Thursday, December 10, 2009

When Baking Goes Bad

That coffee cake was not dropped on the floor.

Wasn't stepped on.

It wasn't harmed or molested in any way by my two, obnoxious, counter-surfing puppy mongrels that will very soon be looking for new homes. Anyone want two black Lab-Chupacabra* mixes?

Nope, this cake flopped onto the plate just like that. Could not tell you what I did wrong. Well, actually I suspect it was all smooshy — but still wonderfully tasty — because the stewed fruit probably didn't thicken as much as it should have. It was as runny as juice and I think that prevented the Argroves Manor Coffee Cake from Melissa Gray's new "All Cakes Considered" cookbook from looking anything like the lovely photo in her book.

Gray's cookbook (Chronicle, $24.95) came out of her love of baking. The producer for NPR's "All Things Considered," she started baking, from scratch, and bringing in cakes every Monday to take the edge off the work week. From that grew an entertaining book that is easy to follow with lots of good pictures and entertaining anecdotes.

Now, I am a complete and total NPR nerd. I've been known to troll the Web site like a stalker because I need to see what these people look like. At one time, I was going to name my next pets Snigda Prakash and Kojo Nnamdi. Whatever happened to those guys anyway?

But, back to the cake.

I wanted to make something out of Gray's book and the Argroves cake, with its butter and vanilla yogurt batter, sounded promising. I nearly lost my mind when it flooped out of the tube pan and started to ooze. By this morning, it had set up much better and the crunchy, sugary walnut streusel married beautifully with the moist, heavy cake dotted with apple and blackberries.

I love cookbooks, and this one is such a pleasure. It's a double-winner because it also has all these fun stories about the people I listen to on the radio every day on my endless drive to work. My favorite story, though, involved a behind-the-scenes guy, who took over cake duty one Monday when Gray was out. The bottom fell out on his cake carrier, sending his coffee cake to the floor. He served it anyway, saying it had extra "fiber," as in carpet fiber. Now that's a story I can relate to. If this guy writes a cookbook, I'm gettin' it.

*According to Mexican urban legend, a chupacabra is a sort of mythical beast. The literal translation is "goat sucker." Every once in a while, someone will claim to have found a mummified chupacabra and it always turns out to be a hairless coyote.

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