I would not go so far as to call myself a "diva scholar," but I do feel that I have an above-average understanding of divas and diva behavior thanks to my inexplicable and long-held interest in celebrities. So when Dorie issued the following ominous warning in her recipe for Berry Surprise Cake: "The beautifully beaten eggs are fragile and must be treated like the divas they are," I proceeded with caution, but deep down I really felt like I was ready. Ready for Paris in the pink Parismobile eggs. J. Lo checking into a hotel on any random Tuesday eggs. Linda "I don't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day" Evangelista eggs. Britney delaying a United Airlines flight because the seats were not leather eggs. Posh and Becks launching his-and-her fragrances in crazy heel-less boots eggs. Mariah hiring a team to towel-dry her eggs. Even George Clooney in a restaurant at the table next to Fabio's camera-toting friend eggs (sorry, Georgie).
But it became obvious, as I assessed my deflated brick of a génoise, that I had woefully underestimated the magnitude of the diva eggs that I was dealing with. These were clearly no ordinary diva eggs. These were the Queen Mother of diva eggs; the diva eggs who teach other diva eggs how to be diva eggs; the diva eggs that would reach waaaaaay back and do this to you if you offend them; the diva eggs that beat up security guard eggs at Heathrow and maid eggs for losing their favorite pair of Stella McCartney jeans. Yes, as I looked at my flopped cake, I realized that my best Berry Surprise Cake-making plans had been thwarted by none other than:
Naomi Campbell eggs. They weren't just diva eggs, they were crazy-as-a-loon-and-mean-as-a-snake-diva eggs, and even as I write this I am still terrified of them.
The really sad thing is that I felt like it had all been going really well. I've got that dry ingredient sifting down like a champ these days. I managed to do the whole "bowl of eggs and sugar in a skillet full of water" thing without injuring myself, making a huge mess, or waterlogging my egg mixture:
I heeded Dorie's warning to Mary Ann and was very careful not to overheat the eggs.
I let the Kitchen Aid go to work on the divas. After a few minutes on medium, I felt like they weren't showing any signs of morphing from Beyoncé into Destiny's Child (i.e., tripling in volume), so I cranked it up a notch. Once they had tripled, I eeeeeeever so gently added half of the dry ingredients. No, strike that. I did not "add" the dry ingredients. I bowed at the altar of the divas and SIFTED half of the dry ingredients onto the egg mixture, so as to not needlessly disturb My Precious. I then proceeded to fold in the dry ingredients and the butter as gingerly as I could possibly manage while still accomplishing the assigned task of getting everything mixed together.
The divas were looking happier than a sunny afternoon on Jay-Z's yacht. I felt in my bones that it was going well.
And then I noticed a flour pocket:
Had to break that baby up. And found another one. Got it. Before I knew it, every time I ran the spatula through the batter, another pocket of flour would appear. What do I do? Do I bake the cake this way and risk having my tasters experience unpleasant bursts of flour with every other bite? Or do I go after the stray flour, thereby risking overmixing? Well, I opted for door number 2, and kept trying to knock out those flour pockets. And the next thing I knew, my previously happy, robust looking batter ACTUALLY HISSED AT ME and started to bubble like witch's brew:
And that's when I knew that I had offended Naomi. At that point, there was nothing to do but
A miracle did not occur in the oven, and therefore I was left with what you see at the top of this post -- a thin, dense, sorry excuse for a génoise. I tasted it, and it was edible. I could get a slight hint of how wonderful it would have been had I not ruined it (there were hardened bits of flour in there, however, despite the fact that I flopped the cake in my efforts to eliminate them, which added insult to injury). I had some ambitions to try to salvage it by making the filling and syrup and throwing something together in a parfait glass. But since I had planned to bring this cake to David's grandmother's 90th birthday party over the weekend, I had to use my extra time to quickly reverse course and make something else, because I love David's grandmother and did not want to send her a confusing "flopped génoise" message.
I REALLY wanted this cake to work. I would have tried to make this again if I had the time, because (1) I hate failure, and (2) I have little doubt that it is fabulous when done correctly. On the other hand, the whole experience kind of reminded me of that moment back in my 20s when I had an epiphany that low-drama boyfriends are better than high-drama boyfriends, and I never went back to the high-drama ones again. So I'm kind of having a hard time imagining myself voluntarily standing before the egg divas again and saying "slap me. slap me again. slap me again" when I know that desserts like the truly fabulous (and relatively laid back) cheesecake and french pear tart are out there in the world. With most of my baking disasters, I can go back over the process in my head and identify what I might have done differently, but with this one, I really don't see what else I could have done. I was SO careful, but my eggs simply could not stand up to even the minimal mixing needed to incorporate the flour. But I really can't wait to read other blogs to see everyone else's stunning creations, and hopefully pick up some great tips to avoid a similar outcome JUST IN CASE I do decide to get into the ring with the divas again someday.
Mary Ann at Meet Me in the Kitchen, one of my favorite bloggy friends and a supremely talented cook and baker, chose the recipe this week, and I have a feeling that her cake is going to be a vision of beauty, because her food always is. You can find the recipe over at Mary Ann's blog (and while you are there, check out some of her other creations -- she always chooses really interesting recipes and executes them beautifully!). Thank you for picking this fun and challenging project, Mare! It certainly wasn't boring!