I'm in Southern California, so the fact that I got my Mexican recipes from my Polish girlfriend in Ohio is outrageous. But she is an awesome cook, and like I have said before, I am a culinary opportunist, martyr, and worker bee.
Karrie gave me recipes for Arroz a la Mexicana (Mexican style rice), frijoles refritos (refried beans), Polla con calabaza (chicken with zucchini), frijoles de olla (pot beans), queso fundido en salsa (melted cheese with salsa), cafe de olla (clay pot coffee) and finally, she said, the piece de resistance, PASTEL DIPLOMATICO. She told me it was "out of this world" and I needed to try it, really not giving me an option.
Monday night we had an after-game pot luck, Mexican food theme. I made the rice, refried beans, and I tried to bake the cake.
The cake didn't take. This was a blow to my baker-ego, to say the least. I spent 3 hours simmering sweetened condensed milk, I made the flan, I baked it for 1.5 hours, and followed the recipe to the letter. I did everything but test the cake, thinking with flan at the top, I wouldn't get a clean test.
Maybe things bake quicker in Ohio. It was a humid, rainy day here. I don't know.
When I turned my cake out onto a platter, it was, um, kind of a mess. Very much a disaster. Parts of it undercooked, parts of it perfectly cooked.
I don't take defeat in the kitchen lightly. I had my heart set on this cake. I wasn't about to discard something I'd spent so much time on without a little bit of a resourceful fight.
I scooped up the cake and put it into a portable 9x13 cake pan. I shaved chocolate over it. I put more than half of the caramelized sweetened condensed milk over the top. I added chopped pecans.
When the babysitter arrived at the house that night, I explained the situation to her. "I screwed up the cake. But out of the lemony situation, I made lemonade."
"You made lemonade out of a cake?" the babysitter asked.
"No. Take a look," I insisted.
By this time, my daughters huddled around us, looking at what they thought was lemonade cake.
"Oh, that's nice. Mommy made a...cake...casserole," said the babysitter, kid gloves on already, but not for the kids.
She was right. That is exactly what I did. I put a cake in a casserole dish, added some accoutrements, and hoped that someone would tell me they thought that was the way it was supposed to look.
I took the cake casserole with me to the potluck, unsure as to whether I would be brave enough to present it to everyone.
Appetite trumped ego. The cake was placed next to brownies, cookies, and Rice Krispies bars on my friend's counter.
And victory came when my friends told me, indeed, they believed that the cake was supposed to look like it ended up looking. I had explained that there was an "accident", and someone asked "Accident? Like, has it been on your kitchen floor?" "No, no, no, nothing like that!" I replied, because these people know what a perfectionist I am when it comes to food. Not perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive is more like it.
Hubby liked it. References were made to chocolate being better than...certain things.
I just sat back, said nothing, and breathed a sigh of relief.
But I have a vendetta, unfinished business, with this freaking cake. I will do it perfectly next time.
"That is too ambitious of a cake for you," my mother had said earlier in the day. NO SUCH THING. If I tell my son to have a strong, undefeated mindset in the batters box or on the field, I have to live by the same philosophy.
So now that I have this lemonade from lemons cake thing behind me, I've taken on another cake that I've always wanted to try, which is Michael Lee West's Blue Ribbon Coconut Cake from the book Consuming Passions. It takes eight days to make. Just in time for the next after-game potluck.
Consuming Passions, Crazy Ladies, and The Sweet Potato Queens Big-Ass Cookbook have provided me with recipes such as the aforementioned Coconut Cake, Better Than Sex Cake (which I mentioned to my friends the other night, okay, I wasn't totally silent on the subject), and Danger Pudding, which is basically the simmered, sweetened condensed milk I used for the Pastel Diplomatico. Reading these books, laughing along with these women, and having a sense of humor and punchy attitude in the face of trouble helped me build my culinary resume just a little bit more.
And as a home cook, that is all I can hope for.
And if you want to give Pastel Diplomatico a try, here, courtesy of my amiga Karrie McAllister, is the recipe.
For the cake:
1 box of chocolate cake mix (plus ingredients as directed on the cake box)
Butter for greasing ANGEL FOOD CAKE PAN
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Simmer can of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours completely immersed in water, let it cool down before opening.
For the flan:
5 large eggs
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 12 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease angel food cake pan with butter.
Add some of the caramelized milk to the bottom of the pan.
Prepare chocolate cake batter following the box directions and pour into the pan.
Put all the flan ingredients into a blender; mix and pour on top of the chocolate cake batter all around the pan.
Put the pan in the oven inside a deep metal tray with hot water - allow water to go about half of the height of the cake pan.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, test cake for doneness. When done, remove from oven.
Flip cake over onto a cake platter, spread the remaining caramelized milk on the inner and outer walls of the cake while still hot.
Sprinkle top and sides with chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.