It's a long story (a boring one, otherwise, I'd be making use of it), but because of the way the hours got filled up this week, I was standing in my kitchen beating egg whites for Nate's birthday cake at 5:52 a.m.
I make a fabulous chocolate layer cake from scratch that involves melting an expensive chocolate bar in a double boiler, a pound of butter between the cake batter and the frosting, and excessive swearing as I try and cut circles of parchment that will fit in the bottom of the cake pans. (I know it's not that hard to do. Apparently skipping kindergarten has come back to bite me in the ass.)
Even so, this year Nathan asked for the 1-2-3-4 Cake from Fanny at ChezPanisse; a kids' cookbook put together by Alice Water's daughter, Fanny. It's a really simple recipe (butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, baking powder, cake flour, salt) and we've made it so many times that the book will open to that page if you lay it down on the table.
This morning after I made some coffee, I started the cake batter. I wasn't totally paying attention to what I was doing, because I'm finding that my brain is constantly busy crunching the list of things I need to get done before Christmas into the available hours I have. It's not a good fit, and as the days go by I am getting more and more creative about when and how I will get stuff done. I know I can pull it off, even if I don't know how yet.
So I got the batter started and while I didn't use cake flour (I am leaving a trail of corners in my wake. Get it? Cutting corners? Yeah. Nevermind.) I DID at least sift the flour. But, as I gently stirred in the flour and the milk, I realized that I sifted the flour after I measured out three cups, rather than sifting, measuring and then adding, which probably increases the volume of the flour by at least some, if not a whole lot. And the batter looked not battery enough. So, I grabbed the milk and put in just a little more. As I did that, I had a moment where I recalled doing this exact thing before. Not deja vu, but an actual memory of screwing up the cake batter. I think it was in October for Lex's birthday, and I had to leave the house to pick up the kids. The cake was still totally liquid after cooking for ten minutes over the time it says in the cookbook (that's happening right at this moment, too) and so I just shut off the oven and left it there.
When I came back, it was perfectly done.
This morning, when I put the batter into the pans and into the oven, I looked at it and thought that it looked way too much like biscuit dough to make 1-2-3-4 Cake. I thought that there was not enough liquid, even though I'd added milk. But maybe sifting doesn't really make the measuring of the flour that much different, because right now I've got a couple of cake tins of not biscuity cake, but of soggy cake. I really need to get in the shower (I'm like an hour behind schedule at this point) but the cake's not close to being done. I'm turning off the oven, moving the jiggly wetcakes to the bottom rack, crossing my fingers, and already wondering how to fit in a trip to a bakery today.