In a nutshell:
Lemon cake - Thumbs up!
Truffles - Thumbs neutral.
The lemon cake turned out very well. I'm sure it could be further enhanced, but the cake had a nice crumb and a good, mild taste, the filling was just the right amount lemony, and the frosting brought it all together nicely. Next time, I'll be more careful inverting the cake - it was actually quite crumbly, but a crumb coat easily resolved any stray crumbs. I'll probably reduce the amount of flour in the lemon curd, maybe by 1 tablespoon - just a little. And I need to watch it when adding lemon juice to the frosting as there's a fine line between perfect consistency and starting to curdle. Also, the strawberries bled on the frosting, so I'll switch to raspberries and make sure there's a berry on every slice.
(Shh... this is probably a little out of focus, but don't tell Josh. It was the only photo I had.)
In sum, perfectly presentable, nice and light, tasty, and easily done for Dad's birthday without needing to think about it much more.
Truffles were another story. As of last night, the ganache balls were perfect - tasted good and looked right. However, dipping them was unsuccessful and disappointing. I even emailed the KA blog writers for advice, and they were nice enough to email me back though not very helpful.
(I love how chopped chocolate looks - don't you?)
1. Didn't like the taste of the chocolate shell (I used dipping chocolate from Gloria's). It also was much thinner than on store-bought truffles. I felt that the chocolate shell marred the depth of the ganache taste and didn't set up hard enough. It was just barely firm, and had I kept my fingers on it for a few seconds, it would have started to melt. My ideal truffle breaks open with a crack, like a chocolate-covered cherry, and reveals a solid, creamy ganache center. (And I have damn high standards: my college roommate worked at Cocolat for a summer and brought home "expired" - in other words, still totally perfect - goods daily.)
2. The small amount of cocoa on the truffles made the melted chocolate kind of slide off the truffle. Then, the cocoa residue combined with the melted chocolate and had a seizing effect. The chocolate thickened up and got gritty - it wasn't beautifully smooth and liquidy like at first.
Additionally, because the chocolate and the pot were hot, the ganache melted in some cases, and that also mixed with the melted chocolate... not a good thing.
3. It was a pain in the ass to dip them. But I could deal with that if I liked the end result.
I'm not sure where to go from here. Any ideas for better dipping success and a thicker, tastier, harder shell? I did see some other blogs suggest double dipping to get a more attractive look, but I've got some fundamental issues to crack first.
On a side note, I'm finding this blog is yielding way fewer baking triumphs than I'd envisioned. I'm getting "just fine" and "reasonably palatable" and "semi-presentable" results (you know, stuff I'd take to work and feed to the vultures, but don't necessarily want to eat), but not a lot of knockouts. Maybe because I'm working with new recipes and methods. That's okay - better for the waistline anyway!