This weekend I did the one thing you’re never supposed to do when baking dessert for a dinner party- I tried out a new recipe. And not just any recipe but a rather ambitious one, all things considered.
I basically attempted to recreate the staple of Carnival season- the almighty King Cake. Every restaurant and bakery has a signature version of it, the more decadent the better. You can expect to find at least one or two at every gathering you attend between 12th Night and Fat Tuesday. It replaces donuts at the office and takes over display cases at the grocery store. So when I say ambitious, I mean it.
If you're lost, allow me to explain. King Cake isn't a batter cake, it's a giant ring of bread-like dough stuffed with anything from cinnamon to cream cheese (and everything in between) and sprinkled in yellow, purple and green sugar. After it's baked, a plastic baby is stuffed into the bottom, and whoever gets the piece with the baby has to bring the next cake. Everyone has a favorite King Cake, and people actually argue over which is better... Dong Phuong, Manny Randazzo's etc.
Three years ago I gave up eating white flour and sugar which makes living in New Orleans a bit of a challenge around certain "seasons", this being no exception. King Cake is more of a cultural institution than anything, and wanting to fit in can be tough when you're the only person who's not eating it. My dad used to joke, "Never trust a man who doesn't drink" and a similar theme can be applied here.
So that afternoon, only three hours before the party, I destroyed my kitchen baking a gluten / dairy / and sugar-free king cake. Having researched several recipes and finally settling on one from a paleo website (huge mistake) I committed to rising yeast and grinding my own powdered sugar from dried coconut nectar. The process was deeply satisfying and beyond anything I have ever attempted, but it was doomed to fail because you basically need certain ingredients to make a thing taste like a thing and I'm still learning those tricks. (Truth be told, I have yet to taste a gluten free version of anything that's even close.)
The minute I pulled it out of the oven, I knew. I could tell by eyeing the crust that it wasn't even close to real king cake. Too dry, too crumbly, zero fluff, etc.
But I brought it to the party anyway (because g-dammit I'd put my heart into this thing) and feigned good humor. “If you don’t expect king cake you won’t be disappointed” I laughed, and “that’s what I get for thinking I could cheat Mardi Gras.” To make things worse I’d posted all these process pics on my IG and FB stories, and even though no one else knew the end result, I KNEW. I felt like a fraud. Like my cake was shit, an absolute disaster which made me an absolute disaster by proxy. Like if Donald Trump was in the room he'd be puckering his mouth and pointing at me, "It's a hoax!! Fake cake! Lock her up."
Only a few people at the party tried the damn thing, and I winced every time I saw the crumbling crust fall apart in their fingers. Needless to say I came home with 2/3's of a cake. The hostess was gracious enough, asked me to leave her a slice, but everyone else was avoiding eye contact as I wrapped it up and did the cakewalk of shame.
(In case you're feeling sorry for me, don't. I don't need your pity, I need humor. I need someone to say "Oh my God, yes!" because they understand how insidious our perfection-obsessed culture can be and how ridiculous this story is. I need someone to laugh with me because otherwise, it's rather sad isn't it?)
But then something wonderful happened... an unexpected twist.
The next day I absent-mindedly pulled a piece of the crust off and while letting it dissolve in my mouth I realized that I'd actually baked a giant scone! A perfect, delicious, gluten free, low carb, apple, cinnamon and maple pecan stuffed scone that wouldn’t put my body into inflammatory shock. I hadn't enjoyed a scone in years, and so I immediately brewed a cup of strong English tea and after that, everything changed. EVERYTHING.
It occurred to me that so often in life we confuse failure with invention. We rush to reach an end product and thereby devalue the process. We fail to see that our mistakes can be discoveries, that it's about the journey AND the destination.
And sometimes we even miss our true calling because we're blind sighted by something else. Like Lauryn Hill sang, "Don't be a hard rock when you really are a gem, baby girl..."
This all happens to be the perfect analogy for the astrology this week. Keep an open mind. Expect answers and solutions to come from unexpected sources. And don't throw the baby out with the bathwater! Great innovation comes from trial and error.
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