Apr 20, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

I don't know whether we have a large contingent of coconut-haters, or whether people were feeling buttercream fear, or whether nobody could find coconut extract--whatever the reason, the turnout for the Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake with Silk Meringue Buttercream was a little sparse. Those who persevered, however, were rewarded with a showstopper of a cake--the kind that makes people gasp (really!) when they see it. And I think almost everyone substituted something, so--as we should know by now--a missing ingredient or two never stopped a determined baker.

Last week Alice just got an honorable mention in the mid-week roundup because she'd baked the wrong cake. This week, the wrong cake turns into the right cake, so we learn that she substituted chocolate ganache for the silk meringue buttercream. The cake was good, and the ganache was good; but she concluded, "I should have listened to the professional because once it set up, the ganache was way too heavy for the tender crumb of the coconut cake." Alice, where is your Tomboy?! You don't want to miss that cake.

Jennifer, who describes this as a "furry yellow cake," did almost everything by the book except that she substituted Baker's coconut for the shredded unsweetened stuff that was supposed to be in the frosting. Also, and more daring, she didn't mix the coconut in the frosting because she thought it would make it hard to frost (how right you were)--she just sprinkled it all over the icing.

Vicki found a creative way of compromising with the people in her house who don't like coconut. She filled and topped the layers with the coconut buttercream, sans shredded coconut, and served that to the coconut-haters. She toasted coconut for the coconut lovers, and sprinkled that on the individual slices. She "doesn't much trust [herself]" around this cake.

Lois couldn't find coconut extract and the only kind of dried coconut they have in her Polish groceries is dessicated coconut. She didn't let that stop her--she tried to rehydrate the dried coconut, but got most of the coconut flavor from the coconut milk, which she did manage to find.

Monica, as dedicated a photographer as she is a cook, wanted to take pictures of her coconut cake in natural light, so she left a note on the cake threatening poor Tom with certain death if he dared to cut into the cake, or even touch it, until she could get back home and take photographs. Fortunately the pictures were taken, the cake eaten, and no one died. Like Jennifer, Monica omitted the coconut from the frosting and sprinkled it atop.

Nancy B. managed to locate "the elusive coconut extract," and baked hers in cupcake form. Opinions on the cake were mixed, depending mostly on how people liked coconut. As Nancy said, "Do you realize how many people have an aversion to coconut?" In exciting news, Nancy said that if she makes two different cakes on the Free Choice weeks, and blogs about the one cake that she has already baked but hasn't written about, she will finish at the same time I do. Yay for us!

Jenn went off in a different direction. She's already made the cake once, so she decided she'd try Hector's recipe for coconut curd, and combine that with whipped cream for her cupcake frosting. She topped the cupcakes with some curd, and then stirred the rest into whipped cream for the frosting. Then she decorated the whole thing with toasted shredded coconut. "Hubby loves it and said it's very coconut-y. I'm not a big fan of coconut dessert myself, but this one is really good."

I'm not sure I've ever made a brand new HCBer a FEATURED BAKER, but I'm making an exception for Jane. No, this is not because her cake looks so delicious (although it does), or because she has such a happy smile in the picture of her standing by her KitchenAid (although she does), but because she's decided to make all the cakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes in one year! And she's already made six--the latest being the Coconut Cake. It's a good thing Jenn is keeping this Bake Through going!

Speaking of that, Jenn has volunteered to keep the "Last Cake, Next Cake" feature going for the next few weeks when I'm out of town. If I can get an IPad connection, I'll be checking out her LCNC myself. I love to see what everyone bakes. Check Jenn's website mid-week and see what she's got posted. Just go to the right side of the page, and look for "Knitty Baker."

Finally, if you get the Hallmark channel where you live, be sure to watch Martha Stewart's show on Friday. Rose is her special guest, and will be showing Martha how to make the whipped cream cake. It should be interesting to see these two dynamite women together! By the way, there are lots of Martha Stewart slots on the Hallmark channel, so be sure that you get the right one. It's scheduled to air between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. EDT, but it's on at noon in the Minneapolis area. I've got it set to record, and Woody and I are going to watch it when I get back from France. Hanaa, do you want to see it too?

Apr 17, 2011

Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake with Silk Meringue Buttercream

Jim is usually pretty good-natured about following me around the kitchen with his camera, and cleaning up the kitchen too. Today he said, "I love Rose's cakes, but they use too many hard-to-find ingredients and use way too many pans!" His relative grumbliness may have been because the ingredients and pans were for a coconut cake, and coconut is on his list of foods he does not like to eat. Along with cilantro and avocado. But he had to admit that this cake turned out to be a beauty.

I have gradually figured out the obvious: the cakes themselves are never difficult. It's just the level of folderol that goes along with the cakes that makes them hard--that, and tracking down the necessary ingredients or pans. In this case, once I had the egg whites separated and weighed, and the coconut milk whisked together, the cake almost made itself.

The only thing that was hard to find for the cake itself was the coconut extract--it must be natural, not fake! I couldn't find any natural coconut extract, so I settled on the expensive fake stuff, which smelled much better than the cheaper fake stuff.

The cakes came out of the oven before 11:00, and I thought maybe I'd be done with the whole thing by noon. Of course, that was optimistic. Maybe delusional.

On to the first component of the frosting: the coconut-flavored creme anglaise. Not difficult--just a matter of cooking egg yolks with hot coconut milk (something that would never occur to me to do on my own).

The creme anglaise needs to cool. Should I put it in the refrigerator and start in on component #2, the Italian meringue? Or should I have another cup of coffee and work on the crossword? Those choices are why I never finish the cakes before noon. Also, I just made an Italian meringue last week, and they always make me hold my breath.

The last bit of sugar syrup hardened before I could pour it into the meringue, so I microwaved it to get it to pouring consistency. I discovered that if you heat it for more than a few seconds, it crystallizes into a lump that is definitely not pouring consistency. Luckily, as I've discovered many times before, Rose's recipes, precise as they are, allow for errors.

Is there really a pound of butter in the buttercream? Along with the half-pound in the cake? When did I start keeping spare pounds of butter in the freezer for such exigencies?

The coconut creme anglaise is much runnier than I thought it would be, and the whole mixture starts to curdle. But now I know that buttercream often goes through a curdling stage, so I ignore it, and, sure enough, it smooths out. I could not find frozen coconut. I used a finely grated unsweetened coconut, but it tasted very bland, so I supplemented it with ordinary Angel Flake coconut.

With all the added coconut, the smooth and creamy buttercream became difficult to manage. I banned Jim from taking more photographs of my struggles with icing. It took me a long time to finish, but I finally decided it was good enough. I topped the cake (and tried to side it) with some coconut chips that Woody gave me months ago.

This seems like a cake to have for a baby shower, or a big summer party. It's pretty, and festive, and very good. I wish I'd been able to find the frozen coconut, and the natural coconut extract, but I think the pound and a half of butter may have disguised any sub-par ingredients. The Southern (Manhattan) cake went over well in Southern (Minneapolis).


Jim: "I like the cake, but I still don't like the coconut texture. The really finely grated stuff is okay, but I don't like the big chips. I know you had issues with the frosting, but it turned out looking great."

Karen: "I like the cake's texture. It's somehow meatier than some of the other cakes--not so delicate. It's not heavy, but not too light either. It's one of my favorites, and I've tasted a lot of them. Also, I want to go on record as saying this is a gorgeous cake."

Apr 13, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

We were all crazy about our little Tomboys. I don't know why I waited so long to put this on the baking list, but all I want to do now is bake it again. And I'm not the only one.

According to Lois, this is "without a doubt the best chocolate cake in the book." (And that's really saying something).

Likewise, Shandy thought it was "the perfect size dessert and one of the BEST chocolate cakes I have yet baked."

Kristina "absolutely loved this cake. Soft, fudgey, moist, and delicious. The mousseline’s not necessarily my favourite buttercream, but it compliments this cake well. This is definitely on the “will bake again” list. I might just have to see how it does in a larger size for a party cake, too."

The cake was a "big hit" to Nancy's group of tasters: "lovely chocolate flavor, very moist, no criticisms there."

Lola made it for a ladies' lunch, and described it as "a lovely cake which is delicate and full of flavor at the same time.... [I]t was delicious and a perfectly charming cake to serve to my girlfriends."

Raymond pronounced the Tomboy "rich, dense and moist with an intense chocolate flavor and it keeps well for several days without getting dry." It's a "little gem."

But Raymond was more "on the fence" about the vanilla mousseline, which proved problematic for some bakers. It wasn't that Raymond had problems making the mousseline. "All worked out fine." But, although he thought it was "delicious," he also thought it didn't deliver "that hit of vanilla flavor I was looking for." Next time, he promised to use vanilla sugar and a vanilla bean as well as the vanilla extract and hopefully that will give me the vanilla flavor that I am after to pair with this intense chocolate cake."

Things did not go perfectly in the mousseline department for Jenn and Jennifer. In fact, they both despaired at times of ever coming up with an edible frosting. Read their posts for how not to give up on frosting, even when it's curdling, separating, and all the other sins that mousseline is heir to. It even drove Jenn to ladylike cursing: "$*%&^ $&#*%&!"

In the end, though, they were both successful. Jennifer described hers as "a delicious cake with an intriguing mixing process, bold in flavor and moist as they come with a silky, buttery, vanilla frosting. This Tomboy is welcome in my house anytime." And Jenn "felt really good to have a successful mousseline." Not to mention the fact that the cake is "so moist and chocolate-y. This chocolate cake is now one of my favorites in the book" (This is starting to sound like a theme, isn't it?)

By the way, we were all curious about the technique for making this cake, which is unlike any of the other cakes in the book. Any scientists out there care to explain why it works?

Vicki may not know why it worked, but she knows that it does, and that it's a great cake for your grandchild's birthday. And that is why she's our FEATURED BAKER this week. Not only did she make the Tomboy for her youngest granddaughter's first birthday (adapted somewhat for a little one who doesn't tolerate much dairy), but she also baked up an orange chiffon and a whipped cream cake. Rose's cakes have never been presented with so many sprinkles. As Vicki says, "Here's the best review of Rose's cakes: the kids at the party loved them all. Kids can't be fooled."

Honorable mention to Alice and to Faithy, who both baked from the book but were on somewhat different schedules. Alice thought we were baking the coconut cake this week--if you want to preview that, check out her blog. And Faithy thought it was time for her to make the Devil's Food Cake with Midnight Ganache.

Finally, Maria will be missing from action for a while. She is looking forward to being a "bionic blogger" after her hip replacement. Have a speedy and uneventful recovery!

Our next cake before my own two-week hiatus is the Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake with Silk Meringue Buttercream. This, like Miette's Tomboy, has intrigued me since I first laid hands on the cookbook, but it somehow never made it in the rotation before now. This is a nine-inch layer cake, so it's going to feed a crowd. Lucky you if you've got egg whites in the freezer--the cake takes six of them. No worries if you don't, however, because the butercream takes five yolks (and two more whites).

The cake calls for several different coconut flavors: canned coconut milk for both the cake and the frosting, coconut extract for both cake and frosting; oiptional CocoRibe, and fresh or frozen coconut. Rose recommends fresh or frozen coconut so the frosting won't be too sweet. You can also sometimes find packaged unsweetened coconut at the grocery store, and I imagine that would do in a pinch.

We are going to France for two weeks, first staying in Brittany, and then finishing up in Paris. While I'm gone, Jenn has volunteered to write the "Last Cake, Next Cake" summaries. Thanks, Jenn!

Apr 11, 2011

Miette's Tomboy

I want this to become my signature cake. I don't want anyone to think of it as "Miette's Tomboy," (sorry Miette), but as "that chocolate cake that Marie makes." This is, I think, the best chocolate cake in the book so far, and if anyone complains that it's dry, I'll think that they live in an alternative universe where "dry" means "moist and delicious."

In most of Rose's chocolate cake recipes, the chocolate taste comes from cocoa melted in water. In this recipe, there's cocoa, but it's mixed in with the other dry ingredients, and an additional shot of chocolate comes from semisweet chocolate melted in water, and added to the egg, oil (no butter in this cake) and buttermilk.

Everything mixes up into a thick, shiny, glossy batter.

And the finished cakes are also dark and glossy. I used two 6 x 2-inch pans, mostly because I couldn't find a  pan that was three inches deep. I was very pleased to have two layers and not to have to cut the thick cake into three layers, so I was just as happy my search hadn't been successful.

After the cakes cooled, there were no more excuses for putting off making the mousseline. There are plenty of bad things that can happen when you make mousseline, and I'm proud to say that I've now been baking cakes long enough that most of them have happened to me: curdling, separating, texture too thin, texture too thick, etc.

None of those things happened today, perhaps because I actually used my Thermapen to make sure everything was around 70 degrees.

Butter softened (and refrigerated until it was 70 degrees).

Egg whites beaten to stiff-peak stage.

Sugar syrup heated to 248 degrees and poured into the meringue. I was explaining this frosting to someone, and she asked if I was making candy or frosting. It's hard to explain this whole hoo-ha over buttercream to a non-baker. Anyway, every step went smoothly--smoothly enough that I was inspired to get my cake decorating kit, such as it is, to attempt the decoration.

I didn't have a #26 tip, but I figured what I had was good enough. This prompted Jim to start his ode to Hanaa's cake decorating abilities: "You should have seen her, Sarah. She really knows what she's doing. She's so fast and and skillful--it's just fun to watch her." Sarah said, "Uh, dad, maybe you should tell mom she's doing a good job." "Oh right, great job, Marie. Like I was saying about Hanaa...." Sarah kicked Jim under the table and he quieted down. I was baking the cake for her birthday, and I think she saw her happy family gathering deteriorating before her eyes.

I'll be the first (maybe the second) to say my piping's not as good as Hanaa's, but remember this is my first attempt. And if you looked at the cake at just the right angle (unfortunately not the angle that any pictures were taken at), you'd say it didn't look half bad.

With a pink candle and a pink rose, it was enough to make Sarah happy, and that was good enough for me.


Sarah: "So good. The vanilla adds a fantastic flavor to the icing. One of the best cakes I've ever had, and I'm saying that without hyperbole."

Jim: "I love the nice deep chocolate flavor and color of the cake."

Apr 6, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

The Karmel Cake. Is it a true Plain Jane that has no business being in a cookbook that features the likes of the Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze or the Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange Buttercream? Or is it the ugly duckling that turns out to be a beautiful swan? That is the question the Heavenly Cake Bakers answered last week.

I thought that the ingenious Bakers might look askance at this single-layer unadorned cake and would find some ways to prettify it. But most people kept it simple.

Jenn, however, couldn't quite resist finding some way to make it cute, so she used her new butterfly cakelet pan. The little butterfly cakes are cute all right, although they pretty much refused to budge out of the pan. Also, Jenn's husband decided they had a "weird" taste, so the Karmel cake, cute or no, may not be repeated there.

Lola's husband also failed to rave about the cake. He said it was "okay, but he has preferred other cakes that I have made."

This less-than-enthusiastic reaction was decidedly a minority view, however.

 Lois, for example, found nothing "plain about the finished product," and (after making two cupcakes for home consumption) sent it with her husband to his workplace, where it was devoured in record time.

sent hers to work for the same reason. When she asked her husband whether to leave the cake at home or take it to work, he said, “Take it to work. If you keep it here, I’ll eat it and get fat.”

Raymond was ecstatic about the cake: "The rich and butter taste of the caramel really shines through here and every mouthful is an explosion of rich and mellow caramel flavor. No tame flower this, but a full flavored gutsy cake with a nice crumb and a strong structure to back it up. You will definitely savor every bite of this cake."

As was Katya, who loved the cake's "unadorned simplicity." "I considered dressing up this cake for the camera, but I decided that its rigorous simplicity demanded simple presentation. We ate it just like this, and it was complete in itself. The Karmel Cake, which is also a caramel cake, is a butter cake made with a milk/brown-sugar caramel in the batter, which gives it a subtle depth of flavor and a crunchy brown crust."

Jennifer added this to her "List of Cakes that are Good for Breakfast," which I must say sounds like a very useful list to have. She added, "This lovely caramel cake was a snap to prepare, and just as easy to eat. It had a lovely moist, soft crumb, with the caramelly flavors taking this cake further down the road of awesome than my beloved yellow butter cake." Cakes that are "Further down the road of awesome" would also make a good list.

In fact, some people weren't even planning to make the cake because of its plainness. When Monica, for instance, saw the recipe, she wasn't "wowed" by it at all. But after eating it, (and eating it some more), she decided that "hidden in its simplicity ... is a stand out cake. It does not even need frosting or cream or anything - ...I recommend to eat it plain because sometimes plain is good for the soul - this is one of those times."

Faithy wasn't planning to make it either. (Full disclosure: her change of heart may have had something to do with a veiled threat about Woody chasing her down with his tai chi sword). She was glad she did, because "even with my slightly burnt caramel bits, the cake turned out great."

People loved the caramel taste; if anything, they would have preferred more caramel. Nancy would have liked a punchier caramel flavor, though she thought the cake was "nice and moist," and her nephew called it a "really excellent" cake. Nancy would like to experiment with the sugar, maybe trying the recommended Muscovado. (I think Hanaa's insistence on using dark brown sugar may be contagious.)

loved it, but also thought the caramel flavor was a little mild: "If there was a way to ramp it up even more, I'd definitely go for it." She recommends Haagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche ice cream (melting) as a perfect accompaniment.

None of you will be surprised to hear that Hanaâ is this week's FEATURED BAKER. I can't tell you how much I admire her fearless attitude toward baking. "Let's pipe 'Happy Birthday Rose' on the cake!" is just one of her many spur-of-the-moment ideas. And her curiosity knows no bounds. Unlike some people (yours truly, for example), who just want to turn out an edible product and stave off disaster, Hanaâ wants to know how everything works. And then she wants to improve it. She is also warm and fun and supportive.

Our next two weeks are also butter layer cakes. When we finish the coconut cake, we'll have completed with the "Butter and Oil Cakes" chapter.

Miette's Tomboy is a smallish cake. It calls for one 6 x 3-inch round pan. These are not easy to find. Fortunately, you have the option of using two 6 by 2-inch pans, which is what I'm planning to do. If you do this option, the cake "will be slightly less dense and fudgy." But I can live with that. If you don't think that the purpose of the flower nail is to make a chiffon layer cake, you can probably duplicate the pretty pink rose that's in the center of the cake. Otherwise, you can eat it without a rose.

The Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake is, on the other hand, a largish cake--it serves 16 to 20. Unless you're planning to cut the recipe in half, or even less, this would be a good cake to take to the office--or offer up at the end of a big party. This cake doesn't just require packaged coconut--it's supposed to have fresh or thawed and towel-dried frozen coconut. I've never seen frozen coconut in a grocery store. In the other hand, I've never looked. The buttercream also calls for CocoRibe, but since it's optional, I think I'm going to ignore it.

Apr 3, 2011

Karmel Cake

If you've checked Rose's blog recently, you know that she had a birthday, so when the Minnesota Three (Hanaâ, Woody, and me) got together for our recent Bake-a-Thon, we knew we had to turn the Karmel Cake into a birthday cake. Fortunately, Hanaa is an ace cake decorator; otherwise, the cake might have looked a little sad.

Were it not for the first step of making the caramel, this would be just about the Quickest and Easiest of the Quick and Easy cakes. I didn't have the preferred Muscovado sugar; when I got my bag of light brown sugar out of the cabinet, however, Hanaâ said, "I like dark brown better, so I brought that along." Woody gave her the evil eye: "The recipe says LIGHT brown," he announced. When I told Hanaâ that dark brown sounded good to me, Woody realized he was stuck with a couple of lawless woman, and gave us permission to use one-third dark brown.

I stirred, and Hanaâ took the caramel's temperature. She wouldn't let me stop stirring until it reached 238.

The caramel had to cool for an hour. Fortunately, both Hanaâ and Woody brought treats, so the hour passed quickly.

Hanaâ provided a piece of her version of the Devil's Food Cake with Midnight Ganache, which she made with a whipped cream filling and homemade triple berry jam. Delicious! I noticed that it looked like a Hostess Ho-Ho and told Woody that he and Rose should work on making a version of the Ho-Ho for the new cookbook. Woody seemed less pleased with this idea than I was.

He's experimenting with making gluten-free ganache, so he brought a White Velvet cake with a coconut cream ganache. Good--but not as good as the original.

Hanaâ also brought some baghrir, or yeasted Moroccan pancakes, that she's written about on her blog. They look like big crumpets, but they taste more like pancakes than crumpets. She topped them with melted butter and honey with orange water. Not your ordinary breakfast pancakes, but they could easily become your recipe of choice--they're pretty addictive.

After downing several thousand carb calories, we waddled back to the kitchen, and whipped up the Karmel cake batter: so easy!

And it comes out of the oven so beautifully brown, smelling sweet and delicious. After the cake cooled, I made whipped cream. Instead of flavoring it with coffee (Hanna doesn't like coffee), I added some caramel left over from the Sticky Toffee cake, and, for those of us who do like coffee, sprinkled some espresso powder on top of the caramel cream. Hanaâ said, "Oh, we should decorate the cake--but I didn't bring my toolbox." "I have a pastry bag and decorating tips," I said. "You can use them," I added craftily. Hanaa looked doubtful:  "You? You have decorating things?" Hmmpf. I'm always being misunderestimated, as a certain ex-president used to say.

Look at that girl go! Not only did she pipe "Happy Birthday, Rose," but she also did a border, adding a few little leaves. She knows what she's doing in the kitchen.

We decided that we'd put three candles on the cake--one for each of us to blow out. And we each made a wish on Rose's behalf, which we can't tell, of course, because it's a well-known fact that if you disclose a wish that you make on a birthday candle, it can't come true. If my wish is any example, however, Rose is going to have a very good year.

Woody had been talking about his tai chi sword, which he happened to have in his car. He had never tried it for this function before, but it turns out it's quite good for cutting cakes.

Even though it was cake #3 for the day (#4 if you count the pancakes), I still loved it. I thought it was just about perfect, although Woody pointed out that it had some tunnels in it. This occurred because I overmixed the batter, according to Woody and Hanaâ, who both have more information floating around in their heads than is good for them. (Certainly more than is good for me).

It's basically a very good butter cake, but with the added pizzazz of caramel flavor. The slight crispiness of the crust adds to the uniqueness of this cake. (Eat the cake soon after it's done in order to experience this crispy extra, though--it doesn't last to the second day). 

And happy birthday, Rose!  I hope your birthday cake in Hope was as good as your birthday cake in Minneapolis.


Woody: "It tastes better than the cake I brought. Definitely a good caramel flavor. But Rose wouldn't like the tunnels."

Jim: "It'a really good cake. I especially like the flavor. The crunchiness gives it a special effect, unlike any of the other cakes."

Hanaâ: "I'm surprised at how much caramel flavor is in the cake--more than in the cream."