A couple of weekends ago I threw a tea party at New Leaf Market where I run a demo program. We have really interesting customers. We’re a community market chain, 99% of our produce is organic, we have grass-fed and humanely-raised meat and poultry, we created the sustainable fish program with the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the 1990s, we donate regularly to programs within our broader community and we do whatever we can to buy local ingredients and make our community stronger and better. Needless to say, most of the people who shop at our store regularly have the same values. And a good sense of humor.
It occurred to me that it would be fun to have a tea party because if I like our customers, they’d probably like each other too. And, if they liked each other, they would network and support each others’ endeavors. At the same time, I could serve a variety of treats that would also stimulate sales. A convivial arrangement all the way around. I’m happy to report that this is exactly what happened. We’re going to make it a monthly event.
I planned to serve cheeses and crackers, dips and vegetables and chips as well as cookies. But I also wanted to bake a cake so there would be something fresh and homemade. With our Navel and Cara Cara oranges on sale and the Meyer lemons coming into season, it didn’t require rocket science to choose something citrus. And, as many of customers have dietary sensitivities, I’d make a gluten-free cake.
My mother and her sister traded recipes constantly. Born with a genetic propensity to silliness, they would rename the recipes something appropriately silly. The cake I made for the tea party wasDeep Down Orange Cake ’cause it’s really deep down orange!
Everyone loved Deep Down Orange, and it came out well as a gluten-free cake except that, with the syrup, it was difficult to keep it held together. (I’ve included the standard recipe as well as the gluten-free version.) Naturally, I forgot my camera the day of the party and didn’t get a picture of the cake. Imagine a bundt cake with moist, darker-than-usual slices because of the ground walnuts. Imagine delicious.
As a way to rectify the lack of photo for this blog, I decided to make another favorite, Best Damn Lemon Cake, which is one of Maida Heatter’s recipes. Clearly she came from the same gene pool as my mother and aunt, but it really is.
Now here’s where I lost it. I decided to make the cake as a bundt cake instead of in a loaf pan, which is what Maida Heatter suggested. Given that she tested and retested her recipes, I should have known better. One of the details I hadn’t put on my copy of her recipe is that it’s better to use a glass or light metal loaf pan than a darker pan as the cake will turn out darker than it should. And guess what? It did.
When the cake came out of the bundt pan it wasn’t burned but it wasn’t bright and lemony looking. This was also because I didn’t use blanched almonds to make the almond meal. I sprinkled powdered sugar over the top and took a few shots. It wasn’t ugly, but it wouldn’t have caught your attention either.
I sliced it and put the slices on a plate to shoot. The pieces had holes often found in gluten-free products where the xanthum gum causes uneven rising. Even though the cake tasted fine, the pictures didn’t cut it.
Now, if I had a life, I would have made the cake again in the right pan with blanched almonds and even wheat flour. And I would take a stunning picture for you. That’s not what’s happening at the moment.
These days, everything is visual. Blogs show every step of the process — even the simplest steps, which verges on hilarious, in my opinion. So, at the least I should have one reasonable photo with each blog. But I don’t today. And probably won’t lots of other times. And all I can say is trust me, the recipes are all they’re cracked up to be. And if yours turn out a little funny looking like mine, no one will freak out it. In fact, they’ll have forgotten as soon as they taste it.
Actually, my mother and her sisters had an appropriate saying for when something turned out looking wrong, whether a lopsided cake or a bad hair day: If a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice, it’s not important.
Just don’t blow up the oven.
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