Daring Failure

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonfulof Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular DobosTorte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: ExquisiteDesserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

I intentionally began my work on this, my second Daring Baker challenge, later in the month. I think that was a two-part reasoning on my end: First I was out of town on August 1 when the challenge was revealed, and Second, I knew that Maeckel had a birthday, and he is a dessert eater.

I excitedly checked the forums early that morning at my parents' apartment and maybe my jaw actually dropped, I'm not sure. I don't know what I was expecting...but it certainly wasn't this Viennese pastry! The first challenge, Mallows, were decadent by my fat to dessert consumption ratio, but really relatively easy in comparison to this crazy layered concoction boasting nearly a dozen whole eggs.

Like I've said before, eggs do not bother me - and butter, well, I don't even eat it on toast so why shouldn't I indulge with it in a cake once in a while, but this recipe already was frightening me if only by shear fat and cholesterol content. Sure, if I were fortunate enough to be strolling past a European bakery, preferably somewhere in Europe, I would in a heartbeat be sideling up to the counter to devour one of these confections. But a whole torte, in my house, with me the only dessert eater within 10 miles? Not a good scenario.

Then there was the fear of failure. Sure I've made flops. I kind of just made one the other day, the Dimply Plum Cake was really less to write home about, but still tasty nonetheless. In fact, I popped it into the fridge, which I seldom do to a cake, and by my standards, it became even better. I still probably wouldn't serve it to company, at least not without a lengthy explanation...

But still, I approached this challenge with vigor! I thought "I can do it "I'll make the mother of all Birthday Cakes!" When I logged on again later in the month to print the recipe, I saw this amazing, incredible, 30 layer torte that Audax Artifex made, I really began to be frightened. Wow, this guy can bake! Check out his blog, you will absolutely agree. I quickly printed off my recipe, and got the heck away from the computer before I began to feel really depressed.

SO, LONG story shortened, I'll explain the rest along with the pictures:

I began my project on Thursday, August 20 - 7 days to posting time. And actually I was more excited at this point since I made the buttercream, and Who can possibly be un-excited about buttercream? This one is particularly great, and I felt incredibly guilty dipping several (clean) fingerfulls into my mouth, even though it was nearing bedtime.

The next morning, I was even more excited after I made the cake batter. Yes, I eat batter, and yes it was tasty. So, hence my growing excitement. I could begin to envision, maybe not a 30 layer masterpiece, but perhaps a lowly 5 layer mini-masterpiece. But, unfortunately, that is kind of where I began going south.

Here is a close up of the poor sponge cake, incredibly sticky, after its painful removal from the parchment paper. Of course, I thought I had an extra box of parchment, and did not. I used up all I had on the baking, so when they came tumbling out of the oven every 5 minutes, I was trying to transfer them to wax paper to cool, and they were ripping like mad. I was getting frustrated, but kept my calm - I think the 2nd layer baked turned out alright...and that was a plus. But as you can see:

...not really all that great. And not only that, it was humid and rainy, and they just got stickier as they cooled. I determined that I could not actually complete a 5 layer cake, since one layer was so mangled it ended up right in the garbage, so I cut 2 inch rounds. I thought I could get 7 little 5 layer cakes, and really could imagine them looking pretty posh all done up and sitting on a platter.

See how cute?

But, alas, the atmospherics were working against me, and the buttercream, only out of its cool climate a couple of hours, became very soft. And then, I burned the caramel.

On any given day, I have like 10 lbs. of sugar in the house, but Daring Baker Challenge day? Only enough to get the job done. Right. The First Time. I figured after spreading the very soft (but still extremely delicious) buttercream on my mangled layers that this was not going to earn me any points with the DobosTorte council members, so I just figured I'd pour the caramel over the layers and find out what happened.

There was a fair amount of lemon juice in the sugar/water solution. I did think this was strange...but it was even a stranger and most unpleasant discovery when I tasted it. Burnt sugar is good, even great at times when it's intentional. Burnt sugar with lemon? Not so much.

I felt much better, when like Amelie, I poked my fingers into the tops and felt the delectable crack under the weight of my fingertips. That, my friends, was the only thing delectable about this caramel.

That, and wrapping them up into a huge ball, squishing them between both hands, admitting defeat, and chucking the whole ordeal into the trash.

I still had the matter of a birthday cake to attend to. I thought about it, and decided for sure to include the chocolate buttercream that dreams are made of... but it was so rich that I didn't want anything too heavy around it. I settled on a chocolate devil's food cake, and topped it with very lightly sweetened whipped cream.

It was good. Maeckel had a birthday cake! I sent a fourth of it home with him, but still had half a cake looming at me. I kept it in the fridge, against my normal cake morals, but I didn't want the buttercream softening up again. So, Saturday I made this cake on accident, and Monday, I took the remainders (slightly less than half a cake now, since there was a whole Sunday in there for it to stare me down) to R1's house. She has more kids than me, and a husband who loves dessert. So we watched a few episodes of Three Sheets, and ate cake. And it was gone.

A good lesson was learned, and cake was made from salvaged materials. I am undaunted in my Daring Baker tasks, but am wondering what September will hold. I'm hoping for Pie or something. Guess I'll just have to wait and see. As for the Dobos Torte, I may try again. Maybe some fridgid winter day when the humidity is low...

For now, I'll check out the Daring Baker blogroll to see other DB hits and misses. They don't call them challenges for nothing...