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.


Jenn said...

Marie, this is one of the longest "last cake, next cake" write up! I had to laugh at your "hmm..." about my counting. Keep in mind yours truly is a knittybaker who works in Finance (I stare at numbers all day at work, then come home to knit/cross stitch - all of the above includes some form of counting). Add that to the fact that I bake half recipes so more counting LOL!

Hanaâ said...

Wow, what a nice surprise! Thanks Marie! :o)
Actually, my boss (awesome guy!!) calls me H.B. (yes, “aytch bee”). I’ll let you guess what that stands for, haha.
I actually didn’t double the recipe. I just used 2 pans. To make sure the layers weren’t too thin for my 2-layer cake, I baked the cakes in slightly smaller pans (8”) to get more height. I guess that’s *yet* another change to the recipe. Sorry!!!

Katya said...

I'm waiting for lemon meringue...I actually bought lemons thinking it was this week, but luckily bought some chocolate as well.

And Hanaa, I want some strawberry mousse stat.

Monica said...

Hanna banana... ! Congratulations!

I'm actually looking forward to the lemon Meringue... actually, let me rephrase that: TOM is looking forward to that!

evil cake lady said...

oh Katya, I forgot what you had written about muscular men and leather goods! i was going to comment about that on your post but totally forgot. so now i'm sharing it with everybody.

great post marie! this is one of your longer posts, but it is great to read and then re-visit all the different ways one can stud a cake.

congratulations hanaa!

Alpha Baker Joan said...

Congrats Hanaa - I would probably bake in diff sized pans if I could figure the Rose factor. I have gotten the 2/3 figures for the all occasion downy to test my oven this week. So now I may be able to join you in using the cute sized and shaped pans. We are really learning a lot from you, Marie, from your very astute observations that are so darn funny.

Jenn said...

I am so bad, I've forgotten to congratulate Hanaa Banana. Congrats my friend!

faithy said...

LOL! Ya..i like your new name Hanna Banana..kinna rhymes with Hannah Montana..(er..i sometimes watch disney channel when either my daughter or son has control of the tv remote..!)

Congrats Hanna Banana!! :D

Vicki said...

Congrat's Hanaa! Your cake sounded so delicious. I'm writing your additions in the book.

Geeze Marie, just because I had not one iota's worth of ability to make a chocolate chip rose didn't mean my design wasn't intentional. After reading how many bakers didn't like the texture of the chips I figured less was better. Rose said she added them to round out the chocolate flavors so I wanted to go with her on that one. Actually, a few chips per slice gave it just enough contrast without overpowering it with a harsh contrast.

Mendy said...


Congrats Hanaâ! Well done, as usual.

The cake was for my father-in-law, not my father. My actual father's beard is far bushier.

The chocolate quality of chocolate chips always seems to disappoint. Next time maybe I'll stud it with 99% chocolate chunks.

I may not make it to the baby grands this weekend. I'll do my best. I want to try that milk chocolate ganache...

anitsirK said...

I missed baking "with" all of you this week. :( With any luck, we'll have drywall in the kitchen and be able to install hubby's new gas range by next weekend for the lemon meringue cake. We have to wait a few more weeks for the cabinets to come in before we can install my new under-cabinet electric oven, though. I'm getting so excited as the work progresses. I'll try and get a post up with some progress pictures soon.

Lois B said...

Congrats, Hanaâ! Beautiful cake!