I used to like to cook. I liked it when I had my mom’s pantry to raid, which was kept well stocked with basics, and special ingredients would appear if I requested them. I liked it when I knew the names of ingredients I was working with. I liked it when I could follow a recipe, but I also I liked it when I my substituting experiments came out delicious. It was a stress relief for me.
These days, I need extra patience to attempt a kitchen adventure. I’m lucky to find the basic ingredients that my mom kept so well stocked. Forget anything special. I do a lot of substitutions, but not with happy results. On the chance that I decide to follow a recipe from my Korean cook book, I’m lucky if following the recipe yields a success because the ingredients are a mystery to me. And if supplies are available, I still have the hurdle of a 6 inch tall gas oven in front of me. Flatbread, anyone?
Sometimes, I think something is delicious only to find it’s too sweet for any of my Korean associates. Sometimes, I think something has no taste only to find out that my Korean associates would like to take it home and share it with their families.
With these things in mind, I decided to bake my boyfriend a birthday cake, even though I could buy one at the store that would be presentable and fit his taste buds. That’s because he’s the best and I knew no matter how my cake turned out, he would appreciate it. And maybe we would laugh together as we ate it anyway. We’re both good at eating bad food.
I had lemons in my fridge, (incidentally USA grown lemons- home grown, haha!) so I decided lemon cake was the way to go. I put a lemon and my little bottle of vanilla in my backpack to make the 1 and 1/2 hour trek to an oven that I knew I could use. (Hello, church!)
If I ever move to a new dwelling in Korea, I would be willing to pay extra and compromise on missing space in order to have an oven.
The first lemon cake recipe that came up on my go-to cooking app, Yummly, had the simplest ingredients I’ve seen in a while. That’s the problem with cooking apps, everyone’s trying to impress.
This Lemon Cake was my baking experiment. First, I melted butter like the recipe said. One thing I lament about butter here is that the sticks don’t come with the measurements printed on the wrapper. So I planned on just melting an estimated amount of butter, then measuring.
Next I prepared my lemon by taking what I thought was a zester tool, and vigorously peeling the skin off my lemon. Turns out that tool was actually for making juice or for grating dry ingredients. All my precious zest was just stuck on the little grater knives, and not coming off. Because I thought I just wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasted a little more zest before switching to a regular fine cheese grater. Lemon zest juice, anyone?
When I got to the stage of dumping everything in, of course I forgot to measure the melted butter. It all went in.
Finally, instead of using a big round pan, I used cupcake tins. I normally would just use oil on the pan instead of cupcake papers because who wants to waste any cake because it’s stuck to the paper?! Not to mention wasting paper on cake. But I put papers in this time to be more presentable. Happy accident- the cake separated perfectly from the paper! Either the Korean papers are amazing, or I really put too much butter.
The end product was delicious. Knowing my mistake, I’ve kept the butter thing a secret and no one has said anything because they’re too busy eating cake! The taste wasn’t affected too much because my lemon zest juice was so strong, but the texture is somewhere between a lemon bar and a cake. They also came out quite flat- no rise like a cupcake at all- so I dusted the tops with powdered sugar and decided to put ice cream on top.
Bonus, my coworkers/taste testers at church gave the thumbs up of approval before I took my boyfriend’s cupcakes home. I admit I tried it too, and when my boyfriend and I ate cake together later to celebrate, he ate two. I guess we’re even!