This post marks my matriculation in the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, an audacious group of amateurs and professionals who have agreed to challenge their abilities every month. I’ve been watching their progress—crepe cakes, gateaux St. Honore, bagels—for several months as they popped up on many of the food blogs I read, and at the end of June, I took a deep breath and asked to participate myself.
The Daring Bakers challenge for July was a Strawberry Mirror Cake (for the recipe, visit Peabody’s blog—she graciously hosted this month’s challenge). I’ve never tasted—or seen—or heard of—a mirror cake before, but it looked like a sort of sponge cake or genoise layered with and surrounded by a billowy layer of Bavarian cream and topped with a sheet of flavored gelatin that formed the decorative mirror on top. I’ve never made a sponge cake before, or Bavarian cream, and certainly not a gelatin mirror, but it seemed straight forward enough. Just follow the recipe exactly, and I’ll be fine. Right?
The first issue I encountered was simply the timing. Strawberry season in Oregon is late May and most of June, but it’s pretty well over by the beginning of July. I’ve gone on enough here about the virtues of Oregon strawberries that I immediately started worrying if there would be any left to use by the time my holiday-delayed 10″ glass-bottomed springform pan arrived in the mail. The heat was another issue, since the strawberry harvest drops off significantly after a heat wave like the one that started (of course) on the 4th. Finally, we (almost spontaneously) started ripping up carpet and refinishing our hardwood floors right at the beginning of the month, thanks to a little too much encouragement from our 5-month old German shepherd puppy, Freyja (a.k.a. The Piddler). The house was in chaos: Most of our furniture stuffed in a back room, and flooring supplies were slowing taking over my kitchen, blocking off cupboards and generally making it difficult to get around. At least we didnâ€™t replace the floors in there too! (Not that they donâ€™t need it—the linoleum in there is nasty and ancient, but won’t be replaced until we get around to remodeling the entire kitchen.)
I knew I had to hit the farmer’s market on the first Saturday of the month, July 7th, or face the dire prospect of using frozen or non-local berries for my cake. The problem was that Jeremy was about to rent an orbital sander and wreak dusty havoc on the floors, so Freyja and I both had to get out and let him do his thing. I don’t drive and the puppy loves walking to the market, so I grabbed a bottle of water and two leashes, tightened my belt, and off we went. It’s a hike that we’ve made many times since the market opened in May, about a mile each way. Freyja had a great time walking around the market with me, getting all sorts of attention from people and introducing herself to other dogs. The whole time I was scanning booths for berries, more and more worriedly. Finally, in the back corner stall, alongside a few blueberries and cherries and huge piles of zucchini and cukes and new potatoes, was a row of pint baskets brimming with strawberries. Freyja found a shady spot underfoot and plopped down to rest while I tried to flag down a busy vendor and squeeze some information out of her about the variety. (Her response? They were â€œgoodâ€ and $15 for a half-flat.)
Here’s where it gets interesting. I paid my money and got my half-flat of strawberries, packed up in a full-flat box, and moved away from the busy stall, awkwardly holding the off-balance box with one arm and Freyja’s flexi-leash in the other. Clearly, this was not going to work. I sat down to regroup, distracted the pup from nibbling on my precious berries, and gave her some water, waiting for a revelation. A few moments later I heard the lady at the herb stall saying this was likely to be their last day at the market for the year. Well, I can’t resist buying herbs for my little garden, and I reckoned that they would balance out the weight of the berries. So I ended up with two basils (which I keep buying although I’ve never successfully kept it alive), two gorgeous little cardoon plants (woohoo!), and a bergamot mint. I tied Freyja’s training leash to my belt, took part of it in one hand for some illusion of control, and grabbed the box firmly by the handles. We were off.
I should pause here to note that we have a really smart, beautiful puppy with a great, friendly temperament. She also has lots of energy, weighs 50-odd pounds now, and hadn’t started her formal training yet, so she didn’t know how to heel, in the strictest sense of the word. At least she knows a few other helpful commands. I walked as fast I could manage with a heavy flat of delicate items, and Freyja yanked me to and fro every time something caught her eye. Oh, and the heat was making my glasses slide down to the tip of my nose every few seconds, which was absolutely driving me nuts. We made it about halfway back, to the little park by the Oregon State Capital, but after encounters with about 10 squirrels in a row (darn squirrelly Salem!), I had to take a good long break to rest my arms. Somehow we got back home, and with the last of my strength, I tossed the box down on the front porch, but had to get Jeremy’s help untying the leash. My hand and arm muscles were so fatigued that they didn’t stop shaking for the better part of an hour. But I got my local strawberries, gosh darn it, and I felt a bit like a Daring Baker already.
Whew, this is getting to be quite a novel, and I havenâ€™t even got to the part where I made the cake yet. I swear, Iâ€™m not always this long-winded (or at least Iâ€™d like to think so). More to come in Part 2: The Challenge.
I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.