Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Plum Post

This post could have had many other headlines: I Grilled A Cake, How My California Dream Died, Holding On To A Memory - and Failing, Salvage and Redemption, etc, etc. You get the drift.

I went on a work trip to San Francisco last month and was housed in a hotel fairly close to the piers. At Ferry Plaza, I came across a farmer's market twice during my 4-day stay there. On Pier 39, there was a fruit stall that carried glorious cherries and strawberries and several other fruit.The farmer's market was full of plums and peaches and I tasted each variety and bought lots and lots of fruit. The fruit was very sweet and juicy, unlike the tart plums and peaches we get here in India.

I should have left it at that and not tried to convert a memory into a reality, however impermanent. I came back the next week and promptly bought some small plums (locally known as alubukhara, I think) and four big ones. They are sometimes called nectarines, but mostly, they go by 'plum'. What's in a name, though? They were as sour as ever. California slipped away a little more.

There was no way I was going to strip the enamel off my teeth any further. I set about looking for recipes where I could use them in a cake or a pudding and came across several. Some of them were for something called a plum buckle. Naturally, I knew that was what I would try as I had never before come across anything called a buckle. It seemed fairly easy to make too.

I combined a few recipes I found on the Internet. I marvelled at my brainwave to use Yakult as a substitute for the buttermilk the recipe demanded. I was slightly perturbed when the plum pieces sank in and didn't look like rubies studding the batter, as they did in the pictures on the Internet. They will rise when it bakes, I told myself. I was not overly worried that the sugar still helped its crystal shape. I put it in to bake.

Almost immediately I smelt it burning. I thought it might have been the sugar melting - in the pack I used, the sugar came in large crystals and I added a little extra because the plums were really, really tart. "Do not overthink everything, just do it," I told myself (channelling my friend, not Nike), and resolutely let the timer tick 25 minutes off the dial.

The burning smell did not cease to waft. I gave in at the 26th minute, switched off the oven and checked. The top was charred. I stuck a knife into the centre and it came out moist. I baked it some more and cooled it for an hour. Then I flipped it over and while it looked really pretty, like a plum upside down cake, it was all gooey and eggy as the batter had not baked all the way to the bottom or all around the cake. It was a wonder it held its shape even after being flipped.

And then I noticed that the oven was in 'Grill' mode from a previous experiment, not in 'Bake' mode. No wonder the top got charred right away! No wonder it didn't bake all the way down or around. I changed the setting on the oven and baked it for 20 minutes.

I cooled it again, cut and discarded the charred portion, scraped the rest of it into a box and took it to the Refuge of Failed Experiments (aka The Office) where my indulgent colleagues ate it, giggling, and even complimented me. Though one of them took the trouble to tell me he didn't like it, and that one had to have imagination to call it a cake. I forgave him.

After all, I had been resourceful. Earlier, such experiments would have gone straight into the dustbin. I would have been sick with guilt over the time, materials and money wasted on the effort. But now, I had made the most of a bad deal. I had managed to get it out of my house where it would serve as a reminder of my guilt and managed, instead, to create some 'colleague delight'. I had forgiven myself by doing all this. And I will not forget to check the settings on the oven in a hurry, here on. I managed to get it out of my system.

What lessons did your dessert-gone-wrong teach you?