The Great Christmas Dessert Quandary of 2007: Coconut Shag or Peppermint Brains

I was put in charge of dessert this year…which was great…but also kind of difficult because everyone likes different things and it’s pretty much impossible to please everyone.

My cousin’s husband saw a recipe for fried pies in Gourmet and said that was what he wanted literally just as soon as I walked in the front door. That issue also has a recipe for coconut cake (but one, like Alton Brown suggests, that requires you actually use real coconut and a power drill…which in one respect I think could be kinda fun to do once…but, in another, seems like a complete waste of time given that Baker’s makes it so darn easy). So…that recipe inspired me to make a coconut cake (although not that *exact* coconut cake)…and my aunt likes coconut cake…but then at least two cousins voiced great disapproval and vowed not to eat it if I made it.

One cousin loves cheesecake — but only plain cheesecake. I have a recipe for a pumpkin cheesecake and a cappuccino cheesecake that always go over well…but felt I have made those a lot this season and so I was longing for something different. My aunt has some ancient recipe books (one from the Pillsbury Bake-Off and another from Good Housekeeping…) and there was a recipe for a peppermint cheesecake in one. This seemed like a good solution. The cheesecake-loving cousin refuses to eat one with any flavor, but luckily my aunt and I found a mini cheesecake pan and so we were able to make her a tiny plain one in addition to the big, bad square (see entry below!) peppermint cheesecake.

And even though no one requested it, I really like a recipe for chocolate cream pie I stumbled upon once upon a time and so I made it even though no one asked for it.

Got that? We had a coconut cake, peppermint cheesecake (plus mini plain cheesecake), chocolate cream pie and fried pies. (I think my family is still eating it all…)

Here’s where the crises begin. Now, I’m used to baking alone. I live alone. I bake alone. Sometimes I have problems…and sometimes I call my mom for help. But I always figure it out and my coworkers (or classmates) always generously eat it up even though sometimes my cheesecake is too warm or my pie leaked on the Subway or whatever else goes wrong with any given baked good on any given day.

One *could* say the coconut cake was a disaster from the very beginning. My aunt did not have round cake pans, so I used rectangular ones. (I desperately wanted layers….although maybe it would have been smarter to have just used one big pan.) I *swear* I used nonstick spray, but when I attempted to remove the layers from the Pyrex that had gently held them in the oven, coaxing them to rise and set, they refused to budge.

And then all of a sudden, I had an uncle and a cousin standing over me saying, “Did you use nonstick spray? You didn’t do enough! Why didn’t you use more?” etc., etc. I finally got one of the layers out a bit…but then a corner crumbled off and I had no choice but to try to fasten it back on again later with icing. At this point, my uncle and cousin were trying to pry out the *other* layer while I watched nervously and then blurted out, “That’s okay! You really don’t have to do that!” as I had visions of the cake crumbling to bits on the floor as they tried to wrestle it out. Finally, my uncle said, “I better stop. I’m going to get in trouble.” And they let me wrestle it out myself.

The other problem was that I didn’t know where the big platters were in my aunt’s house, so I ended up putting a rectangular cake on a circular plate. And don’t get me wrong — icing is great as it can hide numerous flaws. But…pretty soon my ugly cake that had lost bits of its bottom when I pried it from the pan started to mix with the icing a bit and so you could see cake bits through the icing. It was unsightly. Luckily, you are supposed to use coconut flakes as garnish and so I thought, “That’s okay! I’ll just use a LOT of coconut flakes!” But, alas, when I was finished with the stupid thing it looked like a giant hunk of shag carpet.

To make matters worse, my family has a lot of dogs and so to prevent the dogs from consuming my “coconut cake,” my aunt hid it in the microwave…which is above the oven…and the oven was on all day…and everyone knows heat rises…so by the time we removed the cake from the microwave post-dinner, most of the icing had sort of melted and sagged. I’m not really one to compliment my own cooking, but it was actually a delicious cake (and I’m not really even all that into coconut) — very moist. Perhaps the moistest cake I have ever made. But you totally had to ignore the looks.

Dessert Disaster #2: remember the cheesecake? Well…you’re supposed to use peppermints as garnish. So…I broke in my new square cheesecake pan…made the chocolate crust with the help of my niece…added the filling…baked it…and it was ready to cool overnight. I had used the Cuisinart to make the filling and so I had also crushed my peppermints while I had the Cuisinart out. So…there was a moment when I thought, “Should I add the mints now or should I wait until tomorrow?” and I thought, “Oh, what the heck…I’ll just throw them on now.”

Fast forward to Christmas Day when the whole family is feasting…I go to the fridge in the garage to bring in my peppermint cheesecake…and wouldn’t you know that not only did the mints melt and turn the cheesecake pink, but it also *cracked* while it was cooling…and so my cheesecake looked very much like brains.

Eww! Is it supposed to look like that??” my relatives asked.

No. It’s not.

So…much like the coconut cake, the only way to save this dessert was with garnish. I had to find the extra peppermints. And find them I did! I was about to get out the Cuisinart once again when one of my relatives said, “Why don’t you just put them in a baggie and use a meat tenderizer to crack them?” Seemed logical to me…so I started banging away and one of my cousin’s husbands made a joke about how no one should mess with me…but then *another* cousin’s husband said, “And you wonder why you can’t find a husband!”

Picture for a moment my distress when I heard his sister-in-law, my happily married cousin, cackling in the living room as a result of this joke. And, you know, there are things I could have fired back with to defend myself…but they would have been mean and they would have caused hurt and upset and so I had to just swallow my pride and say, “Too far, Andy. Too far!” and then I added something about how Columbia has one of the best J-schools ever and I am a student there and I am doing great things with my life! (I don’t really think this phased them though.)

And all of this is not to say that they didn’t all really appreciate all the baking and desserts…and I totally could have just made one thing — all the extra desserts were of my own volition. But, you know, things are different out there…and sometimes I very much feel like a black sheep. Or Bridget Jones. Or maybe a hybrid.

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Filed under Bridget Jones, cake, cheesecake, pie

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