Not following directions on a map can take you to places you never thought you’d go. Maybe you didn’t want to be there – or maybe you discovered a beautiful waterfall. It’s the same with recipes.
I have two friends who misread recipe directions and had absolute disasters.
One baked an Easter ham for his college co-op residents and somehow interpreted the directions “Place cloves into the ham about 1 inch apart before baking” to read “Cover ham with cloves before baking.” He used about 500 cloves on a 14-pound ham. The residents ate out that night.
The other decided to make spaghetti for the first time. The directions read something like, “Fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil, add the noodles and cook for 10 minutes.” He filled a frying pan with water, turned the heat to high, dumped a pound of noodles into the pan, set the timer and left the room. The smell of burned noodles eventually drew him back into the kitchen, where he threw away the frying pan.
Then there’s this happy accident I read about in the 1962 edition of Joy of Cooking. It may not be true but it illustrates the point I’m trying to make. One evening King Louis XIV’s chef prepared his usual feast, but the King was inspecting his troops and was late to the table. When he finally arrived, the fried potatoes were cold. In a panic, the chef re-fried them, and they were a huge success. Thus the French fry was born.
Mistakes can sometimes have a good result. Here’s one I made many years ago when I used an angel food cake pan to bake a regular cake. Angel food cake pans have a big hole in the middle, which helps the cake cook more evenly. I’m not sure what the directions actually said, but I thought they said, “When the cake is done, cool it by putting the pan upside down on top of a 2-liter bottle of soda.” So that’s what I did.
Imagine my horror when I returned to the kitchen and saw big chunks of cake lying on the counter. Guests would be arriving within the hour, and my beautiful cake was ruined. So I improvised. I put some cake chunks in tall glasses, spooned some ice cream on top and added some Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, which in those days was a fridge staple. Everyone loved my “Sundaes.” To replicate them, you don’t have to ruin a cake. Just cut a few slices and break them into large pieces and follow the directions below.
Chocolate Cake Sundae – serves 4
4 medium-size sundae glasses, drinking glasses or bowls4 medium slices of chocolate cake (see recipe below)Vanilla ice cream (or flavor of your choice)Chocolate syrup
Set out the glasses or bowls.
Break or cut each cake slice into 3 or 4 pieces. Push a piece into the bottom of each glass, top with a spoon of ice cream and repeat until all the cake is in place. Add a final dollop of ice cream and squeeze or spoon on some chocolate syrup. Serve immediately.
Chocolate Cake – serves 12-16
The easiest way to make this chocolate cake is in an 8” x 12” or 9” x 13” baking pan.
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature1 cup sugar1 cup brown sugar2 large eggs1 teaspoon vanilla extract1 1/4 cups water2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 teaspoon for dusting pan1 teaspoon baking soda1/2 teaspoon salt
Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small, heavy pot melt the chocolate over very low heat, stirring continuously. When most of the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and stir until all the chocolate is melted. Set aside.
Put the butter and two sugars in the appliance bowl of a food processor and process briefly until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla and process again. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and pulse for about 10 seconds, or until well blended. Add the water, flour, baking soda and salt and pulse just until blended.
Lightly rub the bottom and sides of an 8” x 12” or 9” x 13” baking pan. Add the 1 teaspoon flour and swirl it around, coating the buttered surfaces. Pour the batter into the pan and shake the pan from side to side to make sure the batter spreads to all the corners.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool in the pan. When cool, cut slices for the sundae.
Freeze or refrigerate the rest of the cake and serve with ice cream and/or chocolate sauce.For more chocolate recipes, get “Chocolate on the Brain”