31 October 2010

paging ma ingalls

By now, you've most likely heard about my love for baked goods, especially cupcakes. A while back, I found a recipe for strawberry lemonade cupcakes that looked amazing, and decided to try them out for my friend EG's birthday. I was so excited to bake them, along with some lemon bars for the school bake sale, the night before the party. I had even made a special trip to the fancy imports grocery store the weekend before to make sure I had all of the right ingredients. Re-learning how to bake things here has been interesting, because ingredients and appliances don't work quite the way I'm used to, and this experience was no exception.

As usual, I began to preheat the oven. It's a little tricky...can you see why?

Right, there are no temperature markings on the dial! In addition, the gas valve is a bit finicky, and sometimes allows too much gas to shoot out, catching the match flame in a huge gush of fire and burning my hand and/or arm. But my friend showed me a trick for how to hold the match while lighting the oven, so it's a lot easier now. Once the oven business was taken care of, I began gathering the ingredients and realized I didn't have enough eggs. My neighbor's chicken is my usual egg hook-up, but she was having none of it that day (the chicken, not the neighbor), so another neighbor offered to run to the general store down the street to pick up some more for me, as my oven was already turned on. (So nice, right?!)

When my neighbor returned with the eggs, I finished mixing up the cupcakes and the lemon bars and put them in the oven to cook. Every now and then, I would check on them to see if they were finished. It usually takes about twice as long for things to cook as is called for in recipes, but I like to keep a close watch just in case. But after a while, I started to realize that these things were taking waaaaay longer than usual. As in, two hours after I put them in, they still were gelatinous. Something wasn't right, and I suddenly realized that although I was holding the pan with my bare hand, I wasn't feeling any pain, because the oven wasn't hot anymore. I checked the gas tank, and sure enough, it had run out of gas!

What to do? At that point, I started channeling my inner Ma Ingalls. If you and I have ever had a conversation, you've probably heard about my love for the Little House series (the books, not the show...I found the show too inauthentic, but that's a whole different topic). I'm sure that when Ma was traveling across the prairie, she had many more challenging cooking issues than the one I was facing, yet somehow she made it work:

No solutions were coming to mind, however, so I just I wrapped up the pans, put them in the fridge, and decided to sleep on the issue. Worst case, I wouldn't be able to contribute anything to the bake sale, and I would stop and buy a cake for EG's birthday.

Sometime during the night, I remembered in my dreams that my school has a cooking classroom! Score! I got up a little early to wrap up my goods even more securely so they could withstand the hitchhiking journey to school. We made it to school with only a few spills, and I raced to the cooking classroom so I could take care of business before school started.

The school oven is a little wonky, but miraculously, the cupcakes and lemon bars turned out o.k., even after all they had been through. By o.k., I mean the cupcakes were fallen in the middle and the lemon bars were completely charred on top, but who's counting? I scraped off the burned part from the lemon bars and asked MO, the music teacher, if it was tacky for me to offer such patched-up goods at the bake sale. She responded, "Tacky? Tacky? Nooooo...I wouldn't even scrape off the burned part!" before dumping another thick layer of powdered sugar on top of them. That's why I love you, MO!

Here's a shot of the finished product. Tell me the truth, now...would you buy one?

Believe it or not, the lemon bars sold out pretty quickly, and I began to think about how I could salvage the semi-collapsed cupcakes. It didn't take me too long to figure out the perfect solution: frosting! Obviously, I was going to frost them anyway, so I just decided to frost them a little more thickly than usual to hide the sunken centers. I dashed home at the end of the day to whip up the frosting and get the cupcakes looking presentable before the party. During a minor earthquake, the bowl I was using for the frosting got a small hole in it, causing frosting to leak out, but other than that, the rest of the baking experience was uneventful. And while the cupcakes didn't look all that great, they were super tasty, if I do say so myself.

Phew! There was only one thing left to do...
...yup, grab our fiddles and don our calico and petticoats to ring in EG's 29th year of life, Little House-style.

Images found here and here.

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