May 19, 2011

Last Cake

This two-year project has come to an end. It began on May 31, 2009, with the Spice Cake with Peanut Buttercream, and ended on May 15, 2011 with Zach's LaBomba. In that time, I made 90-plus cakes, and liked them all.  More importantly, I made some wonderful baking friends. I learned about your families, your quirks, and your aspirations (just as you learned about mine).  We've seen weddings, births, job changes, house hunts, and other life-changing experiences.   And every week, I got to read your blogs, and summarize your reactions to the cake of the week. Just like I'm going to do now.

Everyone liked this cake. More importantly, nobody complained about this cake. Remember all the whining about the Apple Charlotte? I do, because I was maybe the biggest whiner. But this cake--we took it in our stride. A two-day cake? No problem.

Lois, for example, thought that although "there were pages and pages of things to do," "there was nothing terribly complex in the methods used (no hot sugar flung about the kitchen)." See? This is how blase we've become: if there's no hot sugar flung about the kitchen, it's a candidate for the Q&E list.

Lola was so taken with the idea of this cake that she made it early--and she made it twice. She "prepared this several weeks ago for a dinner party. It was so exciting to make and serve that [she] made it again the next week for other guests."  Two days of baking, stirring, whisking, separating, beating, pureeing, straining - this translates into "exciting to make"? Yes, if it's a "glorious dessert" that's "such a star when it is completed."

Despite a weekend for Kristina that included a trip to the ER with her husband's torn calf muscle, and her own migraine, she "just didn’t feel right missing out on baking this one with the rest of [her] baking buddies." With all of her experience, Kristina also breezed through this one: "The first step was to make the cake base. This is a flourless chocolate cake, with egg yolks and whites beaten separately, each with sugar, melted chocolate is added to the yolks, then the whites (meringue, by now) are folded into the yolk/chocolate mixture. Doesn’t sound all that complicated, when you say it like that." "Delicious," says Katrina. She also wants to try an (even) easier variation: "....use this basic recipe, minus the bottom crust and top glaze, just as a mousse/pudding type dessert in custard cups or sundae glasses."

I wasn't the only person for whom La Bomba was Last Cake. Nancy B. also celebrated her cake graduation. (If you haven't checked out her post entitled "Rose's Heavenly Cakes--All of 'em!"), do it now. It will impress you with the scope of this project, and make you want your very own cake graduation. Nancy finished this cake with her usual aplomb. But I'm a little worried about her brother and his family who have served as the tasting panel for every cake--what are they going to do without their weekly fix?

Jenn may be the only one who actually used the recommended (and "very expensive") Valrhona Manjari chocolate, although she did have "issues" with it separating, with the "cocoa butter oozing out." Unfazed, she started over, and this time all was well--except for her camera running out of battery life. Verdict: "This is really good. Very rich and chocolate-y. It's a tad too rich for me and I can only eat a small piece - which is not necessarily a bad thing. Hubby loves it, he said it's really good." As you probably know, Jenn is going to be continuing the Heavenly Cake Bakers, doing the 21 or so cakes she's still missing. If you're missing some too, join in! You probably won't have the same 21 left to do, but she's building in lots of Free Choices, so you can finish your missing cakes too.

Jane, our ambitious blogger who's set herself the goal of finishing RHC in one year, made her La Bomba a few weeks ago, and has already made three or four more. No lazy one-cake-a-week schedule for her! It would be an understatement to say that she liked this cake, which she calls The Bomb: "I'm eating a slice of this cake (I need to be careful or it will be the whole cake) while I am writing this and I am getting goosebumps with every bite that I eat. One of my roommates and I just stared at each other and shook our heads and then stared at the cake. Totally speechless."

Poor Sarah. She took La Bomba to a pool party, where it totally outclassed "the Betty Crocker brownies and Costco pies that are standard pool party fare." It "tried to fit in," she swore, really it did, but "with the very first slice, everyone knew it was different." Will Sarah's neighbors continue to invite her and her hoity-toity cakes to the pool parties? Will someone sabotage her silicone? Stay tuned to her blog, which will continue, and see what further adventures await Sarah the Bear.

Jennifer, AKA Evil Cake Lady, has been with us from the beginning, and will continue along with Jenn's "Straggler's blog." Luckily for Jennifer, she was enough of a straggler to get the benefit of Zach's (yes, the Zach of "Zach's La Bomba") permission to use a hand mixer to mix the sabayon. Although she will not develop of one perfectly toned arm from hours of whisking, she did get the benefit of the quicker, easier sabayon. She also found a cup of black lacquer glaze in her freezer (how many people have spare pints of black lacquer glaze?), so her cake--with two major shortcuts--was almost Quick and Easy. And did she like it? "The dessert is indeed a showstopper and a perfect way to show your friends exactly how awesome your baking skills have become."

Indeed, we are all awesome. So universally awesome that I can't bring myself to pick a FEATURED BAKER this week. Instead, a heartfelt tribute to Rose: writer, teacher, mentor, friend. Baking from one of Rose's cookbooks is a little like taking piano lessons from oh, say, Mozart, with the added benefit that Rose is alive.

Although it's clear from her books that she's a way better baker than you'll ever be, it's not her goal to let you know that. She wants to teach you everything she knows so that you will become the best possible baker that you can be, given your talents and limitations. And when you stumble along, Rose/Mozart doesn't point out your stumbles. She applauds your accomplishments. In the end, you bake something--a whole lot of somethings if you cook your way through a cookbook--that you would have thought was way beyond your capacities. Thanks, Rose. I can't wait for the next cookbook.

Although I just titled this post "Last Cake," there will always be Next Cakes too. Most immediately, there is the Barcelona Brownie Bar, Jenn's pick for the May 23 baking project. I've made these several times after my original BBB post of October 12, 2009. I hope you make them too--they're wonderful, with or without the ganache. The following week, Jenn et al. are set to tackle the chocolate raspberry trifle. Oh, that is so good!

But even if you don't bake along in this project, or any other project, I assume if you're reading this you've got some interest in making cakes, especially RLB cakes, and that you'll have plenty of "Next Cakes" in store for you. Bon appetit and adieu!

May 15, 2011

Zach's La Bomba

I was in a petulant mood when I went to Whole Foods on Friday morning. It was the third grocery store I'd gone to in my search for blackberry tea, and I was irritated at myself for spending so much time tracking down an ingredient that was, after all, only going to flavor 1/4 cup of liquid. I was sure the tea wasn't crucial, but I wanted to find it. And I didn't really know how I felt about making the last cake in this project. But I found the tea--at least I found black raspberry, and I decided that was close enough.

And I also found some nice chocolate: a hunk of Callebaut and some Cordillera 59% discs (it's a chocolate I'd never heard of--made in Colombia and very good).

When the nice young woman at the checkout counter was ringing up my purchases, she looked at the chocolate, cream, and blackberries, and said, "It looks like you're making something fancy."
"I am," I allowed.
NYW: "What is it?"
Me: "A sort of chocolate-blackberry mousse cake."
NYW: "That sounds amazing!. Where did you get the recipe?"
Me: "Rose's Heavenly Cakes. It's by Rose Levy Beranbaum...I don't know if you're familiar with her,..."
NYW: "Of course I am. She's famous! Is the tea for this too?"
Me: "Yes--I've been looking all over for it."
NYW: "You'll have so much fun making this. I know it will be fabulous!"

Her enthusiasm helped remind me of the general awesomeness and fabulousness of the project and the cakes and the bakers, and I was actually whistling a happy tune by the time I got home.
A good thing because I spent the rest of the afternoon making the blackberry mousse and dirtying every pot, pan, and bowl in my cupboards. The mousse is made in two parts: the blackberry sabayon and the rest. A sabayon, kissing cousin to the Italian zabaglione, is characterized by beating a lot of egg yolks and sugar over simmering water.

Since this involves about 10 minutes of constant whisking, if you made a sabayon every day, your whisking arm would probably become quite toned.
This sabayon also contains the elusive blackberry tea (one-quarter cup; drink what's left in the cup), some chocolate, and a little cream.

Put the sabayon aside to cool, and on with the rest of the mousse. The first step to making a smooth blackberry puree is to whirl the blackberries in the food processor.

See all the seeds whirling about? That means that the next step is one of my least favorite things to do: pressing the berries through a sieve so the puree becomes seedless.

Heat the puree with gelatin.

Melt more chocolate in more cream.

Whip still more cream.

Then mix everything, including the sabayon, together, and pour it into the purple silicone mold that you've borrowed from Woody.

Put it in the freezer, and you're done for the day. Simple enough, right? I was trying to figure out why it took me so long when it really wasn't that complicated. I realized that there was a lot of cooling time involved. Also a lot of recipe reading--I must have read every paragraph two or three times. I didn't want to have to admit screwing up my final cake!

Day Two:
Woody said he'd come over to watch (over) me as I completed My Last Cake, so I waited until he finished his Saturday t'ai chi class before making the cake. Nothing to it! Just a little flourless mousse cake. Woody discombobulated me by suggesting that the instructions in my book were wrong. "I think the oven rack should be in the middle, not the lower third" he said.
"Woody! Are you saying that Rose is wrong?" I was shocked.
"No, I'm just saying you should check the actual book--not the proofs you're using."
I sighed my martyr sigh and checked the "real" book. Ha. The recipe says that the rack should be in the lower third. I kept it there and started chopping and melting more chocolate. How much chocolate is in this cake? I count a total of 11 ounces plus nearly 2 ounces of cocoa for the glaze. Chocolate has become a staple in my house now, along with butter and cream.

My last picture of the miraculous transformation of sunny yellow egg yolks into this creamy mixture:

I love it when that happens. For some reason, it amazes me more than the transformation of egg whites into meringue.

The egg-yolk/chocolate mixture is pretty solid, so it takes some muscle power to fold the egg whites into it, but it ends up being a smooth batter that pours neatly into a parchment-lined half-sheet pan.

Done in just 12 minutes. To satisfy Woody, who is always complaining that I don't take sufficient notes from my baking, I cross out "15," and write a big "12" in the margin of the book. He beams. I expect him to start calling me grasshopper.
We take a break while the cake is cooling and watch Rose on Martha Stewart's show. We like the part where Rose gives Martha permission not to measure the vanilla.

Back to work. I've done a lot of searching for the right-sized circular object to use as my cake template. It turns out to be a lid from a set of Ikea plastic storage bowls.

I ask Woody why we have to make so much cake to get one lousy circle. He doesn't really know, but after I taste it, I stop complaining. It's really good--moist and seriously chocolatey. I don't mind having all those scraps.

More waiting while one of the cake rounds cools and firms up in the refrigerator, so it must be time to make the final component: the black lacquer glaze. Of course, this is the fourth time we've made the lacquer glaze, so it's not quite so wondrous as it was the first time. It turns out just about perfect, and all I have to do is let it cool.

Woody, bless his heart, has brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate the successful completion of the project, but he refuses to let me break it open until I finish making the glaze. I think he's afraid I'll get too snockered to do it.

The front pages of the cookbook finally fall off. They'd been hanging by a thread for the last month or so, and finally gave way. I hated to use my real book for all these recipes--I like the way it's still in pristine shape.

Cheers! Here's to Rose, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, and all the Heavenly Cake Bakers!

The frozen mousse came out of the mold without a hitch.

Just a few remaining steps--pour the cooled glaze over the bombe. It seems extra glossy this time.

I think I'm being unusually careful, but it still turns out that there are a few spots that I've missed. Oh well. If I wanted perfection, I'd pay somebody else to do it.

There's more waiting until we can cut into the cake and try it. As usual, I'm impatient, and can't wait the full two hours, so the mousse is still a little frozen. If you eat slowly and patiently, there's time for the outer edges to warm up so the mousse is the proper consistency. But it's still delicious even if it's frozen--like a fabulous grown-up fudgsicle.

Wow--what a great cake to end with! Although it's time-consuming, it's really not difficult (transferring the glazed cake to the platter was the hardest thing about it). And such great flavors--the thin layer of cake on the bottom tastes like pure chocolate. The mousse is more subtle, both in flavor and texture; the marriage of blackberries and chocolate is one made in heaven; and the rich cocoa glaze adds a third dimension. It's a good thing I broke my one-piece rule long ago.

Jim: "I like the slight berry taste with the chocolate, and the different chocolate flavors. And it was also very pretty. The glaze stayed shiny without the hair dryer."
Karen: "Really rich, but really, really good."
Woody: "Rapturously good--that means it's uplifting. A fitting finale to two years of baking."

May 12, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

I enjoyed reading about your Free Choices when I was in France, and Jenn did a terrific job of keeping the group organized and writing her mid-week roundups. She was prompter than I am this week, I must say.

The white cupcakes--the last entry from the Baby Cakes chapter--are everything a cupcake should be: tender, not too sweet, and just the right size for biting into. As Lois said, "I wasn't looking forward to this recipe - white cake, white frosting, how special can it be? I could not have been more wrong."

What made reading your reviews of this "plain white cupcake" so interesting was the variety of frostings you chose. I suggested Rose's Golden Neoclassic Buttercream, or one of the variations thereof, to give you an extra recipe to cross off your list (page 299), but many of you, including Jennifer, "rebelled."

In fact, Jennifer rebelled two ways. She frosted some with a brown sugar buttercream which she found in her freezer and realized, to her horror, that she'd had it sinced 2008! She wasn't that horrified though; she ate it and pronounced it "still pretty good." She frosted the others with lemon curd left over (only from January of this year), and discovered that the freezer had been less kind to the lemon curd than to the buttercream. Moral: eat your lemon curd while it's fresh.

Vicki, on the other hand, was quite obedient, making the Golden Neoclassic Buttercream, which she described as "probably the easiest time I've had making a buttercream." She did flavor hers with lemon oil, which gave it "a faint lemony taste," so I guess she did veer a little from the buttercream straight and narrow.

Nancy B., already in a celebratory mood as she posted her next-to-last cake, covered her cupcakes with colorful sprinkles and baked them in festive orange and yellow cups. She too had good luck with her buttercream, finding that it went "much smoother" than her attempt made earlier in the bake-through. Nancy also noted the efficient symmetry of this recipe: "This cake and frosting is a nice pairing, too, because the cake needs 3 egg whites and the buttercream takes the 3 yolks."

Lois, who thought the cake would be too plain, had the same opinion about the frosting, but was won over by her "new favorite, golden syrup," which "imparts a sweet, toffee flavor to everything it touches."

Jane. our new go-getter baker, who's determined to finish the book in a year, baked Miss Irene's Strawberry Cake along with her white velvet cupcakes (if you're going to pack 90+ recipes in a year, necessity commands you to double up on your cake baking). She topped the cupcakes with milk chocolate ganache. And she's already up to Cake #12!

Jenn had some Golden Neoclassic Buttercream stashed in her freezer from when she used it to frost Mini Vanilla Bean Cupcakes, so all she had to do was thaw it. With that speedy route to the frosting, and the fact that the cupcakes are on the Q&E list, this became "the fastest cupcake made in Knitty Baker's history." She dolled them up with strawberries--so they don't have the makeshift look that you might expect from the fastest cupcake in history.

One cake left to bake..., but we have a new baker. (I checked with Jenn, and she said "the more, the merrier). Seattle Pastry Girl's first entry is pretty as a picture, with her swirly frosting and her purple quins. (I had to look it up). Welcome, SPG!

FEATURED BAKER status goes to Katya, even though (or maybe because?) Katya bakes cupcakes even though she doesn't like to eat them. In one short blog post, Katya not only posted a picture of mouth-watering cupcakes topped with apricot buttercream, but she also managed to sneak in two great anecdotes: 1) that the last time she made these cupcakes for a bake sale, it led to a proposal of marriage from some reality TV show construction workers and 2) that her sister "told [her] she was on a health kick, then ate two." For this short and sweet post, Katya wins not only the FEATURED BAKER award, but also the Ernest Hemingway Award for Brevity in Blogging.

Our next cake is my last cake, and the cake Rose suggested we end with, the famous, or infamous, Zach's La Bomba. It's another of Rose's multiple-component, 7-page recipes (our last one was the Apple Charlotte). The hardest thing to find may be the silicone bombe mold, which does not seem to be made any longer. (I borrowed Woody's). Fortunately, a glass bowl will also work. It didn't occur to me that blackberry or black currant tea would also be hard to find. When I heard rumblings about it being inaccessible, I checked out some grocery stores--sure enough, it wasn't available in either one. If I can't find it, I think I'll just make a cup of black tea and let a few blackberries steep in it.


Although this will be my last cake, wonderful Jenn, aka Knitty Baker, will carry on. I believe she has 20-some cakes to make before she's done, and I think her plan will be to include fairly frequent free choices, since the participants aren't all going to have the same cakes left to bake. If you plan to continue participating, please leave a comment to that effect, or let Jenn know.

Here are a few pictures from our trip to France. Jim took thousands--literally--of pictures, and I've culled a few from the thousands. My feelings won't be hurt if you don't want to look at someone else's vacation photos.

Our back yard in Brittany.

The town square in Treguier.

Our favorite creperie, Les Halles.

Treguier's cathedral.

Blue shutters, flowers, and lace curtains--typical of Brittany.

A hike by the sea.

The Rose Granite coast.

Flowers are everywhere...

The weekly village market

Dinner after market day.

The house between the rocks.

In the window of a Paris Chocolatier: 37 euros for this wedding souvenir!

Pierre Herme's shop (you're not allowed to take pictures inside)

A little Pierre Herme snack.

Poilane Boulangerie.

May 8, 2011

White Velvet Butter Cupcakes with Raspberry Neoclassic Buttercream

This little cupcake with its decadent frosting was the perfect treat to counter the wonderful French pastries we've been eating for the last two weeks! The all-American cupcake, light, rich, and buttery, can hold its own against any mille feuille or macaron. And the buttercream! Made with French butter, this fantastic icing could make a Frenchman bid adieu to creme Chantilly!
Well, that might be an exaggeration, but the Buttercream Framboise is pretty darned good (as we say in Minnesota).

I got some very cute tulip parchment liners from King Arthur. Mine are brown and gold. Apparently you can make them yourself because they're just squares of parchment, but that didn't occur to me, so I bought them.

The cupcakes are so simple to make that there are no process pictures to speak of. Just add butter to flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; then mix in egg whites, milk, and vanilla. I usually buy whole milk for cooking, but I only had skim milk. It worked fine, and allowed me to convince myself that I was baking low-fat cupcakes.

I should have been worried about the buttercream, but I somehow knew that it would work out, as it did. I spent about ten minutes letting the Lyle's Golden Syrup drip out of the jar until I got exactly 85 grams. Jim was sure I'd have to open another jar, and I was equally sure that I wouldn't. Stubbornness won out. Drip by drip, I got my 85 grams.

This is my Isigny butter from Normandy. I got it on sale before I left for France. If I were being true to Brittany, where I just vacationed, I should have bought its famous butter, which is excellent, but it's the only butter in France that's salted. I wanted unsalted butter, so I had to go to Normandy. But if you want delicious caramels made with salted butter, you should go to Brittany post-haste.

The last time I made this buttercream with butter, egg yolks, and Lyle's Golden Syrup, it turned out very yellow, and it confused people, who expected it to be lemon. I decided I'd head that confusion off by adding raspberry puree, but the frosting, without raspberries, turned out to be creamy-looking, rather than lemon yellow. I don't think it would have been confusing, but I added the raspberries anyhow.

And then, dear readers, I got out my piping equipment. Yes. Those of you who have followed my adventures in cakedom know that I have always hated piping, decorating, and anything that might come from Michael's. But apparently I've had a sudden change of personality, because my piping bag started calling to me.

Top each frosted cupcake with a single red raspberry. It's as pretty as anything you'd see in Paris.

And not just pretty, but tasty too! The cupcake's crumb is lovely--soft and delicate; and the taste is pure.

I was going to give all these cupcakes away today, but I'm having a dinner party tomorrow. I've already planned chocolate pots de creme as dessert, but I'm going to offer a plate of cupcakes too: a dual dessert party. Who can complain about that? Not Jim or I, the only people who have tasted them so far. We both loved the delicious flavor and crunchy edges of the cupcake, and the tart smoothness of the buttercream. I think these cupcakes can hold their own, even against chocolate.