This is a story about a cake.
Well, it's actually a story about two cakes because I would be remiss if I didn't mention this chocolate buckwheat cake that I made at the weekend which was just perfect (and gluten free).
I directed a friend to this cake a couple of weeks ago and she made it for a birthday party. Although I was not able to be at the party, the party guests took to twitter to tell me what they thought of said cake in no uncertain terms. And they were not happy. In fact, the cake seems to have achieved some sort of legendary status with guests regaling other friends with tales of its awfulness. Most of the complaints seemed to be about the texture; the birthday girl said that she thought the cake would probably bounce if it was thrown against the wall. The baker of the cake's boyfriend diplomatically said that it was 'a bit chewy'.
I, therefore, decided that I should make the cake to see for myself as I seemed to be getting a lot of the blame. Who would be right? My friends or the crazy people on the internets?
I should probably point out at this stage that the friends this cake was made for were once crazy people on the internets until they just became crazy people in my real life. I should also point out that I have complete confidence in the crazy person on the internets who baked the cake. I have eaten many hundreds of her perfectly baked cakes without a single complaint.
So I got up early last Saturday to make my cake. I followed the recipe as exactly as I could. The batter tasted good (and, on a side note, I'm going to start some medication soon which can compromise your immune system and therefore I'm not supposed to eat anything with raw eggs. Like cake batter. So much woe). I was worried that the cake seemed a little bit rubbery when I took it the pans but decided to reserve judgement until it cooled. In the spirit of laziness, I couldn't be bothered to do anything more exciting than whip up some heavy cream with a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to make the filling as I was expecting it to be consigned to the rubbish bin.
Except I really liked it. I cut a couple of slices for the sake of pretty pictures before taking a bite. The next thing I knew, I had eaten both slices. On Sunday evening, we ate the last two slices with a scoop of ice cream. We didn't really mean to eat a whole cake in 36 hours - I'm still not entirely sure how it happened - but we did. Mainly because the cake was delicious. It was quite a dense cake, yes, but only in the way that good chocolate cakes are and I was surprised at how it managed to be so light at the same time. Looks like this round went to the crazy people of the internets.
When I was training as an accountant, we did a really interesting exercise. Our class divided into two groups and each group went into a different room and drew a picture of a house on a large sheet of paper. The groups wrote instructions on how to draw their houses, swapped instructions and then had to follow the other group's instructions without seeing what the finished picture looked like. Each group followed the other group's instructions to the letter but the drawings bore absolutely no resemblance to each other.
It is almost impossible to write good instructions. If you give 10 people exactly the same instructions, you will get 10 completely different results.
I think that this can be applied just as much to recipes. You can give 10 people the same recipe and there not going to come up with anything like the same cake because everyone has their own interpretations of what 'light and fluffy' or 'smooth and creamy' is. Not to mention the fact that there are all sorts of other variables that could effect the end result. What works for one person is just not going to work for another and that is nobody's fault.
I think that's the biggest challenge when it comes to both writing and reading recipes, working out how you can express what appears to you to be a very simple instruction in a way that everyone will understand and will do in exactly the same way. And, frankly, it's nigh on impossible. I learnt an important lesson thanks to this recipe.
Plus I got to spend the whole weekend eating cake.
As I made no changes to the recipe and followed it exactly as written, I haven't included it in this post. It can be found here though and probably about a million other places online.