the story of the exploding champagne jam
My little Florida family just returned home from traveling for the holidays. We took a crazy road trip up to the DC area for Christmas, driving the 20 hours straight on the way up. (On the way back we were older and perhaps a little wiser and stopped for the night.) Our vacation with family in DC was wild and busy and fun and filled with SO much love, especially because all our siblings were together for a reunion in celebration of our dad's 60th birthday. Sophie was there with a gorgeous glow, snuggling her 2-week-old newborn girl. Maria blew us all away with her strength and endurance as she navigated holiday baking and cooking with a first-trimester stomach (yay for more babies! boo for morning sickness)--all while still managing to SMASH out those workouts.
Returning home to Florida in a new year (hello, 2018) got me reminiscing on the year just passed, not least because my own home now appears to hold tremendous calm compared to the chaos of a 40-person family reunion.
One of the things I found myself reflecting on is where I was about a year ago. Last year, we traveled over the holidays to visit Noah's family in Colorado, returning home to Florida a few days after Christmas. Our homecoming was anything but calm that year. You see, I had agreed to make a wedding cake for a dear friend who was getting married on New Year's Eve. She asked me to make the cake for her wedding. To be specific, she asked for an 8-inch display cake and 300 cake pops in an assortment of flavors.
I've made desserts in large quantities before, often for events serving 100-300 people, but there is a lot of pressure for the dessert to be executed well for a wedding, since it will be gazed upon throughout the reception and prominently featured in photos. And, you know, brides. :) But I've made zillions of layer cakes, so I really wasn't worried about this one.
The cake pops, on the other hand, were going to be a bit of a challenge. Cake pops take so much time to make, from mixing up the cake batter, baking the cakes, cooling them, breaking them apart and combining them with frosting, to rolling them into equal-sized balls, to chilling them, dipping them, and then decorating them...it was a long process. Especially because I was decorating them with pizzazz (it was New Years Eve, after all). Also, I had a one-year old. Also, I was 16 weeks pregnant. All of that to say that I was focused on the cake pops and other things and not at all worried about the layer cake.
The day before the wedding, I made the champagne cake layers. They chilled in the freezer while I cooked up a batch of strawberry champagne jam. While that cooled, I whipped up the champagne frosting. In the late evening, I took a break from the cake pop assembly line in order to assemble the display cake.
The two layers released from the pans like a dream. No problem. They split in half evenly, yielding four thin layers. So far so good. One layer went down on the prepared cake board. It was topped with a thin layer of frosting, then a ring of piped frosting around the edge to create a dam for the jam. The jam slid in and spread around, a beautiful red against the golden champagne frosting. So pretty. The next layer went on top. More frosting, a dam, the jam. Another layer. The frosting, a dam, the jam. Last layer. Frosting on top. Frosting all around the sides. Smooth, smooth smooth. It's done. I put the cake in the fridge and went to sleep.
The next morning I woke up ready to go. The wedding was in the early afternoon. It would be followed by a long break, and the reception started in the later evening (since it was to go through midnight). I had to finish up the remaining cake pops, plate them on platters, make labels, finish the decorations on the champagne cake, and then transport it all to the reception. Then return home, get myself dressed, and arrive at the wedding by 2pm. Plenty of time.
Opening the fridge in the morning, I was met with a strange sight. The cake was still there, but the frosting was bulging, bubbling in spots, like tumorous growths. A number of the bulges were cracked, and a brilliant red liquid was oozing out. Can you imagine what it was like to see these bloody, cracked tumorous growths on the sides of the glittering champagne cake? Horror. Disgust. Puzzlement. This was not on my schedule for the day.
Acting quickly, I made another batch of champagne frosting. I completely frosted the cake a second time, making sure there was a generous barrier of frosting on all sides. Sure, it would be a frosting overload, but at least the bulges were gone! Back into the fridge it went.
Later in the morning, I checked on it again. The bulges were back! Red bloody goo continued to ooze from cracks. What on earth? What the heck? I cried. There was a complete breakdown in the kitchen. Anxiety. Fear. Panic.
I was running low on butter, completely out of champagne, and it wasn't clear another layer of frosting would fix the situation. I was resolved. It was me vs. the bulges. Still sniffling and shaking from the meltdown, and acting in a crazed frenzy, I cut a strip of parchment paper, melted a bowl of white chocolate, smeared it all over the parchment, and flung it around the cake. There!
I stepped back. Okay. Wow. That's really not going to work. The paper was wrinkled. Oh dear. The chocolate had already begun to set. It was firm against the frosting. There was no going back. I peeled off the parchment. The cake looked like it was wrapped in a white paper bag. How to fix this? I grabbed the bottle of edible gold spray paint, and went to town. I literally hosed down the cake. There was nothing more I could do, there was no way to incorporate my original plans for piped frosting and lace. All I could do was try to glam it up.
I took a break. The important thing was to focus on finishing the cake pops and get everything over to the reception. Except now there wasn't enough time... We ended up going to the wedding ceremony (where my husband was hosed down himself with applesauce that 1-year-old Catherine had gotten ahold of) and then returning home. I worked on finishing the cake pops. When those were done, I returned to the cake. It was kind of sad. Now it was wrapped in a golden paper bag. To try to help it out a bit, I stuck a flower on top. There was nothing I could do at this point. It was beyond my control. Literally.
Later on in the evening, I related to my table the story of the oozing red bulges. Everyone laughed. The cake looked fine to them. Maybe even a little bit fancy, a little bit hip, with all that golden shine. They had no idea of the grandeur of my original design. Nor that I had been sneaking over to the cake table while no one was looking and wiping away the red goo that continued to ooze out from under that chocolate collar, right up to its very (bloody) end.
One year later, reflecting on this event, I wonder: what's the moral of the story? What did I learn from this experience?
That some things are beyond our control. You have to improvise and move on. You have to accept the dose of humility when circumstances force it upon you. And perhaps I should revisit the way I build my frosting dams. Or maybe just stay away from exploding strawberry champagne jam. But really, that love conquers all. I mean, that's what the wedding celebration is all about! The cake really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Little about the day itself really matters, except the celebration of the union of two in love into one.
A very happy one year to my dear friends, and Happy New Years to all of our readers! May this year bring you great joy, and, if circumstances transpire to teach you a lesson in humility, may you accept it with serenity and remember to focus on the important things in life!