We learned some tough lessons at the Louisiana 3-Pot Cookoff! Dispite lots of practice and careful preparation, our four-layer lemon curd cake with white chocolate buttercream flopped. The lemon curd was a complete failure.
The cakes baked up beautifully! I adjusted the recipe to increase the volume by 25% and divided the batter into four eight-inch camp Dutch ovens. Each cake was level and the same size, so that wasn’t a problem. After we removed the charcoal and let the Dutch ovens cool off, the cakes came out easily – no need for the parchment lifters at all.
Same for the frosting – whipped up perfectly, despite the heat. The egg whites easily came to 140 degrees Farenheit in our improvised camp Dutch oven double boiler and then whipped up into a light, fluffy frosting with the white chocolate. We put the frosting in a cooler with ice and it was perfect when it came time to frost the cake. Two of the three complicated steps went just as planned.
The lemon curd was a disaster. Runny and thin, not thick and creamy. Clear, not yellow. It was so sad! We tried twice but both batches failed. Frustrated is too tame of a word to describe my dissapointment. When I put it on the cake, it ran out all over the side and bottom of the cake. Useless!!
In our practice rounds, the curd thickened up beautifully, in just a few minutes, making a creamy and luscious lemon powerhouse of flavor. But not at Chemin-A-Haut! The curd would not set up! I don’t really know why it flopped but my best guess is that the heat (over 100 Farenheit) and humidity must have been part of the problem. The ambient temperature is the only difference I can think of when comparing the practice runs and the cookoff.
The heat and humidity were brutal! The six teams competing had to endure extremely difficult environmental challenges. We drank an entire case of water, poured ice water over our heads, pressed ice-packed bandanas around our necks, and somehow found the strength to soldier on through the four and a half hours of cooking. I nearly collapsed in the air conditioned cabin when the cookoff ended.
It was a beautiful cake, but without the lemony curd in the three layers, the flavor was less than impressive and it was a bit dry. The lemon curd was critical to the overall success of the cake so without it, the cake flopped.
Our bread and main dishes both won first place, but because the cake flopped, we ended up second place over all. Here is the winning dessert, a goregous Fruit of the Forrest pie, baked by our friends Bill Ryan and Terry Cobb.
The main lesson I learned is to be prepared for flops, especially when tackling complex and challenging recipes. This is especially true for baking because baking requires perfection where other cooking tasks are more forgiving. Being prepared for failure requires inner emotional strength to perservere and not give up. In the middle of the cookoff, I felt like quitting. It was so hot and I was so disappointed, I would have quit but my better-half kept me going. He knew how frustrated I was but he also knew we could make it.
Difficult lessons learned indeed but useful for future cookoffs!