A couple of weeks ago I came upon the most gorgeous-looking recipe for Oven-Poached Quince from an equally gorgeous Melbourne-based food blog. I was mesmerised. The blogger sang of the riches of seasonal Autumn produce, the heady aroma of simmering spices and the generous ruby-red reward after hours of slow cooking. I was thrilled to try it. I’d not eaten poached quince before, but as a raving fan of quince paste, jam and jelly – I was delighted by the wonderfully arcadian idea of popping a few oven-poached quince wedges into my porridge each morning. I tracked down fresh quinces at my local organic grocer, almost sliced a(nother) finger off cutting them up, and piled my spices and water and sugar into a cast-iron dish. As the apartment filled with the tantalising scent of anise and cardamom, I started to feel mighty proud of myself.
Six hours later, however, when I lifted the dish from the oven and cracked the lid – my stomach fell with that dreaded ‘this definitely does not look like the picture’ feeling. Instead of plump, ruby-red pieces in a vibrant, juicy syrup – I had a thick, sticky mess highly reminiscent of True Blood -esque vampire remains.
My quince caper was a total failure.
I’ll admit, the whole thing left me feeling very disheartened. For some reason, this didn’t just feel like a stuff-up. It was a failure. There would be no wedges of oven-poached quince in my porridge, and the tentative blog post I was excitedly dreaming up on seasonal foodie adventures was now kaput. I’d spent precious money on fresh fruit and spices, all for nothing. The fact that I’d initially been so thrilled and optimistic now made me feel naive and impostor-like.
The very next day, I put my apron back on (but very nearly, almost didn’t) to tackle Cupcake Central’s Salted Caramel Cupcakes for the first time as a pre-Easter treat for the Ruby Slipper office. And as I took those cupcakes out of the oven, I felt a little flicker of hope. They looked kinda perfect. I even took out my camera. Perhaps I’d not lost a blog post after all.
After making up some salted caramel, my spirits were seriously lifting. I love making caramel – oh, that magical moment when the syrup turns amber, that great puff as you pour in the cream! And what fun it was to cut little cores in the cakes to spoon in hidden caramel pockets, before popping the tops back on. These cupcakes would be my saving grace, I thought.
Moments later, I realised my buttercream frosting had split.
I had no time or ingredients to start again. The frosting was useable – but I couldn’t un-see that ever-so-slight separation of the mixture. And so here it was. Another failure. I did the messiest, most frustrated frosting job I’ve ever done, and poured on some extra salted caramel. As I left home that night for dinner with friends, I messaged Mat – “The cupcakes I made look like absolute arse, I was too frustrated to try one properly before I left so you are welcome to try but the icing is just a giant fail. Not winning in the kitchen lately! :(“
A couple of hours later I received his reply.
“What. Are. You. Smoking. That was delicious. So yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.”
The ladies of Ruby Slipper and friends had rather similar thoughts. Despite my continual apologies for the ugly icing, no-one seemed to care – and in fact insisted I was bordering on delusional. It seemed that while I was determined to sell the cupcakes as a total failure, they were actually a hit. To realise as such was an interesting and perhaps even humbling moment.
Baking blunders certainly aren’t the end of the world. I started this blog as a place to share my explorations and wanderings – but to also share the journey of learning and discovery. Labelling something solely as a failure neglects the importance of the learning experience, and tends to rule out the possibility that something good may indeed still come of it. It’s also an awfully serious way of looking at the world, and I know that’s just not my style. In a world of beautiful blogs and carefully constructed Instagram uploads, it’s easy to imagine that botched quince and split buttercream simply don’t exist. Well, turns out they do. And I’m going to stop beating myself up about it.