Jul 28, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Believe it or not, many of us seemed to OD a little on chocolate this week--who would have thought such a thing was possible? But after the next two weeks, with their emphasis on light and fruity, we'll be ready for the chocolate feather bed cake. That cake requires cutting up and stacking, but we'll worry about that later.

Monica, whose photographs always make me want to make whatever she's making, even if I just made it, describes these as "a marriage in chocolate heaven." But she, like many others, had some problems with the cocoa mixture, which she said is "not smooth, but a very heavy paste." Much discussion about this issue in the comments to Monica's post, and also in Rose's Forum. Consensus from the Forum: If you use a high-quality, high-fat cocoa, you won't have this issue. But you may have to do a little digging to find out if your cocoa is high fat. Plaudits to the regulars on the Forum, who always seem to have the right answer!
Nancy B. was lucky enough to have some leftover glaze, so she only had to do two stages of the three-stage cupcake. And she decided that if she made this "nice chocolate cupcake" again, she'd "use regular cupcake liners, spread [her] ganache freely, and forget the lacquer glaze."
Gartblue also found leftover chocolate glaze in her freezer--where everything's marked and dated. And she thought the glaze tasted better the second time around: "it tasted just perfect. I love the cake. I love the milk chocolate syrup and the glaze made it extra special. Yup. Definitely will bake again."
Although Nancy B. thought her glaze was a little too thick, Julie had the opposite problem: a glaze too "thin and runny." She thought part of the problem was that her cupcakes (she made only 9 instead of the 14 called for--not the only person who didn't make 14!) were too big and domed, not flat, like they'd be if she'd made 14. We're all getting to be such perfectionists! Glaze too thick, glaze too thin.... Nobody's ever satisfied.
But Vicki came pretty darned close to being completely satisfied with these cupcakes, which she says is now her "absolute favorite cake," because "more than any other chocolate cake recipe, this one hits the spot." Almost as good as Duncan Hines.
If these cupcakes brought satisfaction to Vicki, however, they seriously annoyed Raymond, who will not be satisfied "until this national craze for having cutesy, ridiculous cupcakes for every occasion has vanished." I have to say that for someone who doesn't like cupcakes, Raymond makes some absolutely beautiful examples of the genre.
Katya fell right in the middle of Vicki and Raymond, with her "iffy" cupcakes--iffy, she hastened to add, because 1) she improvised, being out of a few key ingredients, and 2) failed to follow directions to a T. I'm sure that no one else can identify with failing to follow directions and being out of key ingredients.
And welcome back to Nicola, who might have eased back into the real world from her temporary assignment of "drinking G&Ts whilst watching the sunset." Instead, she not only made these cupcakes, but also has plans to whip up a three-tier wedding cake this weekend. Not to mention the tractor cake she just baked for Little Assistant's second birthday.
The FEATURED BAKER title goes to someone who didn't even make the glaze, but whose cupcakes nevertheless looked very, very Grand. Jenn followed Rose's alternative directions, which were to omit the glaze and cover the chocolate-syrup-ganache-topped cupcakes with Les Perles. Except that she didn't use Les Perles, she used chocolate pearls she'd bought at Whole Foods. Jenn must have the steady hands of a surgeon. She painstakingly placed those little baby chocolate pearls on top of the cakes, making a myriad of designs, including a little "i ♥ u."
Very cute!

Like most of you, I'm looking forward to the lemon meringue cake. Or at least I was, until Jenn posted this dark warning: "Though it is kinda scary to bake Italian meringue. I've heard stories of the thing completely dissolving in the oven, yikes! I'd better have extra egg whites de-frosted." Yikes is right! Now I'm scared too. And I realize that I've never made lemon meringue pie, much less lemon meringue cake. And I really, really don't want a pile of dissolved meringue at the bottom of the oven.
Make sure you have plenty of eggs. Even if all goes well, it will take six whole eggs, five yolks, and six whites to make the curd, cake, and meringue. And allow time for cooling the curd before assembling the cake.
Next will be the Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte. Rose likes to use greengage plums, but you can also use other varieties of plums (or apricots or peaches). You should have a ten-inch round cake pan or saute pan for this cake.

Jul 26, 2010

Designer Chocolate Baby Grands

Last year at this time, I probably would have groaned when I looked at this recipe and saw the three different components. When I'm down to just 35 more cakes to go, however, the three-component cake seems as easy as 1-2-3.
The Cake
The cupcakes are basically Rose's German Chocolate cake in cupcake form. We've made these before, so I won't go into great detail. They're richly chocolate because of the cocoa dissolved in boiling water technique. I've made a big dent in my new, rich Italian cocoa, and I'm not disappointed in it.
Then we just add egg yolks and oil, the dry ingredients, and, finally, the egg whites. It makes a rich, chocolatey batter.
I have better luck when I weigh the batter as I fill the cupcake pans. Then I have evenly sized cupcakes. I tried to sort of count the blips of batter as they went into the cups, but blip-counting is apparently not completely accurate.
These little babies only take about fifteen minutes to bake, which is a plus on a hot nearly-August morning.

The Ganache Syrup
When I first started this project, Woody and I bought some bulk chocolate. I bought lots of dark chocolate, a lesser amount of white chocolate, and just a little milk chocolate. The dark and white chocolates are gone, but I still have some milk chocolate left. I guess we don't use milk chocolate that much. I loved the ganache in these cupcakes; they added a nice all-American quality to the cakes.
I'm very fond of poking holes in cakes and watching the ganache soak into them. I do understand that if someone asks you what you did all day, and you say you watched ganache soak into cakes, most people will not say, "Wow, that sounds like fun!" In fact, I would not recommend that you tell anyone that this is your idea of a good time. I find that while people are perfectly willing to eat any cake that you might produce, their eyes glaze over if you go into the details.

The Glaze
And, speaking of glazing over, this is the third time we've done this fantastic glaze, and I think it was my shiniest rendition so far, despite the fact that I forgot to add the cream before I brought the mixture to the boil. So I just heated the cream and added it after I strained it.
I thought I had the correct cupcake liners, which are foil with a thin white paper inner liner. But when I tried to detach the paper liner from the foil, I just couldn't do it. Jim tried too, and he finally said, "There is no inner liner." He was right--it was just a thick foil liner. So I had two choices: I could simply pour the glaze over the cupcake while it was still in the liner or I could remove the cupcakes from the foil, and then put them back in new foil liners after the glaze was dry. I chose option #2 even though (or maybe because) it was the more complicated option.
I'm glad I did because the glaze was pretty runny, and they would have been a big sticky mess if I'd done the whole process in the liner.
As it was, I let the glaze dry for a few hours (it didn't dry, but it got tacky and a little more solid), and then I transferred the cakes into clean foil liners. Of course, the foil liners no longer hugged the cupcakes, and I wished I would have had some very charming cupcake wrappers, which I didn't buy. You have to draw the line somewhere.
As I said before, we shouldn't have done another chocolate cake this week. I try to alternate because, although I love chocolate as much as the next person, I think that the non-chocolate cakes are often more interesting. I wouldn't want to say no to a serious blast of chocolate, but it's often just that--a blast. I liked this cake because it had the three different tastes of chocolate; it was the perfect size--big enough to satisfy your sweet tooth but not so big you wished you hadn't eaten it; and the texture was lovely. But I'm really looking forward to the plum and blueberry upside down torte which has nary a drop of chocolate in it.

Jim: "Excellent chocolate taste. These might be a little bit sweeter than usual, but not too sweet."
Karen: "Nice texture. I like the ganache and the glaze together."
Gabe: "I love chocolate!"

Jul 21, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Rose said it best: "Never has a cake expressed different personalities better." It always amazes me how 15 or 20 bakers can take the same recipe and come up with 15 or 20 very different cakes. This cake was generally praised highly--no matter what creative paths people took--but there were a few for whom it didn't quite work.
Mendy doubled the recipe and turned it into a birthday cake for his father. He thought it was "rich and chocolaty with a perfect texture." I hope his father did too.
Jennifer made this cake way back in January, and has kept it under wraps ever since. (Not literally. The cake was eaten in January. It's the blog that's been under wraps). Jennifer decorated hers with a mixture of chocolate and white chocolate chips, which looked great, but took the cake from being "not-too-sweet" and moved it to "way too sweet." Otherwise, she--and her friend Cookie--"found it to be a perfect melding of chocolate and banana. The crumb was moist; even after several days."
Faithy's is so adorable. (I think I often use "Faithy" and "adorable" in the same sentence). She baked hers in six-inch pans, and turned it into a layer cake, studding it with leftover Halloween M&Ms. She thought the cake was "exceptionally tender & soft with a hint of banana flavor and melts in the mouth."
Julie made two separate six-inch cakes: one to give away and one to keep (good and generous person that she is, she kept the one that crumbled and gave away the perfect one). Julie has a great picture of her chip-decorated cake next to the photo in Heavenly Cakes--it's a perfect juxtaposition. Julie thought it could have used a little more banana, but thought "it is very good cake — moist and flavorful. We will definitely make it again."
I would put Vicki only a bit above me in her studding-pattern ability. I'm sorry Vicki--please don't hate me! She baked a pretty flower-shaped cake, and poured a nice ganache over, but admitted that her attempt at forming a rose showed "no artistic talent." Vicki is pushing hard for Americans to try more bananas--did you know that "there are more than 500 varieties of bananas in the world, yet all [her] local grocery stores carry only three"? I didn't either. She tried the red bananas for this cake; they must have worked because she pronounced the outcome a "lovely cake"--"light, moist with delicate banana undertones and dark chocolate ganache garnished with chocolate chips. The name conjures up a muscle cake; dense, heavy, in your face. Instead it is light as a feather."
Nobody decorates a cake like Sugar Chef! She passed entirely on the chocolate chip studding, and made this cake as one of three for a wedding cake tasting.  She decorated it with chocolate shavings and sugar flowers. It's so pretty. She thought it was "not dry, but more dense" than her 'go-to' recipe for chocolate cake. The tasting couple passed on this cake, but Sugar Chef's tasting husband said it's "great."
I know I just said that nobody decorates a cake like Sugar Chef, but here comes Joan, doing a ten-hour decorating job that will knock your socks off when you look at it and read about it! Just using the chocolate wafers would have been too easy, so she painstakingly tweezed tiny edible pearls amidst the wafers, for a cake a friend called "precious," and which caused Joan to dedicate it to her precious daughter. Congratulations, Stephanie! Any chance you'll be able to taste what your mother describes as a "moist and light textured cake. ....[E]xcellent, if overloaded with the chunky bits of chocolate wafers in bites."
Given the advantage of seeing other Bakers' posts, Lois used a strawberry frosting, added banana extract for a little more banana flavor, and went "light on the chips (just a few white chocolate chips.)" She baked her cake a little less than usual and used alkalized cocoa, and got a moist cake. With "two new variables, we may never know the real solution to my [dry-cake] dilemma."
Lynnette thought the cake was simplicity itself to make, and she too used smaller cake pans to get a two-layer cake. She used a mixture of milk chocolate and semisweet chips for a subtle pattern in browns. She writes that "the banana shares the spot light with chocolate amicably. The cake presents itself well and the taste is phenomenal. The fine texture and crumb earns its place on my "favorites" list."
Rachelino gives a very good step-by-step demonstration of ganache-making, including showing how to cut chocolate from the corners and how to process the chocolate until it looks like pebbles. She flavored her ganache with creme de cassis--it sounds like a good choice. Rachelino appreciates the not-too-sweetness of Rose's cakes, which she attributes to Rose being "the daughter of a dentist." This is how she sums it up: "This is an incredibly delicious cake, very moist banana devil's food flavor with a great proportion of cake to frosting. I am such a fan of the single 9" layer cakes in this book. They are the perfect size to take on a plate and share with a group with zero stress in transit."
Jenn also used the dark chocolate/white chocolate combination (why am I the only person who didn't think of clever ways to decorate this cake?). She was counting the number of chocolate chips she used, but lost count at 330. She estimates about 350--all of which took her exactly 18 minutes (yes, she timed it). Counting the chips? Timing the studding? Hmmm. Jenn was also extremely relieved that her gross-looking frozen banana did the trick, and she ended up with a "banana taste that was more noticeable than [she] originally thought."
Lola was the only one to make a square cake, which turned out looking, well, heavenly. She used only a few chips, but they looked good. One of her young tasters suggested "chocolate kisses on top." Both lola and her tasters thought this cake was a "success."
Nancy B's cake looks spectacular. She cleverly chose Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips, which are bigger than the recommended Guittard, so she and her niece had no trouble placing them atop the cake. Then she she decorated the side of the cake with peanut butter chips. Nancy's verdict: "a lovely smooth texture, moist enough to hold together, but still what I consider on the dry side. That's compensated for by the ganache, so maybe it's by design." I would consider Nancy on the fence about this cake; she said that "everyone liked it but no one was in love with it."
Katya is back from vacation and is baking in her own kitchen (or in her home-away-from-home bakery). She was disappointed to learn that "this cake involves neither muscular men nor leather goods." Instead, "the stud refers to the chocolate chips that are supposed to cover the surface of the cake, making an attractive studded pattern." But Katya, after going once around the cake with mini chips, decided that sprinkling them on was good enough. I agree--it's an attractively casual look. Like Nancy, Katya was in the like-but-don't-love camp: "This was a good cake, and definitely edible, but not one I would repeat, especially when the Devil's Food recipe is so good."
Although Raymond had "high hopes" for this cake, he thought the results were "less than stellar." He "thought that the cocoa mixture totally obliterated the taste of the banana."

This week's FEATURED BAKER is Hanaâ. For this week, and this week only, you could call her Hanaâ Bananâ. Sorry--I couldn't resist. I'll admit I had a qualm or two about naming her FEATURED BAKER because she took a few liberties with the recipe. And you know how irritated you get (OK, how irritated I get) when people rate a recipe, and then tell you all the substitutions they made, so you realize they made a completely different recipe? But I decided this was okay, because Hanaa made the same basic cake, and her substitutions all made sense for what she wanted. Also because I think making all these cakes should help us all gain enough confidence to make some changes without changing the nature of the recipe.
First, she doubled the recipe so she could make a layer cake (perfect sense because she was taking it to a dinner party). Then she filled it with strawberry mousse (as opposed to filling it with nothing). This also seemed reasonable. She didn't use Rose's recipe for the ganache because she ran out of cream. When you run out of ingredients, you do what you can do. She also added a little espresso powder, which I think is pure genius, with the banana and chocolate flavors. I would worry that the coffee would be one too many flavors given the strawberry mousse, but Hanaa says no. She substituted canola oil for just a small amount of the butter for added moistness. And finally, she decorated with Droste chocolate discs instead of chocolate chips--for a lot of eye appeal and a lot less work. Was she happy with the changes? Her verdict: "The cake was soft, melt-in-your-mouth tender, with lots of chocolate flavor, and a hint of banana." Just a hint, apparently--her dinner guests couldn't guess the secret ingredient, but after she told them, they could taste it.

Next week, we'll do chocolate again. Another careless choice by the cake selecter (me). I try to alternate between chocolate and non-chocolate desserts, but got befuddled by the banana cake (because I thought it was a banana cake). Our "Designer Chocolate Baby Grands" are supposed to be chocolate cupcakes, topped with milk chocolate ganache syrup, topped with lacquer glaze. Who knows what crazy things you folks will come up with.
Remember to glaze the baby grands at least six hours ahead of time.
After that--can you believe it?--we'll be into August, which we'll welcome with a refreshing lemon meringue cake. I'm looking forward to this, and hope I'll remember to make the lemon curd at least 3 hours ahead. This is another cake that calls for Wondra flour, which I know that some of you can't get, so look at the note, which gives you instructions how to substitute a mixture of flour and cornstarch.

Jul 18, 2010

Chocolate Banana Stud Cake

In The Bread Bible, Rose has a wonderful bread named stud muffin. Now, maybe I just know people with low senses of humor, but after the first time I announced its name, I stopped. I started calling it Italian cheese bread or something. Now there's this stud cake. It's going to be referred to only as a chocolate banana cake in these parts.
This is a wonderfully moist chocolate cake with more than a hint of banana.  The secrets of its moistness are 1) ripe bananas and 2) sour cream. Are any of you old enough to remember the Chiquita Banana song?
It first came out in 1944, making it even older than I am. (But not older than Jim!) If you've ever heard tell of it, you know that you are not supposed to let bananas ripen in the refrigerator. This was imposed on me at an early age. In fact, I thought that something awful would happen if you did. My mother said, "Never put bananas in the refrigerator!!" I thought they somehow turned toxic. But really they just turn black. I had to put mine in the refrigerator for a few days to slow down the ripening, and that does make them turn slimy, black, and distasteful looking. But not toxic.
This is an easy, easy cake. We've been riding a midsummer wave of easy cakes lately, making me think it's about time to crack the whip and get back into some of the dread-inducing cakes. Not quite yet, though.
There are just a few steps.
Start with the standard cocoa/boiling water mixture, and let it cool.
Mix the dry ingredients together and add the butter.
Mash the bananas. They don't look black or distasteful once they're out of their skin.
Then add the cocoa mixture, bananas, sour cream, eggs, and vanilla.
Pour into prepared cake pan and bake. That isn't much harder than mixing a cake mix.
37 minutes in the convection oven at 325. I thought it might be a little underdone in the center, but it was perfect.
The ganache is standard for us all by now. Probably because of the heat, mine didn't set up very well, and was quite pourable. I put it in the refrigerator, which helped, but not a lot. Even after an hour, it was still the consistency of pudding.
If it weren't for the final step, this would certainly be on the Quick and Easy list. Maybe it would even be in the top ten Q&E. But the instructions for the painstaking decorating with a bag of chocolate chips take it out of that category.
I was actually kind of looking forward to this decorating, because it looked like it didn't require a lot of skill. The more I thought about it, though, the less I liked the idea of the cake completely covered with chocolate chips. I thought it would interfere too much with the other textures, and it would just take over the cake, so that all you'd remember would be a mouthful of crunchy chocolate chips.
So I decided to take the easy way, not the hard way.
I envisioned a really cool spiral pattern. But I got this.
I told Jim it wasn't what I had in mind. He told me that you couldn't see the pattern because the chips were too far away, and he volunteered to fill it in. I think he could tell I was about to get huffy, and perhaps do damage to the cake. We ended up with this:
At least you can tell it's a spiral. Unfortunately, now I have discovered that I'm no better at chip-decorating than I am at piping. Fortunately, neither of those skills is an essential desert-island talent. (To be honest, I can't start a fire without matches, build a raft, or sneak up on a bird and strangle it with my bare hands, all of which could come in handy if I were stranded on a desert island. I'm hoping it doesn't come to that).
Somehow I thought that this was going to be a banana cake with chocolate ganache, and I was really looking forward to that cake. It wasn't until I started reading the directions--always a good idea--that I realized it was a chocolate cake with a subtaste of bananas. I had my doubts about how that was going to work, and I had my doubts even when I tasted the first bite of cake. After the second bite, though, I decided that the flavors did work together after all. The ganache was delicious, but I think it made the cake too overwhelmingly chocolate. I also don't think I'd add the chocolate chips the next time. I actually enjoyed the textural interest they added, but, again, I thought it put the nicely meshed flavors of the chocolate and banana out of balance.


Mary: "Really delicious!"
Jim: "Moist, with a good chocolate flavor. I really liked the texture of the chocolate chips."
Karen: "Love the cake--so moist. I'd lose the chocolate chips, though."
Doug: "Nice and moist. Chocolate and bananas are a good flavor combination."

Jul 14, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

This week's pound cake is another easy cake with uniformly positive reviews.  Easy and delicious--what a great combination.
, (cognac-soaked vanilla bean pods) who is "generally not a fan of these mini individual cakelette things," thought that "these little beauties are terrific." Although he is also generally not a fan of specialty pans, he had picked a couple of mini-loaf pans downstairs at Dehillerin on a trip to Paris (11 years ago). He said this is the first time he's used them, and otherwise the only thing he's ever done with them is "move them out of the way to get out the useful pans in my cupboard."
If the Heavenly Cake Bakers ever have a reunion, I propose that we meet downstairs at Dehillerin, and that we all pick up a few nonessential but irresistible items.
Mendy (Amaretto) thought the cake was "yummy, "but the main focus of his blog was his "shtotty new scale," as well as his new Scrape-A-Bowl and apron--all gifts from his wife. "Shtotty" was a new word for me. According to Urban Dictionary it's Yiddish slang for "cool," from the Yiddish word "shtat," or city. Thanks for the new word!
Jennifer (rum) took a leaf from Mendy's book (before he got all shtotty), and made one of her cakes in a toaster oven. Jennifer should be lauded especially for her way with birthday cakes--she made the pound cakes for her friend Joelf's birthday, but since he was in the Dominican Republic for the occasion, she ate it for him.
Faithy (cognac-triple sec combo) used vanilla bean paste instead of scraping the beans, and she thought it worked just fine. I've never tried it, but it does sound like a great time-saver. She also used vanilla sugar to give it an extra vanilla dose.
Joan (cherry heering) made a total of five cakes; she wrapped four for friends and saved one for herself. The one she saved she served with cherry coulis and fresh cherries. She described the cake as "light," with a "subtle flavor, angelic crumb. Perfect."
Lynnette (vanilla schnapps) loved the cake too. She said, "This cake rates high on my list. It was a breeze to prepare, the fine crumb and moist cake was delicious."
Lola (vanilla bean pods steeped in cognac) made just two of the "lovely little cakes," and loved that it was an "easy recipe."
Vicki (peach brandy) had just one complaint about the cakes: "Next time I should quadruple the recipe. Before I knew it, everyone sliced seconds!" She described the cake as an "edible gem" in a "class all its own." She got the paper pans too, and somehow ended up reading the directions, as they fluttered to the floor. Her instructions told her to put the pans on a cake sheet, so she got no decorative drips on her oven floor.
Sugar Chef is back after a hiatus. Her photo of tiny molded pound cakes on a glass platter, surrounded by blueberries studded with bright green mint leaves, is a beautiful sight.
Nancy B., bless her heart, had to try this cake twice before it turned out to be the "nicely flavored pound cake, buttery, and with a good texture," that she got on her second attempt. The first try gave her "only slightly domed or browned, and with a dry surface. Bricks." Did she throw the bricks across the kitchen? Did she pout? No, she did neither. She persevered, having first deduced that she'd somehow mis-measured her sugar. How did you figure that out, Nancy?
Gartblue (no booze, but leftover hot fudge) turned her pound cake batter into a 21-cupcake salute! She served them in "really cute red checkered cupcake liners," but it sounds like they disappeared before she could get a picture. (Good wishes to Mr. Gart, by the way, who took what sounds like a nasty tumble on his bicycle).
These cakes were Kristina's swan song to baking for a while. She has a pretty good excuse, since she's losing her oven, refrigerator, sink, etc. I know this sounds familiar to some of you (including me). She turned this swan song into a lovely birthday cake for her grandmother's birthday, using the mousseline from the Miette's Tomboy recipe, which we'll get to eventually. Kristina apologizes for her "freehand piping skills," which look pretty impressive to me.
Lois made a double recipe, which gave her five cakes, all of which are already accounted for. She "can't imagine anything tasting better."
Monica (leftover zabaglione ice cream and leftover hot fudge) noted that not only is the cake easy, but it also will go down "for the cake that has used less kitchen equipment so far – 2 bowls." Hungry and appreciative Tom told her he liked it, but not quite as well as Monica's standard recipe for pound cake. What do you think: is he being honest or is he just hoping she'll bake him another cake?
Hanaa (just plain water) loved the cake's "delicate vanilla aroma and buttery flavor" and wondered what is "plain" about vanilla--it's not plain at all!
The FEATURED BAKER this week is Katya (leftover chocolate buttercream).  I think this award should go to Katya because she went the longest distance to bake hers.  No, she didn't get to use her shtotty (love that word!) professional bakery equipment.  Instead, she escaped from Brooklyn and baked hers in Truro, "one of the more exclusive towns on the Cape," the site of the Cape Cod Highland Lighthouse, and home of the Tony Costa Cape Cod murders. Not only did she go the longest distance, but her lovely cakes were made with eggs from her "aunt and uncle's beloved hens, which they had schlepped from New Hampshire."  Katya, please share this coveted prize with your aunt and uncle (I picture your aunt taking the eggs to the Cape in her apron), and thank your mother for advising you to go outside and take that great outdoors picture of Poundcake in Paradise.

FOR NEXT WEEK, If you don't already have your bananas ripening away for your banana stud cake, better get to the grocery store and buy the ripest bananas you can find. I've learned--by baking banana bread that doesn't taste anything like bananas--that for good baking, bananas have to be almost disgustingly ripe. Mine are moving from mostly yellow with a few black speckles to mostly black, and should be at the disgusting stage by Saturday or Sunday.
The following week we have sophisticated chocolate cupcakes. Once again, the revolutionary lacquer glaze makes its appearance. You will need foil cupcake liners with paper inner liners, because you'll take the inner liners out of the foil outer liners to apply the glaze, and then, when the glaze is set, you'll put them back inside the foil liners. I'm hoping that this is less complicated than it seems.

Jul 11, 2010

Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes

A few weeks ago, someone asked me what my favorite cake was. I started thinking of all the incredible cakes I've made in the last year, but it occurred to me that my very favorite cake is a simple pound cake. And so that was my answer. Eating this cake reminded me of why I love a pound cake.
Not only was it rich, buttery, and delicious, but it was probably also the easiest cake I've made so far, not counting the small hassle of scraping the vanilla beans out of the pod. (The flat blade of my 7-inch Santoku knife did this so easily that it was only a very small hassle).
I like to keep a small stock of vanilla beans from Penzeys, but I didn't have any on hand. My New Guinea beans from Whole Foods actually worked quite well.
I was excited about using my new disposable loaf pans, but I became doubtful when I looked at them more carefully. First, they're paper. I'm pretty sure my home ec. teacher advised against putting paper in the oven. Nonsense, I told myself--you put parchment paper in the oven all the time, and it's never caught on fire. I was doing a good job of reassuring myself until I noticed the little pinholes in the bottom of the pans. Doubtful again, I wondered whether the batter wouldn't leak out of those little holes. Nonsense, I said again. Why would they put holes in the bottom of the pans if batter would leak out? That would be stupid. So I sprayed them with Baker's Joy and forgot about the possibility of leakage.
The batter, as Rose warns, is not completely smooth--it's a little curdly looking. All will be well, she reassures, and she is right. In addition to the two baby loaves, there's enough batter to make two baby cupcakes. I just put mine in custard cups without the paper.
Pop all four pans in the oven, and then make the vanilla-cognac syrup. The recipe calls for (not surprisingly) vanilla cognac. "No!"  I said. I refuse to make another trip to the liquor store for another specialty liqueur. I have cognac; I have vanilla. Add them together, and you have vanilla cognac, or close enough for government cakes.
The syrup was tasty right out of the pan, and I daubed it on the cupcakes before the loaves were done. Then, despite the admonition to wait 24 hours before eating, we gobbled the cupcakes up right there and then. And mighty good they were. Unlike the Genoise Rose, where the difference in taste right after baking and 24 hours later was pronounced, I thought the pound cake was just as good right away.
The loaf cakes took about 20 minutes longer to bake. I used the knife to make a neat slash in one of the cakes.
I left the other one untouched, so its crack developed au naturel.
I like the looks of both of them.
Oh, remember the holes in the bottom of the paper loaf pans? The ones I told myself not to worry about?
When I took the loaves out of the oven, I noticed eight of these little megalith-like things on the bottom of the oven. Sort of like a mini-Stonehenge, only instead of being made from stones, these were made from pound cake batter. Tiny drops of batter must have oozed from the little holes, with each new drop forming a new circle on top of the last one.
Bless Google's heart, it told me, via a 2000 NYT article by Marian Burros, that the holes are in the bottom of the pan are there to provide quicker and more even baking, and that if you have trouble with leakage, you should just nest the baking pan inside another disposable pan. Or you could just put a cookie sheet or piece of foil on a lower rack. Or you could collect pound cake dolmens.
I bought raspberries and blueberries and the Farmer's Market this morning, and just scattered a few of them around slices of pound cake, which Jim and I had for afternoon tea. Jim is the sole member of my tasting panel this week, because I gave one loaf away, we'd already eaten the cupcakes, and we (I) didn't want to share the rest. I'm sorry to say that pound cake makes me greedy.

Jul 7, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Apparently we cake people are also ice cream people. Although we made different shapes, and used different flavors of ice cream--many of us opting for homemade ice cream with our homemade cake--I think we were unanimous in our praise for the final result.
The friend-indulgent Jennifer filled her cake with not one, not two, but THREE different ice creams, so that all of her invited guests would get their favorite. If you visited Jennifer's house, you had your choice of peanut butter, rocky road, or strawberry.
I was lazily reading Katya's blog, indulging in a little schadenfreude when she was talking about a few small mishaps she encountered, but I stopped smiling when I saw the nasty burn she got--hope it's better by now! Katya's weekly words of wisdom: "Some days just aren't my day, and I'm grateful that on those days I don't work in an ER or the Pentagon. I'm usually grateful about that on the good days too." Her ice cream of choice was homemade cherry almond.
Raymond made his cake with homemade ice cream too--his was coffee made with his own "strongly brewed espresso."
I mentioned last week that Lynnette had already made her homemade strawberry ice cream, so all she had to do was compose the cake and add a few more fresh strawberries for a lovely accent. Once you've already got your homemade strawberry ice cream, it's hard to go far wrong, and she didn't.
Mendy didn't make homemade ice cream because he didn't have time to experiment with parve, but he bought a good-looking soy-based cherry chip. Like me, Mendy also had a little trouble cutting his cake into even slices. There's that schadenfreude popping up again! Sorry, Mendy.
The ever-organized Nancy B. (vanilla bean and cappuccino mocha chip) made this cake way back in February and has just been biding her time to post her great success: "It was a couple of weeks before I quit being stopped in the hall by either people who had a piece and wanted to rave about it (again), or those who missed out and started the conversation with 'So, I hear you brought in a wonderful cake...make sure I hear about it next time.'"
Gartblue barely batted an eyelash making this cake, whipping it up, as she did, between cookies, a wedding cake, mini pavlovas, and lemon cheesecakes, in her all-baking all-the-time weekend.
Monica made two brilliant moves: 1) to make the cake in a loaf pan so that she could get easy slices and 2) to make homemade zabaglione gelato. The only less-than-brilliant move was not to make enough cake.
Jenn has felt lately that she's been baking under an unlucky star, but everything went perfectly for her with this recipe, including her homemade fresh bing cherry ice cream. Heavenly photos of a heavenly cake!
Kristina (homemade strawberry ice cream made from homemade strawberry preserves) got a reminder of how useful spouses can be sometimes at bringing us back to earth. She reports that she "was feeling rather sorry for myself over a heap of dishes when my husband came into the kitchen and wondered why I didn’t seem happy. “Nothing’s going right tonight. I shouldn’t bake in the evening after a day out in the sun weeding.” “What’s gone wrong? What can I do?” “I accidentally substituted for 1 cup instead of 1/2 cup of cream, so I had to get out more stuff and make a double batch of hot fudge sauce.” “Um, sweetie? That’s not really a problem.” Good point.
Vicki's variation was using a nine-by-thirteen pan to get easy square pieces. It's a "new family favorite!"
Julie went a different ice cream direction from everyone else and used her favorite starlight mint--she was "not disappointed." She went for the ice cream sandwich variation, although, as others have noted, the differences between the "sandwich" and "cake" are infinitesimal.
Joan, fresh from her FEATURED BAKER triumph, came through triumphantly once again, although not without a lot of worry and a bit of chagrin at using store-bought ice cream. (Nothing wrong with that!) She came up with the idea of using the extra batter to bake some chocolate financiers--with the hot fudge as dipping sauce, and with cups of espresso on the side, she had some happy neighbors who were invited in for an impromptu feast.

Joan passes the FEATURED BAKER crown on to Faithy. (By the way, Faithy, will we ever get to know your real name? Or will you be forever a mystery woman?) Here is her verdict on this cake: "OMG, Best Ever! Totally heavenly, totally awesome, totally out of this world.. you can already tell how much i am in love with this cake...lol! This is by far the best ever ice-cream cake i've ever eaten!" Can you tell she likes the cake? Her version also had homemade ice cream--the exotic-sounding coffee stracciatella. The coffee in the ice cream may have been responsible for sending Faithy on a caffeine-induced high. She accused herself of rambling on excitedly when "words are hard to come by" for her. Whether the enthusiasm was caused by caffeine or just by the cake, it was fun to read her post. And, by the way, the family loved the cake too.

Next week, another quick-and-easy cake--the mini vanilla bean pound cakes. This was obviously a scheduling error because I try to space these Q&E cakes so that I won't run out of them. After these two in a row, there'll be only 9 cakes left on that list.
For these minis, there are only a few things to be aware of. There's a PLAN AHEAD notation--make the cakes at least one day ahead. Make sure you have vanilla beans. And get yourself some mini loaf pans if you want to make the mini cakes.
Here's a picture of the two-cup disposable loaf pan compared to a standard pan (I think this one is a 9" by 5", holding about eight cups).
After that--the chocolate banana stud cake. Get your bananas soon if you want to have ripe bananas on hand!

Jul 5, 2010

Chocolate Ice Cream Cake

This dessert is as quintessentially American as the last one was quintessentially French. Chocolate cake, ice cream, hot fudge sauce--how could you resist? Fortunately, you don't have to resist. In fact, if you bake a full recipe of chocolate cake, you can have extras, filled with a different kind of ice cream, so you can indulge yourself over and over.
This is the first chocolate cake I've made with my new bag of Italian cocoa. It's deep and dark, and it smells heavenly. The cake itself is a repeat of the chocolate cake we used for the German Chocolate cake, way back in September 2009. Actually, that was just before the debut of the Heavenly Bakers, so some of you haven't made this cake yet. It's the perfect base for an ice cream cake because, being made with oil instead of butter, it can be refrigerated--even frozen--with no harm done to its texture.
You can see how pourable the batter is. In fact, you might be a little alarmed at how thin the batter is, except that Rose tells you that it will be like "thick soup."
The German Chocolate cake is made in two 9-inch pans. The ice cream cake recipe, however, is made in a 10-inch pan, so it uses only three-quarters of the recipe. I was far too lazy to do the arithmetic, so I just made the whole recipe. I filled the cake pan and had enough batter left over for 11 cupcakes. If I'd known it could have made a dozen, I would have been more careful apportioning the batter.
Now we come to the part that always makes me crabby--slicing the cake in half, or--in this case--slicing it into three-quarters and one-quarter. I suppose it's possible that I'd become adequate at this if I did it a lot, but that would make me crazy, so it's not a good trade-off. It's worse than cakes with piping, because you can always ignore the piping step and pile on whipped cream instead. But if a cake has to be cut, you can't just ignore that step. Especially if you're making a sandwich.
I went back to the toothpick method. All I had was frilled toothpicks, but I thought that might work better. The knife is imbedded in the cake. My hand looks defeated. Although the toothpicks look like they're at about the 1/4-mark, I ended up slicing a very thin slice off the top, and then transferring this ultra-thin slice into the springform pan, which served as a mold.
This layer is supposed to fit snugly into the pan with just a little encouragement, but mine had a little hillock that I couldn't get rid of. I figured it wouldn't matter in the end.

After the cake is cut in half, composing the cake goes back to being fun. I put two pints of softened vanilla bean ice cream on top of skinny bottom layer. My personal choice would have been strawberry, but Jim doesn't like strawberry ice cream (how is that possible?), so I humored him with vanilla bean. My daughters used to call this "ant gut" ice cream; they thought that was extremely humorous.
I was a little bewildered by the whole notion of composing the cake in the springform pan, which seemed overly complicated. But once I started doing it, it was clear that it would be necessary in order to end up with an even layer of ice cream. You can see what would happen if you didn't do it by looking at the cupcakes that were filled without using a mold--they're not nice and even at all.
Still, they're kind of adorable, and great for a quick snack. I just wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, and tossed them in the freezer. They're considerably better than Eskimo Pies.
This is how the cake looked after being assembled in the springform pan, and just before being put in the freezer overnight. I made the hot fudge sauce so quickly that Jim didn't even have time to take a picture of it. It's a great recipe to have on hand.

Doug: "This is a keeper. Please make it again."
Mary: "Delicious. I love the hot fudge sauce."
Karen: "A perfect birthday cake, with the ice cream already in it!"
Jim: "The cake is great by itself, but even better with the ice cream."

Jul 1, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

I've been so busy this week that I haven't had time to send out my mid-week summary.  I finally decided I'd rather send out an abbreviated version rather than skip it entirely, and those were looking like my only options.
It was fun to look at all the different kinds of pans we used--the more elaborate the pan, the more difficult to get the cake out intact. Monica reminded us to use a pastry brush to get every square millimeter of the pan covered with Baker's Magic (or Baker's Grease, if you make your own).
Most people liked this delicate genoise as is, but a few thought it needed a little something extra. Top marks for gilding the lily--or the rose, in this case--go to Svetlana, who not only used a Cointreau syrup, but also drizzled her cake (made with a silicone rose mold) with chocolate ganache, and cleverly placed a few gum paste rose petals atop.
This week's FEATURED BAKER is Joan, whose motto must be "Never say die!" I got a panicked-sounding email from Joan last weekend, asking if she was doing something wrong--she was weighing her egg yolks, and it had taken her 17 to get at the required 250 grams. Now all she had was a big, fat, eggy mess. Joan thought I must have laughed my head off when I read her email, but I was as puzzled as she was. And, showing that you read what you expect to read, I looked at the recipe and thought, Hmmm, it is 250 grams of egg yolks. But then why did it work for me? Finally, I saw the mistake--250 grams of eggs, not egg yolks! I suggested to Joan that she just bake up her mess and see what happened--maybe it would turn out to be some delicious new invention! But she tossed it, and proceeded to make a perfect genoise--22 eggs later. Congratulations to Joan for persevering and ending up with a cake that her friends had only one complaint about: the pieces were too small!

Our next cake is the perfect one for your Fourth of July celebration--or, if you don't celebrate the Fourth of July as Independence Day as we do in the U.S., it's perfect just for fun.
The cake base is Rose's German chocolate cake, which is unlike the pale, anemic-looking German chocolate cake you're used to. This one is a rich, dark chocolate that can be frozen without losing its texture. The recipe calls for 3/4 of the German chocolate cake, made in a 10-inch round cake pan. I wasn't about to do the math for that, so I made the 10-inch cake for the ice cream cake and some additional cupcakes. There are lots of different options--you could divide the recipe in half and make one cake in a 9-inch pan. The cake is molded in a 9-inch springform pan, so I don't see any reason that wouldn't work just as well for a 9-inch round pan. Lynnette has already made her own homemade ice cream for the cake. Those of us who just buy the ice cream are going to have a hard time living up to that standard.
The next week, July 12, Mini Vanilla Bean Pound Cakes are up. These can be made in 2-cup disposable paper loaf pans--I ordered a couple dozen of these pans, in hopes that these cakes will turn out to make good presents. If you don't want to get the pans, you can make vanilla bean cupcakes.
I'm going to Montreal with my daughter Elizabeth for a quick three-day weekend, but my ice cream cake should be posted early Monday morning if all goes well.