I have always loved to bake, so when I first started working in New York, I became the official Birthday Baker. Whenever there was an office birthday, I would bake a cake. Of course, sometimes it was a labor of love, others an obligation.
An example of the latter was a cake I had to bake for a coworker named Steve. Steve and I worked together on a magazine about audio. It drove me crazy that he was constantly in our editor's office, hanging out and wasting time, while I slaved away writing deathless prose about in-dash tape decks and new tweeter technology. (Actually, not that deathless. It's long gone and completely obsolete.)
Anyway...because Steve and I worked so closely together, it would have looked strange if I didn't show up with a cake on his birthday. So casually, several weeks before the dreaded date, I asked him what his favorite cake was. Being a pretentious sod (just the kind of word that Anglophile would drop), he responded that it was sacher torte, an Austrian pastry. I could almost hear the gauntlet hitting the indoor-outdoor carpeting. Of course I had to make sacher torte.
I found a recipe in Vogue, gathered the diverse and expensive ingredients and, the night before Steve's birthday, went home to bake.
I hadn't read through the recipe until I actually started the process. I just kept cooking and cooking and still I wasn't done. The thing I remember most was that the recipe involved making, and then crushing, almond brittle. That alone would have been more than enough effort to expend on Steve. The cake had multiple layers, spread with, among other things, apricot preserves, whipped cream, chocolate glaze and, of course, crushed almond brittle. All told, it took five hours to make the sacher torte.
The next day, pissed off and exhausted, I carefully carried the creation to work on the subway. Because I couldn't wait to see Steve's reaction, we had the birthday party at 10:00am. He came into the room, shrugged and said he wasn't really hungry. I snarled, "It's sacher torte, and you'll have a piece."
To this day, many years later, the thought of sacher torte makes me slightly nauseous. The thought of Steve does, too!