Friday, November 1, 2013

A tragedy, a victory, and a recipe.

Isn't there some sort of saying stating something like, "never make a new recipe for guests or contests..."? I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before. It's very good advice....that I never seem to follow.

My lovely sister and her awesome husband made a beautifully fantastic Caramel Cake for the bake-off at their church's annual Harvest Festival. It sounded so delicious and seriously looked like a million bucks. And they won first place! We were all so excited  for them...especially Stephen...he made the whole cake by himself! What a guy!

The girls and I had the great idea to ask Auntie Jessie for her cake recipe so we could make it for OUR bake-off at OUR church's annual Harvest Festival. She obliged and sent the recipe straight away! I kept thinking, though, "we should probably have done a test run of this cake...".

You see, this cake calls for making homemade caramel for the frosting, hence the caramel part of the Caramel Cake. But, I've never in my life made a successful caramel. Never. And it's not for lack of trying. I've tried and tried, and I either burn it to death, or it turns out crystallized and crunchy. I was intimidated by this say the least. My girls, however, were fired up and ready to go. So, we dove in and began the cake.

The actual cake making went splendidly! The cakes were beautiful. Perfectly springy and the loveliest creamy color! We were well pleased. With our new sense of determination we got to task making the caramel.

We had all of our ingredients measured out and ready to go. We read and re-read the recipe four times and felt very confident in our carameling abilities. Everything was going smoothly, and I was so surprised! We finished the last step, adding the cream, took a step back and breathed a huge sigh of relief. The only thing left to do was taste it, and boy were we ready!

If you know me well, you know that I usually have to smell everything, food or drink, before I taste it. I don't know why...I've done this all my life and will probably continue to do this until the day I die. So, I smelled our beautiful caramely creation. Instead of a rich amber scent, I breathed in a bitter, burned stench. I tasted it secretly and that's when I realized, I burned it. And I didn't even know it. Just the teeniest hint of burning...but it was enough to make it unusable. The girls tasted it and at first they were all "mmm's" and "yuuummm's", but after a moment, they tasted it too. The bitter pang of burnt caramel. We kept tasting it, hoping it would be better with each taste, but with each spoonful we knew, it had to be thrown out.

"It's ok!", I exclaimed! "We'll make a new batch and use brown sugar this time!" So, I Googled a brown sugar caramel recipe. It was a Martha Stewart recipe, so it HAD to be good, I thought. We got all of our ingredients out again and started back at it. Round two of the caramel making commenced!

This time, the failure happened almost immediately. As we started adding the butter to the melted sugar it began clumping and crumbling like crazy! Then, it firmed and hardened completely, getting completely stuck in my whisk! Obviously, I had done something wrong, and ruined one more batch of caramel. I'm telling you, people, caramel making is NOT for me! And actually, I'm ok with that. I don't have to be good at making caramel. I am just fine with not being an expert, or even a good, caramel maker.

Now, this is where the rubber meets the road. My girls were looking at me with the hopes of winning any place in our bake-off shimmering in their eyes. I wanted to scream and cry. I had just wasted two sticks of butter and a bunch of whipping cream. That stuff's not cheap, and I HATE wasting ingredients due to the recipe not turning out. But I knew my girls were watching me. This was a make it or break it situation...and I've had SO MANY times of breaking it. I whispered a prayer to God to give me peace and patience, turned to the girls and said as softly and happily as I could, "We'll just change the frosting. How about Spiced Buttercream?" Thank you Lord. He intervened in a situation in which I knew I was just about to lose it, and gave me exactly what I needed at exactly that time. The girls cheered their hearty agreement and we got to it.

I'm not sharing this story to pat myself on the back. Really, I'm not. My list of parenting failures is long and ugly. All of us have times where we wish we could permanently erase those Monster's Inc. moments from our history. You know, when Sully roars at the fake kid right in front of Boo. Her sad, scared little face, wondering why in the world this big guy that she loves and respects is acting like a crazed lunatic. Yes, I've been here.

But it's what we do after those moments, and the moments after that when our patience and resolve is tried and tested again. What will we do? Lean on our own understanding? Allow our own emotions to guide the situation? Get mad and take it out on the kids, again. Or, take Proverbs 3:5&6 to heart and live it out? "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Or how about Philippians 4:6&7, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." He will straighten our angry and frustrated path. He will guard our hearts and mind and bring us peace. Just trust. Pray.

I'm just so thankful that He is faithful to His Word. So faithful even in the smallest of things, like making caramel that didn't turn out. We didn't understand why our caramel wasn't turning out after meticulously following two recipes, but God did. We may never know why, and that's ok. It didn't work out, that's fine. Shake it off!

The cake was saved, the memories made in our kitchen stayed happy and free from mom's grumpiness, and in the end, our cake won first place. My girls are still talking about was a magical night for them.

And I'm giving glory to God. Thankful for His faithfulness. Thankful that He can take an exasperated mama and breathe peace into her soul at just the right moment. I'm thankful for the sweet memories made with my girls while making this cake.  And, I'm just thankful for cake.

So, I'll share the recipe with you. Not the caramel. Never the caramel.

 Vanilla Cake with Spiced Buttercream
1 1/2 C white sugar
12 T butter, softened
3 eggs, room temp
1 T vanilla extract
2 1/4 C flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 C whole milk 
Directions for cake:
1    Preheat oven to 350°.  Butter and flour 2 8x8 round baking pans 
2    In a medium bowl, cream together sugar and butter (about 2 minutes).  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and beat on high for about 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale. Stir in the vanilla.
3   Combine flour, baking powder and salt in different bowl.
4   Add to butter mixture, alternating with the milk (start and end with the flour)
5   Pour batter evenly into prepared pans, smoothing tops with back of spoon.
6   Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for 5-10 minutes in pan then transfer to cooling rack

Spiced Buttercream Frosting

1 Cup butter, room temperature
3 1/2-4 Cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 C milk
Beat butter until creamy. Alternate adding the sugar and milk, starting and ending with the sugar. Mix well until it is completely smooth. Add the vanilla, spices, and salt. Mix well. 
 Assembling the cake:
 Spread a layer of frosting over the top of the bottom layer. Sprinkle some semi sweet chocolate chunks over the frosting. Gently place the top cake layer on the bottom layer. Frost the entire cake, including the sides. Sprinkle a bit of extra cinnamon on top for garnish.



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