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January 2018

Failcake

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I've successfully made a sourdough starter this week but have been putting off actually making a loaf of sourdough because of the time involved. Baking sourdough bread requires a lot of kneading and resting and activity, and it's just too much for a weeknight or pretty much any time ever, really. I won't go into the whole thing, as the internet is full of sourdough explanations. But basically to make the starter and keep it going you have to keep feeding it flour and water, and eventually you have to pour off some of the old to make room for the new.

As a result, there are a ton of recipes out there meant to take advantage of the discarded mixture so you're not just dumping perfectly good batter in the sink every day. Yesterday I made sourdough blueberry pancakes and they were frigging fantastic, so I thought I could try making a vegan sourdough chocolate cake from a recipe in the Sandor Katz fermentation book.

The recipe came together quickly, and the batter was pleasingly bubbly, just how you'd imagine a sourdough batter should be. It tasted delicious when I licked the spoon: chocolatey, not too sweet, a little tangy. I put the cake in the oven and began to make the frosting, and there things began to go off the rails.

The chocolate chips we had turned out to have milk solids in them, which meant that the frosting was terrible in all the ways the vegan version of things can sometimes be--oily, flat, weirdly clumpy--but without any of the advantages of being vegan; namely, that vegans could actually eat it. There are some vegans and non-dairy-eaters and people with lactose intolerance at my work, which was the intended destination for this cake, and now none of them could partake. Well, that was crappy, but there were still plenty of people who could, so I pressed on.

I let the cake cool before I frosted it. It turned right out of the pans, which I took as a good sign. It was clear the horrible frosting wasn't going to spread, so I sort of ground it into the top and sides as best I could--it was a layer cake and especially tricky to cover, even if I hadn't been using frosting that resembled tarry sand--and then I tried a piece. The slice sort of flopped over onto the plate and disintegrated, but the first bite was pretty good.

With the second bite I discovered the huge clumps of unincorporated sourdough starter. The recipe had stressed that the batter should be stirred as little as possible, so I had given it a few swirls with the whisk and figured the lumps would dissolve the way they do with pancakes. They did not. The cake was studded with them; they were gummy and globular.

It wasn't very good, but I wasn't ready to let go just yet. Maybe a second opinion would clarify things.

Eric came home from work a few minutes later. "Don't get too excited," I said, but his nose was twitching and his eyebrows were raised at the prospect of a delicious dessert. Then he tried the cake and his face fell. 

"I was thinking I could still take it to work," I said. "I'd explain that it was a baking failure. I mean, it's not a great cake, but it's still cake."

"You could trick them," he said. "Tell them it's really good and act like you're so proud of it and then sneak away while everyone eats it and discovers the truth."

I barked with hurt laughter. "I can't take it to work, can I?"

"No," he said gently. "You can't."

"I have to throw it out, don't I?"

"I'm sorry," he said.

As I was writing this, he brought me a Thin Mint. It was very good.