Monday, December 3, 2012

Oatmeal cake

Piece of oatmeal cake on a fork

Blogging has caused some changes in the way I cook, especially when I'm baking. I do more measuring and less eyeballing these days, even if I'm making things up as I go along. I usually remember to take notes. And if I'm testing a recipe and make a mistake, I might even start over. 

This cake started out as a test batch of my garam masala oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe, until I accidentally added four eggs instead of two. This is not like doubling the amount of chocolate chips or cinnamon; those are changes that you can and should make whenever possible. Structural ingredients like eggs, milk, and flour really do matter, and while you can get away with fudging them a bit, doubling any of them is going to seriously change your texture, and probably not for the better. 

After whipping out a fresh batch of cookies (and confirming that my measurements were just right), I came back to my first bowl. It was a well-blended mess of butter, brown and white sugar, eggs, and vanilla. This is actually a pretty common base for all manner of delicious baked goods. The difference at this stage is more a matter of proportion than ingredients. I figured with two too many eggs this blend was too wet for cookies, but might be salvageable as a cake of some sort.  

As I like to tell novice bakers when they're worrying, anything whose main ingredients are butter and sugar can't taste too terrible. It might be too dense, or too gooey, or too floury, but toast the pieces up and top them with sliced strawberries and whipped cream, and you've got shortcake, no matter what you were trying to make. It is at this point that my friends get calls like, "Hey, I totally screwed up this cake (or pie, or whatever). It's weird. But not bad. You should come over and eat some of it." 

So I added some milk to the wet ingredients, mixed some flour and baking powder in another bowl, and then stirred those in. My instinct for proportions seemed to be off, because the batter felt a little too thick for cake batter. Adding more milk at this point would mean a lot more stirring, which would most likely develop the gluten in the flour, which would make it tough, which would defeat the point of adding more milk.  

Oatmeal cake batter in baking pan

So instead of fighting the heavier texture, I went with it and stirred in a cup of dry oatmeal. There was some logic at the time having something to do with oat muffins. A muffin is basically a heavier, denser cupcake with a handful of blueberries or bran flakes stirred in to make people feel virtuous about eating it for breakfast. (If you don't believe me, look up the nutritional information.) Therefore, dense cake batter + suitable muffin add-in = tasty cake I can eat for breakfast. This is how my brain works.   

So it went from cookies to cake to a sort of muffiny frankencake. 30 minutes later it came out of the oven, warm and golden and fluffy and tender and surprisingly good. Not quite awesome enough to try to re-create the recipe, but tasty. Even the oatmeal worked out, giving it just the right amount of texture, like the streusel in a coffee cake. 

Slice of oatmeal cake