Starting with a disastrous chocolate cake my cousins and I concocted when we were quite young, I have had a fraut relationship to desserts. For a long period of time, say about 40 years, my luck with desserts didn’t improve much. Especially with cakes.
I now know that baking in general and making cakes in particular involves a chemical reaction. It requires just the right interaction between the ingredients in the cake and the oven. If you are working with a bad recipe, even following it exactly, or with a faulty oven, you’re doomed. As time went along I could make a pretty good Thanksgiving pie, a perfectly fine baked custard, and decent fudge brownies. Cakes still eluded me. When pushed, I would buy dessert for a dinner party rather than risk disaster.
Finally I said to myself, “Enough. I cook a lot of really good food. Why not desserts?” Coaxed into action, I set to work finding reliable recipes and practicing so that the next time they came to dinner I could offer them something home made. I can’t remember the first one I made for them, but let me tell you, it was received with a great deal of laughter and enthusiastic praise.
My daughter-in-law Michelle Polzine has also been instrumental in this process. She is the award-winning and magical pastry chef at Range in San Francisco. Prior to my enlightenment, I would ask her to bring the dessert for every family meal figuring that she knew what she was doing and I didn’t so she should provide dessert. At some point I said to myself, “Enough. It’s not fair to ask someone who makes desserts for a living to make them for every family occasion. Give her a break.”
And so the learning process continued. I found more great recipes, including a couple of cakes. I practiced. I fed (and still feed) my favorites to my dessert-loving friend Sam to see how he responds. Over the years I have built up a pretty good repertoire of choices that are delicious, pretty and relatively simple. Best of all, with some confidence, I now serve desserts to Michelle.