee in it. You could call it “Coffee Coffee Cake.”
In my case, I plucked a recipe out of my newly purchased (from Powells.com, at half price) Nancy Silverton’s Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (to complement my birthday gift of Breads From The La Brea Bakery):
From its many drool-inducing pages, I happened upon a perfect-sounding recipe: Summer Camp Coffee Cake. The instructions sounded too easy to be true. And the ingredients cheap and easily purchasable. I hopped in my car, and made my way over to Whole Foods where said ingredients were purchased. Yet, something sinister was at play…
Look, you might say it was my own ignorance, but I say it was the Devil. The recipe called for 1.5 cups of walnuts. The scale, obviously, only measured in pounds. Using my genius, I recalled that 1 stick of butter = 1/2 cup = 1/2 lb. Therefore, 1/2 lb must equal 1/2 a cup! I’ll buy 1.5 lbs of walnuts!
As I later recalled my logic to Lauren, she brought up an interesting point. “Density, dumbass,” she declared drolly.
In any case, I got home and measured out 1.5 cups from the bag of walnuts, placing them on a cookie sheet. As you can see my formula didn’t exactly work:
I had more walnuts left over than I used in the recipe! Oh well. I’ll make walnut peanut butter or something later. In any case, the walnuts went into the oven for 12 minutes of toasting.
Moving on, I chopped my butter (strangely, Nancy has you chop up 2 sticks of cold butter for her dough; as opposed to most recipes which have you soften the sticks pre-beating) and placed it in the bowl of my freestanding mixer:
I added the Baking Powder, Baking Soda, and salt and mixed. Then I added the sugar. Pretty soon, it softened into a lovely white buttery mound. I was all ready to add the flour and eggs, when I felt a strange vibration in my thigh.
“Not now,” I purred, “I’m baking.”
Then I realized it was my phone. I reached into my pocket and removed it. The name on the caller idea illuminated brightly: LAUREN.
“Hello?” I gestured.
“Adam!” she responded. “I’m stranded at the airport! Come get me!”
“But I’m making you a welcome home coffee cake!” I pleaded.
“Get your ass over here!” she concluded.
“Fine!” I hissed, hanging up.
What would I do?! The oven is pre-heated! The batter is half mixed! And the walnuts–the toasted walnuts–they need to be chopped and added to the sugar!
Thinking fast, I did what any sensible coffee cake baker would do in a similar situation. I forewent the manual chopping, and dumped the walnuts into a food processor.
“Chop!” I shouted. “Chop with all your might!”
The processor obliged and I was delighted to find the job superior to the one I would have done by hand. I quickly mixed the walnuts with white and brown sugar, got my shoes on, turned the oven off and ran out the door.
Lauren called at 10:30. We returned back at 1:15.
Along the way, we grabbed a drink at a country line dancing bar because Lauren was flummoxed from her flight. “It was awful,” she moaned, “this family next to me was playing Uno and this kid behind me kept singing and we were stuck on the tarmac for two hours because our plane was too heavy to get over the mountains.”
Returning to the apartment, I consoled her. “There there,” I said, “let me finish your welcome home coffee cake.”
“I’m making a hot dog,” she replied.
Ignoring her attempts to pry one frozen hot dog from its mass of other frozen hot dogs, I began to complete the coffee cake. I cracked three brown eggs into a bowl. Why brown eggs? you ask. Because they were out of white ones, I answer.
Then I attempted to measure out 4 cups of unbleached all purpose white flour. “Attempt” I say because I only got 3.5 cups out of the bag in my pantry. For the final 1/2 cup I had to use bread flour. Could this be the root of my coffee cake disaster?
I added the flour and eggs to the batter and mixed. Then I spooned out 2 cups of sour cream into a measuring cup.
Stirring everything together, I read Nancy’s next instruction: Prepare the pan with melted butter.
“Ok,” I said to myself and dumped half the batter into the pan.
“Shit,” I said to myself, “I forgot to add the butter.”
Using a spatula, I scraped the batter out of the pan back into the bowl. I cleaned it out, dried it, and sprayed it with crummy Kroger butter. I wasn’t in the mood at this point to melt butter. (Strange how bad kitchen karma doesn’t just rain: it pours).
“OK, here we go,” I said and poured half the batter in.
I added half the walnut/sugar crumb topping.
Then I attempted to add the other half of the batter. This is very hard to do when the batter is thick. How do you spread thick batter over a moody half-layer of walnut/sugar crumb topping? It sticks where ever you spread and gets all mixed in. Somehow, I overcame and added the final layer of crumb.
Looks promising, doesn’t it? Like the valedictorian who goes off to college only to become a drug dealer.
I popped it into the oven with the best of intentions. Lauren chomped into her hot dog as its toxic smell filled the air.
“God that reeks,” I said.
“Mmmm,” she replied.
45 minutes later (the directed cooking time) I took the prize out of the oven:
“How glorious!” I sang. “A triumph!”
“I’m excited!” said Lauren.
“You should be!” I replied. “This is your welcome home coffee cake!”
Rereading Nancy’s instruction to serve hot, I cut right in. Here’s where the disaster revealed itself. Layers of oozing dough dripped maliciously down my knife. The whole thing was undercooked.
I fell to my knees and turned my tear-soaked face towards heaven. “Nooooo!” I screamed as solemn music played.
“Did you undercook it again?” chided Lauren.
“I followed the instructions!” I swore.
“Did you test it?” she pressed.
“Yes, I did!” I said, not lying because I DID test it. And yes, it came out gooey, but Nancy’s instructions say: “Done when firm to the touch and brown and toasty on the outside.” It WAS firm to the touch! It was brown and toasty!
I served up our two undercooked pieces and put the already cut, basically ruined cake back in the oven.
“Well it tastes good at least,” I said. It did taste good.
“Ya,” said Lauren, eating silently.
I watched the cake through the glass window. The exposed piece got dryer. The gooey dough stayed gooey. After ten minutes, I couldn’t take any more and removed my soiled cake from the furnace of failure.
Look how dried out that corner piece is. Look how gooey the interior is. Look how broken my heart is.
But Adam, you’re the Amateur Gourmet, you’re SUPPOSED to fail!
Yes! It gives all of us a great sense of comfort to know that someone who devotes an entire website to food messes up too!
Of course it does! Gray skies are gonna clear up…
No no no. Try again. Gray skies are gonna clear up…
Put on a happy…NOOOO…I CAN’T DO IT…I’M A FAILURE!
You are NOT a failure.
I am, I am, I can’t do anything right.
Of course you can. Remember that time you made that apple cobbler and everyone had an orgasm?
Wasn’t that a success?
I guess so.
And what about that saffron rissoto? And homemade hot chocolate?
It gave me diarrhea.
But didn’t it taste good?
It did, it did.
You are a talent! All talented people fail!
I guess that’s true.
I know it’s true!
How do you know?
Let me tell you my initials: MS
Oh my God!
Please, call me Martha.
Well thanks Martha, I feel great now!
No problem, friend. And if you ever bake my famous Nail File pie, send me a slice!