Jan 30, 2011

Cradle Cake

There is a cake under all that greenery--a Christmas Cradle Cake. I had planned to make the cranberry cheesecake for our family's Christmas dinner dessert, but I made it ahead of time for an office potluck. Not wanting to repeat, I looked at the list of upcoming cakes and decided the Cradle Cake was a likely prospect. And so it was.

This cake has two distinct parts: the soft, tender buttermilk cake inside and the crisp, pecan-chocolate-egg white dacquoise on the outside. If you're smarter than I am, you already know that the word "dacquoise" comes from the French town Dax, the home of the famous "Dax spa" and of lovely meringue cakes. Those Daxians apparently like the sybaritic life.

My daughter Liz was home for Christmas, and she suggested that we divide up the components: she would do the dacquoise because that was the interesting part of the cake while I would do the boring part. She had never made a meringue before, so I kept checking on her progress..

Egg whites beat until glossy? Check.

Pecan mixture carefully folded in? Check.

Egg white mixture spread into pan so that it forms a rectangular hollow? Check.

Meanwhile I was making the cake batter. But as we put the cake in the oven, and I began putting things away, I realized that there was no half-stick of butter on the counter to put in the refrigerator. And that meant ... that I had added the butter twice. And that meant that the cake that was supposed to have 4 tablespoons of butter now had 8 tablespoons.
"Well, I hate to say it, Mom," said my daughter, "but that's what you get for back-seat baking. If you'd focused on your own part instead of hovering over me, that never would have happened." Hmmph. Back-seat baking indeed.

I had hopes that the butter incident wouldn't adversely affect the cake, but no such luck. The cake sank down in the pan and a small testing bite revealed that the cake had a heavy, lumpen quality that wasn't going to impress anyone. Proof positive that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. We had plenty of ingredients and enough time, so we started over. This time, the chastened chief baker stayed focused on her own job. We also put the first attempt out in the back yard for the birds and squirrels. They seemed quite jolly about it. I almost expected them to burst into song.

No problems at all the second time around. The cake didn't sink. We unmolded it without incident. The sous chef decided it looked boring and needed considerable spiffing up to make it worthy of its status as Christmas dessert.

My so-called assistant decorated the cake with stripes of chocolate drizzle glaze, and decorated the sides of the platter with various holiday greens. Then she decided that even the side greens and the drizzle weren't festive enough, so she added more on the top of the cake itself. Finally, she pronounced it gala enough for the occasion.

I personally loved the simple but flavorful buttermilk cake that is the backbone of this dessert; others preferred the taste of the dacquoise. In the end, it's the combination of creamy and crunchy, mellow and complex, that makes this cake so special.

Liz: "The outside crunchy part is really good. The cake itself is more boring."
Danny: "Aren't we supposed to say things that will sound good in print? This pleases my palate."
Lisa: "I really like this cake. I know I'm supposed to say something witty but I can't think of anything."
Jim: "I hate to say this, but the outside part with chocolate and pecans is really good."

Jan 27, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

In Mark Bittman's farewell Minimalist column in Wednesday's NYT, he praised the virtues of cooking with others: "And I discovered that you never cook with someone else without learning something. In every case, there's a two-way transfer of knowledge. If they know less than you do, you grow from teaching. If more, of course, you grow from learning."

It's this "two-way transfer of knowledge" that I've grown to appreciate from this blog and the wonderful bloggers who have devoted their time and passion for baking to this project.

Of course, we all know and love how Rose manages to work in techniues and instructions in every recipe. When we follow a "Rose rrecipe," we don't just end up with a final project; we've taken a class on the subject.

And we teach each other. This week's blogs about the Tres Cafe Genoise are a perfect example.
Some people had problems with the whipped ganache in this recipe.

Monica, for example, "trash talked" the cake, and the cake trash talked Monica right back, forcing her to make the ganache five times until she got it right. "It probably would have been six, but it was eleven at night and I totally threw the white flag at the cake."

Not far behind was Lynnette, who took "three tries" for the ganache and still ddidn't think she got it "perfect," although she liked the way it tasted.

Jenn also put herself in the "third time's (almost) a charm" category. Her first attempt curdled, but she saved it (thanks to Rose's instructions), only to have it curdle again. The third time was perfect - until it threatened to curdle once more. But there was "no way" she was going for a fourth time.

also credited one of Rose's hints ("continue whipping ... just until very soft, floppy peaks form when the whisk is raised") with keeping her ganache in shape.

Mendy reported that his ganache was a little grainy, but he blamed that on his chocolate, which he thought was subpar. (No brand given--to protect the guilty?)

Nancy B. started out with a "lovely, smooth" ganache, but by the time she was ready to frost the cake, she had "an instantly grainy mess. At this point I wasn't putting more effort into it (hey, the ganache still tasted fine, and didn't have an objectionable mouth-feel), so I frosted away regardless."

Not only does Rose give helpful hints in her recipes, which are read and repeated by our bloggers, but along comes someone like Hanaa, who has perfected her own shortcut to the whipped ganache. (I know it works--at least for Hanaa--because I watched and tasted).

After Hanaa posted her 25-minute ganache pointers, Jennifer had a chance to try them out. The result? "A curdle-free whipped ganache, for the first time in my life. Thanks Hanaa!"

We traded hints and suggestions on more than ganache. Jenn suggested to Andrea, who resisted the Tres Cafe cake because she's cut out caffeine, that she give it a try using decaf coffee. (The very same Jenn, always helpful, also reminded Monica, who was making noises about moving to Minnesota from Florida, that it gets considerably colder in MN than in FL).

Surprisingly, we had a few people who baked this "tres" coffee cake when they don't even like coffee. Kristin put it as plainly as possible: "I just don't like coffee." And yet, she liked this cake. In fact, she "really enjoyed" it: "I guess if you put enough sugar and chocolate in anything I can probably be convinced to get on board!"
Jennifer doesn't like to drink coffee, but she does like its smell.

Now Raymond--well, he just liked everything about this cake: the beurre noisette, the vanilla, the coffee, the cake, the ganache. I think this week Raymond was one of of those who was transferring his knowledge outward.

Special appreciation to Maria, who made this cake after recovering from croup (I thought you only got that when you were under five years old!) and after saying goodbye to her beloved dog,Bruzer.

Our FEATURED BAKER this week is Lola. Her post was short, but sweet, and her picture of the cake, resting on colorful Mexican pottery (at least that's what I choose to believe it is), was an appetizing sight to behold. Good enough reason right there--but there's more. Lola just returned from a trip to Guanajuato and San Miguel Allende with some frostbitten friends from Toronto. She generously offered to share her "information on absolutely perfect B&Bs and restaurants in that area." If anyone is interested, just let her know.

Next up: the delightful Cradle Cake. It makes a very nice Holiday cake (any holiday will do). If you don't have a holiday, it makes a good non-holiday cake too. If anyone feels like tackling the mocha ganache again, one option for decorating the cake is to frost and swirl the cradle cake ewith the ganache. If that idea makes you scream in frustration, I would suggest the Drizzle Glaze option.

The following week we'll be doing Mud Turtle Cupcakes. I can't wait to try the combination of caramel, toasted pecans, and ganache.
Raymond, you'll be glad to know that after these cupcakes, we have only two selections from the Baby Cakes chapter left.

Jan 23, 2011

Genoise Très Café

I won't even try to pretend that I'm the one who did the beautiful piping on this cake.

Once again, the fearless Minnesota Threesome baked together, and Hanaâ the Magnificent is responsible for the piping. She also patiently gave me an introductory lesson in cake decorating, which I resisted (to no avail).

Hanaâ, Woody, and I did a blind chocolate taste test. Neither Hanaâ nor I had found 53% cacao chocolate (although when I was at Whole Foods the next day, I saw that they had bulk 53% chocolate). I provided Lindt 50% and Paul Newman 54%. Hanaâ brought a big brick of Cote d'Or, which she had bought at an airport in Europe.

We all preferred the Cote d'Or, even though it had the lowest percentage of cacao. It was smooth, yet had a bold chocolate taste. The Lindt was smooth, but a little too fruity, and the Paul Newman wasn't bad, but had an aftertaste.

After we chose our chocolate, we got to work on the genoise, which we could (almost) do without looking at the directions. After baking cakes for a year and a half, I have gotten very fond of a genoise. When I first started baking, my preference was definitely the butter cake. Every time I make a genoise, though, I see its virtues more clearly. Delicate, light, and moist, with a chameleon-like ability to take on other flavors, it is now perhaps my favorite cake.

As usual, I am amazed by the transformation of eggs to genoise batter:

I had made the beurre noisette ahead of time. I cooked the butter for a few minutes longer, hoping to get a nice, rich brown and not a burned mess.
Fortunately for me, I did; I think this is the best one I've made so far.

Just 20 minutes in the oven yields a lovely, golden layer.

I put myself in charge of syruping the cake and Hanaâ in charge of the whipped mocha. That's because all I had to do was cut the top off the cake. Hanaâ got the hard part.

I also got to fill out the testing form that Woody had brought for us. I couldn't find a ruler. Woody told me I should always have a ruler at my side when I'm baking. Jim was pretty sure he had a Ruler App. Luckily, I found a ruler before Jim could start talking about Apps.

Woody warned darkly that we had not allowed enough time to make the ganache. Hanaâ smiled sweetly and told him we could do the shortcut in no time. She briefly zapped the chocolate, and quickly cut it into small bits. She is no slouch with a knife.

Before you knew what was happening, she'd melted and cooled the chocolate, and whipped the cream--voila! light whipped mocha ganache.

We had a little discussion about who was going to frost the cake. Since Hanaâ no longer had the knife in her hand, I felt free to be stubborn and tell her there was no way I was going to do it when she was in the same room. I admired her skill, not to mention the results. She could have been a surgeon. Just as well she went in a different direction--she'd probably want to decorate people's midsections after doing appendectomies.

In no time at all, we were ready for tasting. Woody brought along another top secret cake. Since it's a secret, I will only say that it's over-the-top chocolate. Or, if you don't want to say it's over the top, you'd have to say it's at the very top of the chocolate heap--the Pinnacle Cake?

Although, come to think of it, the Tres Café Genoise could give any cake a run for its money in a contest for top-of-the-heapdom. When you've got a delicious genoise with just a hint of coffee (Hanaâ and I opted not to add coffee powder to the cake itself, so I guess ours was really a Deux Café Cake), that you top with a sinfully smooth and delectable whipped ganache, you have to bow to no cake. I loved this cake so much I was glad to cut it in half. I'm still trying to lose that stubborn holiday weight, and having this cake around would do me no good at all.


Woody: "Dee-licious. You two done good."

Hanaâ: "I think this is one of my favorite cakes."

Karen: "This cake has such a nice texture, and it's very moist. The coffee flavor is wonderful--and I don't like coffee. Very, very good cakeJim: "The cake is so moist it doesn't really need the syrup. I really like the ganache because it's so light but it still has a good chocolate flavor."

Jan 19, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

I believe that the last time we had a Free Choice week, I mentioned that no one ever did the Pinecone Cake for that occasion. Now I'll have to eat my words, since Jenn made not just one, but two of them. Okay, so they were mini-pinecones, each one a quarter of the full recipe, but still. Jenn reported having trouble with both the cake and the fondant, but you couldn't tell it by looking at her photos.

Nobody else made the pinecone cake. In fact, there were no duplicates at all this week. If I were a statistician, I could tell you the odds against that happening, but I'm not, so I won't. I will say that the most popular catch-up cakes tend to come from the Quick and Easy list, and this week was no exception. Even though this group doesn't shy away from challenges, it's always nice to bake something easy, not to mention something that's almost guaranteed to be a success.

For example, Mendy made the chocolate butter cupcakes, which his whole family "enjoyed immensely." Unfortunately, after making them as a catch-up cake, he remembered that he'd already made them. But it's hard to be too unhappy about making chocolate cupcakes.

And Katya made the lovely carrot cake for her lovely sisters. She's also going off to lovely Lisbon next week. Bon appetit and bon voyage!

Andrea wanted a quick and easy cake to take her mind off her job search. She was a little wary that something as decidedly easy as the Whipped Cream Cake might not be worthy of her new cake pan. But, as almost everyone else found out with the whipped cream cake, sometimes simple things are the best.

Kristina made the Apple Cinnamon-Crumb coffee cake--a popular Free Choice selection because what's not to like? Kristina let her husband choose this week's cake: "I gave him a few choices from the list of cakes I have left to bake. Heavenly Coconut Seduction, Red Velvet, Apple Cinnamon Crumb Coffee cake and Sicilian Pistachio cake were all on the list. He stopped me at the Coffee Cake and said 'That’s it. Don’t bother going any further.'” He loved it--as soon as he recovered enough from his cold to taste it.

Nancy's choice was the Banana Refrigerator Cake with Dreamy Creamy White Frosting. All she had to do was wait for the ice in the streets to melt enough for her to venture out of her house. It was "a hit" with her entire extended family, so it was worth the trip.

Finally, Raymond picked the Black Chocolate Party Cake from the Q&E list. He thought the flavors were a little "too intense" for a party cake, and that if he made it again he might omit the nuts and try using plain white superfine sugar instead of the turbinado sugar recommended in the recipe.

The cakes that were not on the Q&E list all ended up varying in some degree from the original recipe.

Sarah made Woody's Lemon Luxury Layer Cake--sort of. Part of the cake was an extra layer of the Southern (Manhattan) Coconut Cake that she had "lying around." (It's a true baker who has cake layers "lying around.") She made the lemon curd from The Cake Bible instead of Rose's Heavenly Cakes because TCB's curd has "more lemon juice and butter--very important." She also conquered her disdaim for white chocolate enough to make two batches of white chocolate frosting (she thought she'd ruined one, but resurrected it through the judicious use of eggs). Most importantly, this was the recipe that caused the "frayed jacket" of her cookbook to "rip right off."

Faithy opted for the Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache. The only problem was that the caramel didn't turn to caramel because she stopped cooking the sugar before it turned to caramel. Even with that mishap, though, Faithy received kudos for her baking skills, which she modestly tried to shrug off. And she loved the ganache even though it was a "mistake."

Faithful Gartblue posted from the airport on her way to Bandung, Indonesia, about her "chocolate-filled strawberry cake." But I'm pretty sure she meant the strawberry-filled chocolate cake. She promises to write more when she gets home, so we'll find out for sure when she returns.

Back on schedule next week: it's the Genoise Tres Cafe. As you might guess, it has coffee three different ways: cake to which coffee has been added; coffee-flavored syrup, and mocha whipped ganache. Remember, this whipped ganache specifies 53% cacao. I don't know about you, but I have totally forgotten to search out the 53% cacao. My guess is that we'll see quite a range of percentages among the scofflaws among us who don't care what percentage is specified in the recipe.

The following week is the Cradle Cake. Hanaa and Monica have been begging for this cake for about a year now, and I finally relented. I think you'll love it.

Jan 16, 2011

Rose's Cinnamon and Sugar Popovers

I suppose that popovers are not technically cake, but these--from The Bread Bible--seem like they could qualify as a cake, with their coating of butter, cinnammon, and sugar. Besides, even though they're not from Heavenly Cakes, and they occupy this No Man's Land between cake and bread, I chose them for Free Choice Week because I like to talk about how wonderful these popovers are: easy, delicious, and virtually foolproof. (Jim says he will make them sometime himself, just to test how foolproof they are).

The batter is a snap to mix, with the added advantage that you can make it ahead of time, which is very nice if you're serving them in the morning, as I was, or you can make it immediately before baking. One of Rose's secrets to never-fail popovers is using Wondra flour, for its ease of incorporation in the batter.

I doubled the recipe because when I last served these, they popped off the plate quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.

As an aside, people who have been following my not-so-daring exploits may remember that Jim and I host coffee hours every Saturday morning in January. Jim gets up early and makes the trek in (usually) bitter cold weather to buy doughnuts. I get up early and bake something. Last year, these popovers were the runaway hit. I was under orders to repeat them this year.

Another secret is to heat the buttered popover pans for a few minutes before pouring in the batter.

Since I'd mixed the batter the night before, my Saturday morning job was easy. Heat and pour.

Third secret: quickly pierce the popover midway through baking to release some of the steam, thus insuring that the inside of the popover will not be eggy and goopy.

If you don't like the cinnamon-and-sugar idea, you'll have a lovely plain popover straight out of the oven; it's ready for butter, or--even better--butter and jam.

But I've discovered that the very best thing to do is to brush them with melted butter.

And then roll them in cinnamon and sugar.

When people start wondering in, sometime between 9:30 and 10:00, they grab a mug, pour themselves a cup of coffee, and then take a doughnut and/or whatever I've baked that morning. This week the popover platter was emptied early on--even though I'd made twice as many as last year--while there were still leftover doughnuts at the end of the morning.

Keep this recipe in mind when you've baked your way through RHC, and you're going through pangs of withdrawal at not having a new cake to try out every week. Then you too can ponder this burning question: are cinnamon-sugar popovers more like cake or more like bread?

Jan 12, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

I wasn't the only one who was feeling a little snooty about plain white cake and milk chocolate frosting, only to be wowed by the actuality.

Perhaps Sarah said it best: "Whoa, Nellie! This cake is a dark horse if I’ve ever met one. And it has nothing to do with dark chocolate. The white velvet cake itself is lovely, but the ganache–oh baby! Never will I look down upon milk chocolate again." Sarah also has an amusing minute-by-minute accounting of her day--or how the easiest cake in the world "ate her day."

Faithy didn't feel like making a whole cake, so she made cupcakes, which she declared to be "totally yummylicious! I love the "whiteness" of the cake. So pretty! Cake texture is soo soft with such delicate crumbs. I love it."   In other words, she loved it.

Mendy, with the big family and/or generous heart, doubled the recipe, as he sometimes does, and ate it up within two days. (I'm sure he didn't eat it all by himself.) If you haven't read Mendy's post yet, do read it especially for his beautifully appropriate quotations from Song of Songs.

Kristina loved it, but that fact didn't come as a surprise to her because she's made it many times before, including as a weddingcake. She made them as "velvety soft cupcakes."

Shandy thought the cake was "nice and fluffy" and the frosting "delicious," but didn't think it had the "to die for" quality that she's found in some of the other cakes.

And, of course, some people were more smitten with the ganache than with the cake.
Jennifer confessed her love of milk chocolate to the world: "The ganache is made from milk chocolate, and I love milk chocolate. So creamy! I like to let a square of milk chocolate melt on my tongue; it melts so nicely and is so delicious! Dark chocolate, although better for you and more aligned with foodies everywhere, just doesn't satisfy me. I guess I will always be lower class ;)" The plebeian Evil Cake Lady made a luscious-looking cake.

Some people were at least as impressed with how easy the cake was to put together as with how good it was.

For example, Raymond thought it was so simple to make that it would convert even the laziest of bakers: "This cake is proof positive that a top quality scratch cake is even easier than a mix (not that any of us would ever use a mix), but for those of you out there that still do, try this once and you won’t ever use a mix again."

Katya called this cake "simple but snappy"--"Not the most exciting cake but solidly good, a basic, a birthday cake...or, as Jill said, 'A good cake to mas into ice cream.' It's a reminder of how far I've come since the days when I could bake mean bread but had no clue how to turn out a perfect white cake." (Katya made the cake even snappier by using a chocolate-caramel-cranberry ganache).

Lola also liked how easy it was (she made it in cupcake form), as well as "delicious," and said it "will be on [her] list when [she] needs a lovely white cake."

Andrea echoed this theme: she found the cake to be "incredibly simple." As well as praising the cake for being "wonderful" and the ganache for its "creaminess," Andrea was pleased with her pretty new glass covered cake stand--a Christmas gift from someone who got the hint after hearing her complain about her "ugly plastic cake container."

After I saw the other cakes, I was glad that I'd remembered to do some decorations. As I thought,some of the other cake bakers really tarted their cakes up--although many left theirs "plain," which turns out to be very attractive.

Maria's was most like mine--tiny white sprinkles on top of a ganache that she loved for its "slow, lava-like swoopiness."

Nancy B. calls her pretty piped-on lovelies a "token amount of decoration." I call it professional-looking myself.

Monica's cake took my breath away. And any baker who can make me stop breathing is a FEATURED BAKER. I remember the day when Monica did not consider herself a cake decorator. Now that she's started taking classes, though, she's really blossomed. Not only is her ganache perfectly beautiful, with artful spiky studs on the side, but she also used "leftover fondant" (see what I mean? Who has leftover fondant?) to make gorgeous ice-blue flowers. Always the sentimentalist, I gave Monica extra credit for making this cake for her BFF and writing a heartfelt tribute to her.

Speaking of extra credit, Jenn gets some. Jenn had baked this cake and blogged about it way back in November. Not wanting to be idle, however, she used this week to bake the Fruitcake Wreath (in cupcake form).

Don't be idle next week! It's yet another Free Choice week, and whether you make the Fruitcake Wreath, the Whoopie Pies, or the Pinecone Cake is up to you--but I'm sure you'll want to cross another cake off your list.
Coming up after that--the Genoise Tres Cafe: a "coffee cake" made with real coffee (and Kahlua, if you've a mind to). If you've already made the White Gold Passion Genoise, the cake will be a repeat for you, but the final outcome is not going to resemble the White Gold Passion. This cake specifies 53% cacao chocolate--I'm going to be spending this weekend looking for that. I may also look around for some chocolate-covered coffee beans, one suggested decoration.

Jan 9, 2011

White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache

I really wasn't looking forward to making this cake. It seemed so, well, plain. No syrup, no special filling, no ladyfingers. Just a plain vanilla cake. Literally. And milk chocolate? We chocolate snobs look down our noses at milk chocolate. Why not just eat a Hershey bar? But, as usual, I'm forced to admit that my scorn is misplaced. It's a cake so light and tender that you think it will disappear on your tongue, and the ganache--not too sweet at all--bursts with rich chocolate flavor. And it's kid-friendly. Since there's no alcohol in it, I was able to give a big slab to our neighbors with their two little boys who love chocolate, thus saving me from my unfortunate greed.

The cake itself was so easy to make there were barely any pictures to take. It's practically a dump everything in the bowl and mix cake. I say "practically" because you really dump everything except the egg whites, some of the milk, and the vanilla in the bowl and mix it up. Then you add the egg white mixture. Easy as falling off a log, and considerably less painful.

For the ganache, I finally got to use the bar of Valrhona milk chocolate that's been waiting patiently in my chocolate bin (needless to say, I did not have a chocolate bin before starting this project). This huge chocolate bar wasn't enough chocolate, so I had to supplement with some other milk chocolate that Woody and I purchased in bulk long ago.

The chocolate melted nicely in the microwave. If this were Thanksgiving and I were giving a list of things I was thankful for, one of them would be that I can now melt chocolate in the microwave instead of having to drag out the double boiler. I wonder if my daughters even know what a double boiler is.

Cream poured into chocolate? Also a thing to be thankful for.

Ummm. Butter mixed into chocolate into which cream has been poured? I don't know whether this is a good idea or insane arterial-clogging overkill.

While I am mixing various fat-filled ingredients into fat-filled chocolate, the cake has baked. In contrast, the cake is a model of healthful eating, ready to earn the seal of approval from even those who gasp at the idea of eating Fettuccine Alfredo ("You might as well eat a whole stick of butter!"). The cake has only egg whites and milk. Oh, and yes, there is that whole stick of butter, but still--divided by 10? It's nothing.

The instruction, "divide the cake in half" no longer sends me into a tailspin. Now all I have to do is adjust the feet of my cake slicer so that the wire cuts more or less through the middle of the cake. Much easier than blindly running a cake knife through the cake or trying to figure out the dental floss trick.

The ganache, bless its heart, turns out to be just the right consistency for spreading, and the frosting actually proceeds fairly uneventfully. But which I mean 1) the cake didn't split into a million crumbs and 2) the kitchen remained a curse-free zone.

I actually thought the cake looked quite nice plain. But then I remembered who I was baking with. All my super-baker colleagues would no doubt bring out their pastry tips and their designer tricks and I'd be the only one with a plain cake. I remembered I had some little snowflake decorations left over from the last time I made decorated sugar cookies, and I thought they'd look cute. Hoping that sugar snowflakes never go stale, I sprinkled them on the top.

Now that I've made this cake, I really want someone to ask me to make them a plain white cake. And I'll say, "Oh, I know just the thing."


Karen: "This ganache is heavenly. Milk chocolate is my favorite. The cake is light as a cloud."

Jim: "The cake is good, but not delicious. I like the ganache, but I like dark chocolate better. It's good for what it is."

Mary:  "Delicious cake.  You didn't make the little white sprinkles, did you?  That would be beyond the call of duty."

Jan 5, 2011

Last Cake, Next Cake

I got a little nervous after recommending this cake so highly, in case it turned out that everyone else hated it. But I didn't have to worry--almost all the bakers who tried these little beauties were as crazy about them as I was.
One of Nancy's tasters (who can be pretty picky) declared it "amazing!"

Mendy, who recommends listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach while making the cakes, describes them as "pretty fab." (Which could also describe Glenn Gould playing Bach).

Jenn's reaction? "Oh man oh man. This is so good. The sponge cake is so moist and boozy it's so good. The cream filling is so yummy and fit so well with it." AND you must look at the lovely butterflies than Jenn (somehow) piped as cake decorations. AND--for the second week in a row--Jenn made a second catch-up cake: this time the She Loves Me Cake. AND she decorated those with piping that said, "Happy Birthday, Jenn" because, as you might guess, it's her birthday.

A few people had minor quibbles:
Kristina, who ended up doing a double post with this week's cake as well as last week's cheesecake, thought that the texture was "almost gummy" but that it "sure tasted good." Kristina's blog also has a nice thank-you to Rose, written in response to Rose's blog post about the mistakes she made when she started baking.

Katya thought they were a "bit too sweet" for her taste but "intense." She used a Kahlua-based syrup and a strawberry-rhubarb glaze, but, other than that, she stayed with the recipe.

Cake pan envy was mentioned more than once:
Monica, for example, posted an "ENVY ALERT" before mentioning the Mary Ann pan. But her brand new KitchenAid might cause other readers to feel their own equipment envy.

Joan decided she just HAD to have the pans, and went out looking for them. She found a super-deluxe version, with a basketweave pattern, which turned out looking great (despite Joan's concerns that she'd "manhandled" the genoise batter). The raspberry adornments look great too.

Jennifer too invested in the Mary Ann pans: her "investment" consisted of the eight dollars she paid at a big sale at Sur La Table this summer. She said she was willing to fork over eight dollars for a "single-use pan." After eating these cakes, though, she decided it wasn't likely to be used only once after all.

Raymond definitely felt no pan envy. In fact, he almost passed on this dessert because it was "another of the dreaded mini cakes which everyone knows I loathe intensely." However, he persevered, making two of them in 6-inch springform pans, hollowing out the center, and he fell in love: "This is total bliss. And, I have to say, make this in the six inch pan and you have the perfect Valentines dessert for two."

Hanaa found a big Msry Ann pan at a garage sale--one of those things you pick up because you never know, it might come in handy someday. After sitting on a shelf for a few years, it did come in handy. Hanaa, who can never resist the orange/chocolate combination, slipped a layer of orange pastry cream under the chocolate cream, for a double-creamy version. Much appreciated by her tasting panel, who called the cake "light", "European-style", and a "good flavor combo, the chocolate and the orange."

I also want to mention Nicola. Although she didn't bake this week's cake, she posted last week with a summary of some of the cakes she'd baked but hadn't had time to post about. She also announced that she was pregnant--with twins. Her delicate condition gives her a permanent excuse to be late, or not to have time to post. But, as several people pointed out, she might as well bake now, while she's not a complete stranger to sleep. Congratulations, Nicola!

Lois is this week's FEATURED BAKER. How can she not be? She didn't just double, but tripled the recipe! She took them to her office for a birthday treat--I'm sure the birthday person never envisioned something like these cakes when she made a vague request for "something chocolate." Even with the triple recipe, Lois blithely described the cakes as being "quick and easy." How far we've all come!

Next week is a true Quick & Easy recipe--the White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache. This is one of the few recipes that doesn't have a photo, so you're on your own for decorating ideas. In the spirit of quick and easy, however, the less decorating, the better. You will have no problems with this cake, with the possible exception of cutting it in half. Some people (me, for example) look at this instruction with trepidation; now that I've got my cake slicer, however, things are easier. You also need a big hunk of milk chocolate, something we haven't used much for our baking recipes. Rose has specific suggestions for kinds of milk chocolate to use.

After that, it's yet another Free Choice week. Yes, I know we just had one. But, as I keep reminding you, we're counting down to the last cake. If you didn't make these Bull's-Eye Cakes, I can't think of a better candidate for your Catch-Up week.

Hope you all had a lovely New Year's holiday, and that your resolutions remain unbroken.

Jan 2, 2011

Chocolate Bull's-Eye Cakes

These cakes may be small in size, but they're anything but small in flavor. Especially the chocolate filling--smooth and suave, it's a very grown-up pudding that makes you want to lick the bowl just like you did when you were a kid.
I liked these so much that I made them twice. I said I'd provide the dessert for a meeting at a friend's house. That meeting had to be rescheduled because of a blizzard (which are becoming all too familiar this year), and I made it again for the rescheduled date.

Like many of the other sponge cakes in the book, this one started with beurre noisette (now as familiar as blizzards but much more likable). This picture is just beurre before it gets to the noisette stage.

This recipe made me very glad I'd sprung for the Mary Ann pans. I bought them months ago and used them for Coffee Chiffonlets. Who knew they'd be so versatile?

We could probably all make sponge cakes in our sleep by now--except that it would be a little hard to fall asleep with the KitchenAid whirring at high speed for five minutes. Sometimes I think I should be wearing protective ear plugs at this stage. I'd rather be running my KitchenAid than a leaf blower. I hate leaf blowers.

Oddly, I didn't have any vanilla Cognac in my now well-stocked liquor cabinet. The first time I made the cakes, I just used a little extra vanilla in the syrup; the second time, I added vanilla and apricot brandy. For the delicious apricot glaze, I added just a teaspoon of apricot brandy to the strained apricot preserves.
Oh, by the way, remember the Chambord that we bought for a cake a while back? A friend of mine told me to mix it with Champagne for a festive cocktail, and that's exactly what I did on New Year's Eve. Very pretty and it tasted good too. Thanks, Suzanne!

The glaze not only added an unexpected touch of fruitiness to the cake; it also made it shiny and attractive. If you like fruit with your chocolate, you'll like this. You might still like it even if you don't because it's not at all overwhelming.

But my very favorite part of this cake is the non-cake cream filling. I was glad no one was in the kitchen with me when I made it the second time. I usually taste whatever is in the bowl, and I mean "taste"--a dainty, ladylike tip of a teaspoon full. I ate my usual taste, and then I licked the bowl clean. One of othe best chocolate experiences ever.  The chocolate glaze, which I drizzled (dribbled is more like it) on with a plastic bag was good too, but not as delicious as the filling.

The highest compliment I can pay these Bull's-Eye cakes is this: it is the only cake so far that I've made twice. And I'm already hankering for a third time.


Susan: "Out of this world. The chocolate was so creamy. Not only delicious to eat but beautiful to look at."
Becky: "I feel like I'm eating something that I got at a fancy French patisserie."
Jim: "Love the combination of flavors. The cake is really nice and moist."
Rosemary: "It's delicious, and the cake is so moist. The chocolate filling is wonderful."