Monday, April 12, 2010

When life deals you lemons...make rhubarb trifle

Or, Why I don't bake:

Yesterday I baked a Country Rhubarb Cake from Darina Allen and a banana walnut loaf.

I am not a baker. I don't like the fuss. I don't like to read a recipe I can't 'interpret'.  My 'artistic temperament' prevents me from being scientific.  And there is far more room for error in cooking than there is in baking.  It irritates my husband. He calls me "Julia" in the kitchen, because I love to throw salt into a pan from across the room, dice tomatoes so that they fly high into the air, chat away happily while not watching my fingers while handling a sharp knife, splosh things all over the stove when I stir them. I dislike long, complicated recipes, don't know the difference between baking powder and baking soda (except I think the latter is the one Matron would give us when our tummies hurt -- her "cocktail" she'd call it -- makes me shiver just thinking about it), and I forget to level off scoops of flour and sugar, the way proper bakers do.  I just love it when other people bring the pudding so I don't have to bother.  (There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: my mother's Norwegian rice pudding and Norwegian blotkake.) 

My husband is precise, measured, scholarly in his approach to cooking.  He reads recipes carefully, compares a few recipes to find the perfect one, likes the culinary magazines that show new techniques for handling mandolines, buys his knives directly from Japan and like to have at least twenty tongs always at his immediate disposal. Amusingly, we work well in the kitchen together.  We've learned the steps of the dance, can interpret each other's hand signals and body language; we doh-si-doh as if we were dressed in gingham and denim.

The Maharishi's tong collection

But I can't stand wasting things, and with 5 black bananas in a paper bag in the fridge I decided that banana walnut bread was the answer.  Martha's recipe is easy, moist, delicious.  I added too many nuts, because I like them, but you don't have to.

The Country Rhubarb Cake is another matter.

First off, it's not really a cake. It's more like an empanada -- A sweet, bubbling filling of thinly sliced rhubarb suspended between two spongey pieces of pie crust.  I see "cake" and I think cake tin and so dutifully I pulled out my silicon cake tin.  The recipe instructs one to divide the cake mixture in two and "Roll out each piece to fit a 10-inch round baking dish." (Clue one: baking dish)

The rhubarb is piled on top of the first round, and the sugar, and then "place second pastry round on top and pinch edges together."

There was no way this was going to happen in my silicon pan.
So how bad could it be if I don't pinch it empanada style?

After an hour at 350F the cake was golden brown and the smell of caramelizing rhubarb filled the kitchen.  I opened the oven door triumphantly and lifted the bendy silicon pan with oven gloves over to the counter feeling very smug indeed (some need to beat the system had been fulfilled; I have problems with authority figures also).

But, as the Pullein-Thompson sisters are fond of saying, pride comes before a fall.
The cake wobbled in its silicon jacket and in my huge oven mitts, I was unable to steady it, and the whole thing went in slow motion, head over heels onto the kitchen floor with an almighty, rhubarby splat.

The plaintive wail I emitted was loud enough for my 15 year old to appear from the shower dressed only in a handtowel.
"Oh Mamma, are you all right?" she asked in her alarmed voice.
"Noooooooooo" I howled.

I was standing in the middle of the kitchen, a Dalmatian on each side of me, and we were all staring, grief-stricken at the steaming rhubarb cake that lay on the floor.  Drizzle of pink syrup decorated the cabinet.  The silicon mould had hydro-planed a foot to the left.

"Well don't just stand there" said my quick-minded daughter.  "Three second rule."
On our hands and knees, the dogs having been instructed to sit a few feet away but no doubt empathizing as only dogs can when delicious food has fallen to the floor, we carefully picked up the bits of the cake that hadn't had direct contact with the slate floor and put it back into the silicon tin.  The spongey bits were golden, the rhubarb glossy and pink but the cake shape had a definite cubist bent.

Our Sunday night supper guests were due in an hour. What to do?
These are the times when I am enormously grateful to have an extra three boxes of Bird's Custard Mix.  Because if you've got Bird's Custard, you've got trifle. I found a box of lovely blackberries in the fridge, whipped some cream, stirred up a pan of custard, chopped some pretty green pistachios and Bob's Your Uncle: my Country Rhubarb Cake became Country Rhubarb & Blackberry Trifle. And what's more, everyone loved it.

 rhubarb trifle (picture thanks to the BBC)

It's our dirty little secret, dear reader.


Marilyn said...

A wonderful post. You showed every side of what it means to love the kitchen, from frantic to delicious to lovely. And now I want rhubarb!

Anonymous said...

Oh my post has disappeared but I have returned to add to it anyway.
Perfect and my definition of a real cook is one who can rescue a disaster
P.S.I have huge pan envy.
P.P.S.What to do with ripe bananas: peel, slice and freeze, and then whiz in a processor with creme fraiche = ice-cream in minutes.It's on the Save The World page of

Barbara Toombs said...

Absolutely LOVE this post! Well written and SO hits home with many, I'm sure!! I will now be a follower (and you can thank @ericeatsout for tweeting about it!!) LOL