Our bellies bulged from the scrumptious Christmas supper my mother had prepared. Gift wrap was scattered across the floor like autumn leaves. Presents had been exchanged, thank you’s said, and only one thing was left to complete this joyous Noel: dessert.
I carefully placed the ginger cheesecake I prepared onto the cake plate. Its pure white top was smoother than freshly lain snow. Home-baked gingerbread cookies shaped as squirrels rimmed the edge of the cake like a crown. I was proud of my creation. The cake was beautiful, and I was confident that it would taste wonderful. The family eagerly gathered at the table for a spicy sweet ending to our evening.
One bite of the cake disappointed me. Where was the ginger flavor? After the second bite, I wondered if I actually liked cheesecake. This tasted like whipped cream cheese. Salty whipped cream cheese.
The guests at the table ate in complete silence — not the silence of blissful chewing but an uncomfortably polite quiet. My stepfather sweetly managed to praise the cake’s smoothness. At least one plate of cake remained uneaten, and no one asked for seconds.
Later I realized that I neglected to add sugar. How I missed that crucial ingredient I’ll never know. Could I have forgotten it when I was interrupted to nurse the baby or was I distracted by a toddler-sized train being driven through my kitchen? Regardless, the cake was thoroughly disappointing – more so because I was so pleased with myself. My time and ingredients resulted in something more appropriate for a bagel — or garbage pail –than a dessert plate.
My husband rescued the cheesecake. At his suggestion, we dose our cake with syrup. Maple syrup penetrated the slices, delivering the missing sweetness and making the cheesecake much more edible than it was Christmas Day.
I suppose there are a few morals to glean from this debacle.
1. Pride goeth before a fall, or taste the cake before you brag about it.
2. Mise en place. This French phrase, which is translated “everything in its place,” is quoted by just about even spectacular chef or baker including Julia Child and Cake Bible author Rose Levy Beranbaum. If I had mise en place, my counters would have been clear, my ingredients measured prior to baking, and the recipe thoroughly read. Sugar would certainly have been included in the cake.
3. Maple syrup can solve almost any problem. My Vermont family is right, maple sugar is one of the most amazing foods.