Triumph from Disaster? The Tale of a Pecan Clumpy Cake
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.......
.......Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
This part of 'If' by Rudyard Kipling often sums up my attitude to baking. It's a fine line between triumph and disaster, and it's not always obvious which way things are going.
Today's cake started off as a bid to use up half a tin of condensed milk lingering in the fridge. I'd seen recipes for condensed milk pound cake on other blogs; they seem to be an Asian speciality. The recipe on Engineer Baker, originally from Pichet Ong’s “The Sweet Spot” seemed a good place to start, although I knew I didn't have enough condensed milk. What I did have though, was Dulce de Leche, which isn't a world away from plain condensed milk - it seemed feasible to make up the weight necessary for the recipe with that.
Next, I wanted to add some flavour - a streusel layer flavoured with pecan nuts and maple syrup soon emerged as a front runner. I chose the maple streusel recipe from these muffins, although I didn't have maple extract. I used brown sugar and added 50g of finely chopped pecan nuts.
I followed the recipe instructions exactly, even though it's counter-intuitive to mix flour into the creamed mixture before the eggs. I assume this helps give the moist, close texture that everyone is so pleased with. I had 180g of condensed milk, so added roughly 60g of Dulce de Leche to make up the weight needed. However, trouble struck as I layered the batter into the loaf tin with the streusel mixture. It should have been obvious after the first half of the cake batter went in, that the tin wasn't going to be big enough, but for some reason I blithely carried on - half the streusel mix, the rest of the cake batter then ........ the tin was full with only a couple of centimetes for expansion, and the top layer of streusel not even all on! Idiot! The worst thing possible for a layered cake. Could I take the risk that the cake wasn't going to rise much? No!
I quickly lined an 8" square tin with baking parchment and lifted the raw cake mix from the loaf tin by grasping the baking parchment liner. I plopped it down into the bigger tin with no batter lost, but it was obvious as I spread the batter that the middle streusel layer was going to be disarranged at best. With no choice left, I scattered on the rest of the top streusel layer and put the cake into the oven.
Watching the cake bake, it was obvious what the next disaster was going to be - the streusel topping was slowly sinking out of sight. At the end of the cooking time, there were only a few indentations in the surface to show where some of the streusel was still near the surface!
When the cake was cold, I cut it into 16 squares. Most of the edge squares looked like this photo, with the clumps of streusel mostly on the bottom but some distributed throughout the cake. In the four centre squares all the streusel had sunk completely.
Fortunately I could still appreciate the fine texture that a condensed milk pound cake has. As others have described, it is firm, moist and close textured without being too dense. It is also not exceptionally sweet, considering the ingredients. I don't think using a little Dulce de Leche affected the flavour much - I certainly couldn't taste any caramel.
In my cake, the little pockets of pecan, maple and cinnamon flavoured crumbs added another dimension to the tasting experience. A subtle variation of texture and flavour which worked really well - although perhaps not as well as a proper streusel topping would have! It only remained to give it a name - the only way to describe the results was to call it a 'clumpy' cake. I probably can't call the results a triumph, but it wasn't a disaster either!
I am now determined to try the condensed milk pound cake as in the original recipe, and not to be so over-confident about altering recipes (for a while).