Monday, February 9, 2009

How to make an American birthday cake in Switzerland

1. Decide to make a cake for your coworkers to celebrate your birthday.

2. Put off that plan because nobody else is at work on your birthday.

3. Put the plan off some more because your boss broke her ankle.

4. Dig out the only cake recipe you have. Read the list of ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 oz melted bitter chocolate
5. Decide that this is, indeed, a feasible list of ingredients to assemble in Geneva. Oh, except the buttermilk. Can you make buttermilk from scratch?

6. Google "how to make buttermilk". Google hit #1 says to mix 1 cup of milk with 1 Tbsp of vinegar. Yuck. I don't like vinegar.

7. Keep browsing Google hits until you find a palatable buttermilk recipe. The winner? Mixing 1 cup of milk with 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Lemon juice is good for you.

8. Put on all your winter clothes and heavy coat. It's snowing outside.

9. Realize, just as you're walking out the door, that you don't know how to say "baking soda" and "baking powder" in French, and that come to think of it, you've never seen them in the store before, either.

10. Make an emergency call to your Swiss mom while she's stuck in a snowstorm in France. (How was I supposed to know that she ignored the French weather report that said Do not leave the house unless it is an emergency and went to Megève anyway?) Find out that "baking soda" is "bicarbonate de soude" and that you have to buy it at the pharmacy.

11. Wonder why on Earth baking soda would be sold at the pharmacy as you make your way out to the bus stop in the snow. (It was the French weather report that said to stay home, not the Swiss one!)

12. Pick up all the ingredients you need at the local Coop -- oops, except for the bitter chocolate. They seem to be out.

13. Go to the two largest Coop stores in town. Hmm. They're out of baking chocolate, too. Ask around and find out that they don't carry it anymore.

14. Silently curse the Swiss grocery store monopolies. Coop was the only grocery store chain that carried bitter baking chocolate. Nervously pick out powdered chocolate for crème dessert and buy it as a substitute.

15. Go home. Start feeling sick. Put off making the cake until you're well.

16. A week later, decide to make the cake. Assemble all the ingredients and measuring tools on the kitchen counter. Um... how big is a cup? I haven't seen one in over a year.

17. Decide that a cup is about the size of one of the glasses in your cabinet and pull it out. Begin reading the instructions.
  • Cream sugar & butter.
18. Decide to let the butter sit out on the counter for half an hour, since you have to cream the butter and sugar by hand. Go to your room and take notes from Vinay and Darbelnet's Stylistique comparée du français et de l'anglais for your thesis.

19. Return to the kitchen. Cream the sugar and butter. Read the next instruction.
  • Add vanilla.
20. Pry the teeny cap off the teeny vial of (fake) vanilla. Reminisce about the wonderful Mexican vanilla they sell in San Antonio.

21. Try (and fail) to pour the vanilla in the mixing bowl. Take a knife and stick it in the top of the vanilla vial to widen the opening.

22. Try (and fail -- again) to pour the vanilla in the mixing bowl. Shake the vial out of frustration. Oh, that's how you're supposed to get the vanilla out. Well, at least most of it made it in the bowl. Next instruction.
  • Add egg yolks.
23. Hmmm. I've never separated eggs before. Will a spoon work?

24. Yes, the spoon works. Awesome. Three perfectly separated eggs.
  • Add dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk.
25. Oops. Forgot to make the buttermilk. It has to stand for five minutes.

26. Twiddle thumbs.

27. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk. Mix by hand.
  • Mix in melted chocolate.
28. At least this part is easy! There's just a hair too little chocolate (had to use what little was left of my baking chocolate) but oh well.
  • Fold in beaten egg whites.
29. Crap. (Am I allowed to say "crap" on my blog? It's an accurate representation of what I thought at the time...) We don't have a beater. How on Earth am I going to get stiff white peaks by hand?

30. Lose track of time as you beat the living daylights out of the three egg whites.

31. Holler out at your roommates in frustration, "Any of y'all feel like helping me in here?!"

32. Have your roommate pull out the beater that you didn't know you had. Let her finish beating the egg whites while you preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C, right? Don't feel like going to look it up).

33. Come to think of it, maybe I'll set the oven to 160°C. It cooks mighty fast.

34. Fold in the beaten egg whites.

35. Pull out your cake pan and realize that it's a 10" round, not a 9" round. Pour half the cake batter inside, decide that making a two-layer cake isn't going to work, and pour in the rest of the cake batter. Cross your fingers that it doesn't overflow in the oven.

36. Stick the cake pan in the oven. Check after 20 minutes (the oven cooks fast, remember?) Stick it back in for 10 more minutes. This time, the knife comes out clean.

37. As the cake cools, make the icing from memory. 250 g (1 cup) butter, 1 package powdered sugar, another vial of (fake) vanilla, heavy cream, and 150 g melted baking chocolate. No, scratch that last part. 90 g powdered chocolate, plus a little extra heavy cream.

38. Beat by hand and wonder whether your arms are about to fall off.

39. Once the cake has cooled and acquired a bizarre slant, ice it. Make the icing thicker in the places where the cake has sunk so that it looks flat on top.

40. Take the cake to work. Serve. Yum.

The end.


naechstehaltestelle said...

Making typical desserts in Switzerland is always a pain, especially if the ingredients aren't always available. I was sent a great recipe for pumpkin cookies but nearly died looking at the thing - where was I supposed to find molasses, canned pumpkin, shortening, and several other ingredients? I always look for the simplest recipe. There's buttermilk in the Coop here. It's always in the milk section next to the yogurty drinks.

Tom said...

That was one complicated recipe! But at least now you know where to get Baking Soda, and what it's called. That's cool. Oh - your fingers make the best egg separator, if you're not too worried about gooey fingers. As for myself, I'd keep looking for recipes if the one I'd picked called for egg whites whipped into stiff peaks.

Happy Birthday!

Rhonda said...

I hope it was as fun making it as it was to read about you making it! hugs from Texas!

Mutuelle sante said...

Thanks it is a fantastic support, now to make an american birthday cake in switzerland is definitely simple utilizing your advice. Kudos