The Cheesecake Incident

"This is how to bake cheesecake. And this is how to ruin it."
“This is how to bake cheesecake. And this is how to ruin it.”

I’m going to tell you a sad story. It’s called, “The Time I Tried to Make a Cheesecake for a Party.”

And, yes, there is a bit of foreshadowing in that title, isn’t there?

Last week, we found out two of our dear, dear friends were moving to Texas. To send them off in style, a group of us decided to put together a little Western-themed going-away party. Everyone chipped in or offered to bring a certain dish or drink for the party.

I offered to bring a cheesecake because it is one of our friend’s favorite dessert.

Nice enough, right? Sound simple, doesn’t it?

But, as you already know, this is a sad story. And sad stories are rarely nice and simple.

Anyone who has ever made a cheesecake before knows that it’s at least a 2-day process if you’re making the real deal. (Your no-bake Jell-o versions need not apply here.) So, the day before the party, I rounded up the ingredients for a Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake with white chocolate chips (roughly $40 of ingredients because baking is expensive, yo) and got to work after dinner.

It’s also relevant for you to know that my husband’s pal Gregg was over for dinner, and he and Joey watched this whole thing go down.

After dinner, the boys sat around drinking scotch and bonding (I assume) while I went to work in the kitchen. I made my own crust from gluten-free ginger cookies to appease the guests with diet restrictions. I whipped the cream cheese and sour cream and sugar and white chocolate into a fluffy, pillow-y mass. I gently swirled the raspberry jam, thinking fondly of the fresh raspberries I had also purchased to adorn the cake the next day.

When everything had been lovingly combined and assembled, I arranged the springform-bound confection in a water bath and put it in the oven.

It takes almost two hours to bake a cheesecake, so the boys had a great deal of fun asking me at 20-minute intervals if they could eat it yet. Ah…what fun we had…before the incident.

I always get nervous at this stage of cheesecake making because it’s so difficult to tell if it’s truly done. The center should still be a bit wiggly when you take the cake out of the oven because it sets up in the fridge overnight. If you over-bake a cheesecake, it gets a dry, almost powdery consistency that still usually tastes okay but is not as pleasing.

I was even more nervous because my little, old oven is not exactly the most reliable appliance.

But despite my trepidation, I finally got the cake to the correct consistency and set it on the stove to cool for an hour before it was to be refrigerated.

By this time, it was after eleven, and this old lady was quite tired to be up past her bedtime. But after washing all the dishes (because what’s the point of a perfectly prepared dessert if your kitchen is a disaster?) I watched TV with the guys and we chatted amicably about how to make cheesecake (and, no, they still couldn’t eat it).

Around 11:45, I had to call it a night, so I went to put the cheesecake in the fridge.

When I tell this story in person, this is around the time when people start biting their lip or preemptively putting their hands over their mouths in anxiety.

I don’t really have an excuse for what happened next. I mean, I was tired. The cake was kind of heavy. I had it on top of another pan so the butter wouldn’t drip onto the floor. I was holding it with one hand and opening the fridge door with the other.

But really, the excuses don’t matter. What matters is that one second I was opening the fridge door to put the cake in, and the next I was watching it, in slow motion, slide off the tray, nail a 180-degree flip, and then splatter all over the kitchen floor. The springform pan, free of it’s creamy contents, did one of those slow, spin-rattles to a stop.

No one in the apartment breathed for a second. (Well, Bogey did. He was already lunging for the mess.)

A number of thoughts courses through my brain in those seconds.

“That did not just happen.”

“I didn’t even have a chance to clean the floor yet this week.”

“$40 of ingredients.”

“This is why I don’t bake.”

And an assortment of words not becoming of a lady.

I let out a long, slow breath, and started to clean up the mess. Joey tentatively approached me from behind. You know, the way you do a wild animal that might kill you.

“Oh babe…what happened?” he asked.

“I do not want to talk about what just happened,” I seethed through clenched teeth.

“Ok,” he replied quickly. “Do you want me to get the Wet Jet or-”

“I want you to stand there and not say anything.”

“I can do that.”

(Even in the moment, I have to give it up to Joey for just NOT trying to fix it in that moment. I was mad at everything, and he knew getting involved was a surefire way to make me mad at him, too.)

For the record, I didn’t cry then. I didn’t cry while I scooped the (still searing hot) cheesecake back into the pan with my fingers and a large spoon. I didn’t cry while I sponged up the creamy bits the spoon couldn’t get. I didn’t cry while I mopped up the sticky remnants. I took a few shuddery breaths while I washed my hands and face, but I did not cry.

I told the guys I was going to bed. They quickly said, “Ok!” and gave me their best sympathetic glances.

I went to my bedroom and shut the door. And then? Then homegirl sobbed.

To be fair, I probably would have cried even if I wasn’t dealing with Hulk-level hormones lately, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

I heard the guys whispering furtively in the living room for a few minutes. Then a little while later, Gregg went home. Joey came into the bedroom and wrapped me in a bear hug.

“I just want you to know, Gregg and I both think you handled that better than we would have. We agreed that we definitely would have been throwing things.”

“I…don’t…want…to…talk about it,” I heaved through my sobs.

We both went to bed. And the next day, Joey bought a cheesecake for the party. (I wanted nothing to do about it.)

I can laugh about it now, obviously. (Though the next morning, I still wasn’t able to tell the story without getting glossy eyes.) But I just felt like sharing the story on here was the best way to purge it from my system.

So now, I want to hear your sad stories. Share your experiences of baking loves lost in the comments below. And we’ll all bond over wasted ingredients and sticky floors together.