Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nerds of a feather...

I have always considered myself to be a nerd. And I've always considered my nerdiness to be a positive attribute.

(LOST logo found here)

Just yesterday at work I was having a conversation with some of my co-workers which caused my to contemplate our unique versions of nerdom. (NOTE: in addition to being a nature and bird nerd, I am also a LOST nerd and a baking nerd.) Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey T (fellow LOST nerd), did you get your Dharma Initiative card in the mail yet?"
T: "Yeah, finally, but it's not laminated."
Me: "Awww, dude, that's a bummer!"
S: (Rolls eyes) "Okay, what the heck are you guys talking about?!"
Me: "Oh, you know, it's a LOST thing. He's a card-carrying member now."
S: (rolls eyes again, this time more emphatically)
Me: "T, I'll counter your Dharma card with MY membership card from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology!"
S: "OOOooooo - I don't know which one trumps which! Says the lady with the fancy knitting needles."

Yes, S is a knitting nerd, who was at the time of the conversation knitting socks in the round on 4 laminated birch double-pointed needles (are you envious Ruthie?) But more importantly, she's a fellow baking nerd, and totally knew what I was talking about when I told her how I spent 45 minutes poring over the Joy of Cooking trying to piece together the yule log recipe.

The baking portion of my practice cake went fine. In fact, it was kind of fun. Whenever a recipe calls for beating eggs in order to double or triple their original volume, I love it. It's fun to watch them expand in the bowl as the air gets whipped into them. It was also fun to hear the tiniest bit of baking powder in the batter start to react immediately when hot milk and butter was poured in.

Despite my best efforts and following the recipe to a "T", the cake still cracked when I rolled it. It cracked before I rolled it, as a matter of fact.

Despite the cracking of the cake, I still filled it with fantastic pastry cream (think of the yummy custard in Boston Cream Pie, eclairs, or fresh fruit tarts!) and rolled it up anyway. Then I made a sort of chocolate frosting and spread it on top. Chocolate makes anything look better! And the whole thing tasted pretty darn good.

I can think of several different reasons why the cake might have cracked, but first let me mention that the Joy of Cooking handles rolled sponge cakes different than most. Rather than "train" the cake by rolling it up in a damp kitchen towel right out of the oven, they recommend inverting it onto a piece of foil and letting it cool that way. The Joy says "cake sheets crack while rolling if they are overbaked and dry" so presumably taking the cake out of the oven at just the right instant will prevent the cracking.

I had to bake my cake longer than the recipe called for because when I checked it at the recommended time, it was still jiggly and uncooked in the middle. My thinking is that because the jelly roll pan I used was smaller than what was called for in the recipe, the batter was thicker/taller than it should have been, and thus required a slightly longer cooking time. Apparently it was too long, though, since it cracked. Oh well. I will try again. I did buy a larger pan that I will try out this weekend, and we'll see if that helps any. Also, with it being winter time and the humidity being very low, perhaps that somehow contributed to drying out the cake? I dunno. All I can say is practice makes perfect. But what am I going to do with all this cake?!

In addition to cake baking, I've got to start thinking about cookie baking, too. I love giving cookies to my family at Christmas. These should help me with some ideas.

By the way, for those of you wondering about my holiday cards, I'll be posting the finished product around the end of the week. I just mailed them out yesterday, and I wouldn't want to ruin the surprise for friends and family who might happen to cruise by here.


Shellmo said...

That yule cake does look yummy! You've got a nice assortment of cookie books too! I was just on the site picking up some cookie and fudge recipes that I'm going to make for family too. I think it makes such a nice personal gift!

Heather said...

Shelly - Yes, I love too. I could spend hours on that site! And thanks for reminding me of FUDGE! My grandmas always used to make fudge at Christmas, but they are both deceased now. Maybe it's a tradition I should pick up in their honor.

RuthieJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RuthieJ said...

Hi Heather,
I'm a hardcore knitting nerd and I knit ALL my socks on bamboo double points! Someday I will do a post on all the knitting paraphernalia I own plus all the yarn and UFOs I have stashed around the house. It will be amusing to all knit nerds and horrifying to people who don't understand the addiction (much like my birding addiction)