Some times, there’s nothing left to do but eat cake – it’s like waving the white flag at life. I’d like to say I gave in to fine-crumbed despair on a Friday, after a long week, but I didn’t. It was just a Monday.
A Monday from someplace that isn’t heaven.
I ordered the new dishwasher but had to wait a couple of weeks for the particular one I wanted, which was okay, especially because, just after I placed the order, the old dishwasher miraculously started working again (I’m not dead yet!). I thought my appliances were rising up against me, but a few days later, the dishwasher had a relapse. I’ve never been so happy about a major appliance failure before, and likely never will again: I’m not crazy, it really did need to be replaced.
I turned my attention to the grill in the backyard. It’s summer, after all – it’s time to grill. I didn’t use the grill much last summer, but this year I’m all excited about the possibilities. Also, I have a dinner guest on Friday that I want to make a flank steak for. Since I don’t know the precise time of the guest’s arrival, something that can be tossed on the grill and be ready whenever is the best possible plan. I love this plan.
It’s fortunate that I did a trial run of this plan. I turned on the grill and made some “hamburgers” for myself and The Child, and though I managed to heat them through, I couldn’t get the temperature very high and the whole thing lacked the usual sizzle. The tank seemed to be nearly empty, so I decided that was probably the issue, and took the tank to be refilled.
I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but it is to me: I’ve never filled a propane tank before. I thought it might be something that I would be expected to know how to do myself, and had visions of some big guy giving me a look that said “Silly, helpless women,” before showing me how to do something ridiculously easy and yet, highly flammable. So it was quite a relief when the gal at the gas station said, no, we do that for you.
And all was well with the world for one brief moment. The next moment, though, I connected the tank and turned on the grill and still couldn’t get much of a flame.
I will spare you the story of how I disassembled the grill’s rusty innards; the punch line is, I either have to transplant some new innards or transplant a whole new grill. The latter will be hard on my pocketbook, while the former apparently involves a socket wrench.
Either way, I won’t have a working grill by Friday, so I have to come up with a new dinner plan. I know this doesn’t seem like it should be a hard thing, but the last thing I made for dinner – shrimp-stuffed peppers – was shockingly bad. I don’t know what to make. How can I? I don’t know what will break next.
I know sometimes the universe is pointing you along a path, saying, Go this way. But I can’t see the path. My view is obstructed by all the broken appliances.
I still have the library copy of The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, which I’ve had for so long the library has sent me an actual letter about it and I finally decided it might be time to get my own copy and return theirs. But it was still around, and still had that nice recipe for sour cream coffee cake with blackberries, and I had all the ingredients I needed including a bag of frozen blackberries, and all of this could only mean one thing.
The universe was telling me to make cake. So I did.
And it was good.
It was so good, in fact, that I managed to forget I don’t especially like blackberries. I often have them around because they grow wild in the area, and The Child and I like berry-picking, even if we’re not too crazy for the specific berry in question. They’re plentiful and free, so who are we to argue? The coffee cake is light and moist and delightfully buttery, and the berries add a sprightly tang.
I learned a few things, too. First: sift, sift, sift your flour. It really is the difference between a cake and a superlative, light confection – well worth the extra couple of minutes it takes. Next, it’s important to bring your ingredients to room temperature when baking, as it allows them to trap and hold air better. So, what to do when you decide at the last minute, I had a really lousy day that only cake will solve? Douglas offers one suggestion in the opening chapter of the cookbook – put your eggs in a bowl of warm tap water for a few minutes. This works well for butter, too, I discovered.
One thing that didn’t go so well on this recipe was the streusel topping: I used the food processor and ended up with a big lump of streusel that I then had to tear into little-ish pieces, which then sort of melted down and formed a giant cinnamon crisp layer on the top of the cake. It tasted great and honestly, didn’t look that bad – it just wasn’t what I was going for. I did a bit of research and learned that one is done mixing streusel when it is mostly mixed – there should be little bits of butter and so on. I’m going to try this next time I try a streusel – my last several efforts have all had the same problem.
I give Douglas credit, though, since even when I screwed up his streusel, it still worked: The Child pronounced the whole thing delicious and liked the topping best.
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 6 tbsp cold unsalted butter
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups berries (blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries)
- Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x13 pan and set aside.
- Make the streusel: combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Dice the cold butter, add it to the mixture, and blend with your fingers until crumbly. Set aside.
- Make the cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda into a bowl, and set aside. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each and scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Add the dry ingredients a third at a time, mixing until just blended. Fold in the berries.
- Scrape the batter into the pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle the streusel over the top.
- Bake 45-50 minutes, until a tester comes out mostly clean. Cool in the pan in a wire rack. Cut into 12 squares.