My dearest Athenaeus,
Gracious! Your own Dear Abby must remind you that she risks the big spoon when she relays these things to Chef Henri. But for you, my pet, she will do it!
She went to Henri and told him of your troubles and those of the esteemed Kyle.
Chef Henri sighed deeply, put down his handful of spoons and reached for his yellow Bic BrightLiner. He highlighted the following line on his faded copy of the Poppy Seed Chocolate Torte recipe:
Bake at 350 for 40 to 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out almost clean and top is cracked and crusty.
Henri then looked at Dear Abby and she feared the worst, but he merely explained:
(You must understand, Abby asked Florence to be there in order to transcribe what Henri said, but also to help protect her from any flying spoons!)
" There are many variables in baking, Madame -- not only equipment, but climate -- altitude and humidity, for which the baker learns to compensate. So I will assume that this was not a factor here. Ask these people three questions.
1. Have their ovens been properly calibrated? Even a new oven can be off by several degrees. As Madame knows, I do most of my baking now in the convection oven, but I have baked this torte in conventional ovens with no problem.
2. If they were confident that their oven temps are fairly accurate, did they bake for the full 50 minutes before testing, or only 40? Since overbaking would make this cake dry and tough, the shorter baking time listed in a recipe is given for those whose ovens tend to run hotter than indicated. One generally knows if this is the case with their particular oven. (As Madame knows, despite repeated calibrations and adjustments, one of our ovens still bakes a bit fast and I do not use it for fine baking, if it can be avoided.)
3. Did the toothpick come out "almost clean"? If not, then I will state the obvious and say that you must continue to bake (as clearly stated) "until toothpick inserted near center comes out almost clean and top is cracked and crusty". Do not raise the temperature, only increase the time, even if it takes longer than 50 minutes "until toothpick inserted near center comes out almost clean".
When this recipe states that "a small amount of chocolate on the toothpick means cake will be moist and fudgy", he means a small amount -- nothing more! It is not acceptable for the cake tester to be coated in chocolate!
Is this so very complicated, Madame? It is a simple recipe. Do you dare to imply that I misled your friends when I cautioned against overbaking? We are not instructing children, Madame!
Now if you will excuse me, Madame, I must return an urgent call from Valentino's majordomo."
As you see, dear Athenaeus, Abby risks losing Henri! Though, to be truthful, she does not believe that Henri would really leave her. He is a most devoted man.
What my mother believed about cooking is that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you.