Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Humiliation of PCD

I have been having a problem with PCD again lately. PCD, the new politically correct term, refers to Pound Cake Dysfunction, otherwise known as fallen cakes or pound cake impotence. You see, I am known for my pound cakes and in the past have sent them as far away as Europe, Australia and South America to the delight of many of my friends. About a month ago, I started noticing that some of my cakes had begun to rise too much in the baking process, spilling into the bottom of the oven. When I would take them out to cool, the cakes were beautiful, but five minutes later, I would return to find them slumped down in the middle. Some were even stealthy about falling. Their top crust was beautiful and brown and stayed in place, but underneath that mantle, the core of the cake had slumped. I didn’t know the extent of the problem until I found photos of a slice of one of my cakes online and saw the tell-tale crescent-shaped slice that indicates a fallen cake.

Now, being a Southerner, and even more, one who literally grew up in a restaurant, I know that a fallen cake is the most wonderful cake to eat. It just isn’t very pretty to look at. Rather than the velvety smooth texture that melts in your mouth, these cakes have a texture more like pudding than cake. I have given away so many fallen cakes to people that I have even made up my own folklore to go with them: Not only are they better in flavor than their perfect counterparts, but to share them and eat them brings good luck.

So, I am now admitting to you that years ago, I had an extended bout of pound cake impotence. Nothing I tried seemed to work. My cakes fell every time I tried to bake. Eventually, the curse lifted and I was able to bake again without worries. However, when I moved into this house two years ago, I bought a new oven for the house and I found that my "problem" started to come back from time to time. I have thought of blaming the oven. I have observed all pound cake baking decorum, such as never ever opening the door until the cake is done. I blamed the pan and tried switching from my signature Bundt pan to an old-fashioned tube-pan. All of this has been useless in figuring out the problem. I even wondered if it was a karma thing from having used the recipe that I have become famous for without truly giving credit to the lady who gave it to me. She didn’t like me for many reasons, including my ineptitude as a manager, and we just didn’t get along well at all. Maybe she is sticking pins in little itty-bitty pound cakes and thinking of me from time to time.

Last night, I baked a cake for a friend, Brian. He asked for raspberry flavored cake in the email he sent me. I was stunned. Not caring for the flavor of raspberries myself, I had never made a raspberry cake before and worried that I would not find a bottle of raspberry flavored extract. I shopped at my usual grocery store and found that my fears were confirmed: they only sell fresh raspberries and fresh fruit in a pound cake just doesn’t work. However, being one who occasionally welcomes the odd challenge, I went on to a health food store in the community. There, I didn’t find any extract nor did I find a bottle of essential oil of raspberry, but I did find some bright-red dried berries that looked a bit like something out of a children’s cereal box.

On returning home, I mixed up the cake and put it into the oven. An hour and a half later, I pulled it from the oven to see that it was already slumping in the middle. DAMN! If only they made a pill for this! I have been working to control my emotions as much as possible and went to my Zen place. This cake was just not meant to be! I resigned myself to trying again today with a new cake, and in the meantime, I tried to decide who would be the lucky recipient of my latest baking failure. It came to me immediately.

In the self-scan aisle of my favorite local grocery store, there is a lady who I really like. I know her name, but will not share it here for her privacy, so let’s just call her P*. P* is a huge Duke fan and I am a huge Carolina fan. During basketball season, we pick on each other in a light-hearted way, but I am always happy to see her. This year, when my Tar Heels had advanced in the NCAA tournament and the Blue Devils had not, I was being considerate and not rubbing it in too much. I just whispered to her as I passed by, "Don’t forget to pull for my Tar Heels," I said. She responded "I do everytime I see you in this aisle!" We had a good laugh and I continued on my merry happy way. When, on the rare occasion, I have caught her working the closing shift, I have seen the fatigue in her eyes and face and I have felt deep concern for her.

This morning, I took a largish slice of Brian’s cake and ate it for my breakfast to make sure that it tasted ok. I wrapped up the remainder and took it into the store and found *P working as I expected. I walked up and gave her the cake.

She gasped in excitement. "What is this?"

"It’s a raspberry pound cake. I made it for a friend and it fell. I took a slice out to make sure it was edible, and now I am offering it to you if you want it," I said.

She called her friend over "Hey! S*. Come look at this!"

"What is it?," S* asked.

I said "It is a raspberry pound cake."

P* repeated right behind me "It is a raspberry pound cake!"

I said, ‘It fell, but they are the best kind to eat and eating them brings you good luck."

"It fell," repeated P*. "He made it for a friend, but he can’t take it to the party now, so he brought it to me. Ain’t that sweet?"

They were making plans to have some right away when I took my leave and I went to check one last time for some dried raspberries in the store. Nope…none there.

As I walked past the check-out counters of the store, I heard comments from almost every aisle.

"It fell!"

"Hey, he’s my friend too."

"Why does P* get all the good customers?"

"I want some!"

I felt like a king. If only for a day, I had made a few other people happy with a random act of generosity, even if it was only a fallen cake.

They are, you know, the best kind. Eating them brings good luck!

Circadiana: The Tar Heel Tavern - Derby Edition



Blogger Alicia said...

I was googling to see why my cake fell in the middle and your site came up. Looks like we have the same syndrome. :) Sad thing is I don't have time to make another cake, so I'm gonna have to make this one work. Oh well, looks like everyone will have good luck! Thanks for the smile!

10/24/2006 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Mary Christine said...

I did the same thing... tried to see what I could make of my badly fallen chocolate cake. I guess I will just bring it to the party and try to convince them it is the "best kind of cake!"!!! Thanks!

2/03/2007 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Michelle McMurray said...

I, too, have the same problem but mine is worse since I have caught my oven on fire 3 times since making pound cake. I have a wonderful recipe, but the first time I overfilled the pan. Who'd have known a pan didn't take the whole amount of batter? I obviously did not know that. The second time I filled it 3/4 way and it still overflowed and burned to a crisp. The third time (second day) I made another cake, filled it half way and it fell, so I took it out and chucked it, not knowing that it would be edible until I read your blog. LOL
The fourth cake caught fire, how? My oven is tilted some and I guess I overfilled it a bit and the batter fell right on top of the stupid metal burner thing that gets hot.
My last cake was dry as can be, though it looked nice. I had to throw it out because no one would eat it.
So if you think you have PCD...you've never met me. Don't feel bad!
I live in Cary, btw. :-)

12/04/2007 04:55:00 PM  

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