Cooking For Engineers (CFE) is a lovely blog by a gentleman who is somewhat analytically-minded but who also enjoys cooking. The site’s creator posts various recipes from time to time, each carefully measured and explained and documented with pictures, and at the bottom he summarizes the recipe in a clear, easy-to-follow chart format. I was thrilled to find his site, in part because I’ve been doing that to my recipes for several years myself! Until now, I always felt guilty for not writing them the “right” way. I thought I was being lazy by making it easier to follow. Maybe I was just being an engineer! 🙂
I haven’t tried many of the CFE recipes yet (though I was sorely tempted by the Pan Pizza recipe featured a few months ago), mainly because of the dual difficulties of cooking in China – finding Western ingredients and cooking in an Eastern kitchen. Of course, my kitchen’s as Western as I can make it, but my toaster oven’s still way to small to make pizza-baking practical (I’d have to make a dozen small pizzas to use up the dough!) and all I have to mix with are spoons and whisks (you wouldn’t belive how long it takes to make a good merengue with just a whisk – I know, I’ve done it twice! – and just creaming butter and sugar can be a pain in the arm).
But this week, I was having guests for lunch on Thursday and Friday, and I determined to try making the Chocolate Cake featured last month. I borrowed the Southeys’ hand-powered egg beater, made a couple substitutions, and got started.
The process was certainly longer than it would have been in America. The egg beater kept seizing up when it hit chunks of brown sugar that had hardened and refused to be creamed. This caused no end of frustration. The containers I have to keep “dry” ingredients in don’t always seal properly, so the brown sugar had gotten a bit drier than usual, but I think the lumps were there when I first bought the bag at the store a month or more ago. Oh, well. Near the end I finally fished them out with my fingers rather than keep trying to ignore them.
The ingredients came together just as CFE said they would. I was especially impressed by the chocolate melted in boiling water – wow, was it smooth and strong! I only had to make a couple substitutions – you can see them in my comment on CFE (user comments are at the bottom of the recipe page). Finally, I was ready to bake – without the parchment paper. I tried greasing the pan the first time – the cake stuck, boo. It might not have been as done as the next two layers, though… For the second cake I greased and floured the pan, and also left it to cool a bit longer before removing it. Nice and clean. For the third layer, I had a brilliant idea – why not use the butter wrapper as the parchment paper? It worked wonderfully, though since I didn’t cut it, it was wrinkled around the corners, producing a wrinkled cake! But it peeled off the cake just fine, much to my delight.
Since I was having guests for lunch Thursday and Friday, and one layer had fallen apart anyway, I decided not to frost the cake and layer it. Instead, I quickly disposed of the first cake with help from Lloyd, a new teacher here, and left the other two on nice plates in the fridge. In retrospect, I would agree with Michael Chu, the CFE blogger, who said that all-purpose flour without some cake flour makes the cake too dense – especially after it’s been refrigerated for a day or two. But it still tasted great (just a little too close to chocolate fudge, and not enough like cake, by the second day). I also discovered that it goes wonderfully with peanut butter! I’d used some to anchor one of the cakes to the plate (it sat on an angle in the fridge), and when I got to the middle pieces they tasted even better than the rest! I don’t know what it reminded me of – perhaps a peanut-butter-filled easter egg of old? – but it was luscious if I do say so myself!
So, that’s my cake-baking experience in China. I’m tempted to make another one before I return the egg beaters, and can only restrain myself by remembering that I’ll be back in the States in less than a week, where I can take the almost-as-good-tasting and much-easier route of using a boxed mix for the next two months!
On a totally different topic, I finally got a QQ number, and downloaded an English version of the program. So, if you also use QQ (THE chat service in China, it’s like MSN or Yahoo Messenger, ICQ, or AIM, but without the competition – it’s practically a monopoly here), you can find me as MissJubilee, number 550744882.
Photos: “My Yahoo!” (2 photos), and the baking materials – egg beaters, glass baking dish (in its display basket since it’s hard to see clear glass by itself!), and the remnants of the third and final cake on its serving platter.