Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It is a Bible after all

Well, we had some fun with our maple items: natural flavor, sugar and syrup. We made the All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake (p. 39) with Neoclassic Buttercream (p.230) using the maple substitutions at every option. We added some toasted nuts to the sides and it was pretty as you can see, more about the nuts later.

Maple sugar, should you ever choose to find it and use it in your baked goods requires a larger volume measure than regular granulated. The amount remains the same if you measure by weight. The maple sugar was a light brown powdery substance that apparently is made by cooking down maple syrup until it crystallizes. It must make very small crystals, since it really did look pretty much like powder. In our travels, we did run across a jar of granulated sugar with maple flavor added to it... hopefully we used the right product. More about that later.

We also made the Down-Home Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake (p. 64) with Milk Chocolate Buttercream (p. 250). This cake was a cocoa based cake without butter or eggs. Since the mayonnaise contains egg and oil, this makes sense. Also, the recipe called for the cocoa to be non-alkalized (in other words, not Dutch processed). The leavener was baking soda, not baking powder, which has something to do with the cocoa and pH level. Any chemists out there, please do enlighten us.

I wonder about all the extra stuff in commercially produced mayo? Makes me wonder about using homemade mayo. Then I wonder if the emulsion really necessary? Or could you just use oil and eggs? Maybe the acid in the mayo plays a role with the whole pH level, baking soda not powder, non-alkalized cocoa thang.

Hmm, there's a science project... Hellman's (that's Best Foods for you west coaster's), vs. Kraft, vs. homemade, vs. Miracle Whip? Eww, maybe not Miracle Whip- is that even food? vs. liquid oil and eggs.

Both of these cakes ended up sharing oven space for a period of the baking time. It was a tight fit, and possibly not the best move. The maple cake layers were very beautiful, even mostly- the oven may be slightly tilted or the pans might have been tilted due to the tight fit of all 4 pans. The chocolate layers were nice and springy- looked really good, except that they were domed. That was curious since the recipe indicated that we would see a depression in the center. And, while the chocolate layers we cooling, we had some major seismic activity with cracks in multiple directions through perhaps 1/3 the depth of the layers.

We soldiered on and made our buttercreams. A word about buttercream frosting/icing what ever you'd like to call it. There is no cream. And most folks will find surprising, there are lots of egg yolks. Basically you whip some yolks and pour in hot melted sugar, beat it till it's cool and beat in butter. Voila! The sugar part of the formula can be granulated sugar cooked with water to soft ball stage, or without the necessity of a candy thermometer, you can use a mix of sugar, water and corn syrup. The maple buttercream was a variation on the latter which used - you guessed it! - maple syrup in the place of corn syrup.

Basically any way you do it, you heat sugar and add it to egg yolks, then beat in butter. And you get such an amazingly silky, soft, smooth, light but not fluffy frosting that is so very shiny and did I mention smooth? Once it chills in the frig, which is necessary at temps above say 62 degrees!!, it becomes a firm version that is less shiny, but it turns back into the silky, smooth, etc. frosting once it warms up in your mouth. The maple syrup gave it a really beautiful color. We did have a bit of a scare initially- it was soupy! It didn't look right at all. Continued beating with an ice bath was the remedy- whew!

The milk chocolate buttercream was a different formula all together. Melt chocolate, cool and beat in butter. What could be wrong with that, huh? It was warm on baking day, and this one benefited from an ice bath, too. I can't gush about the texture of this one- chocolate and butter- what more can you say?

We frosted the maple cake and decided we'd like toasted nuts on the sides. What a great idea! The crunch and toasty quality that this added was really a plus. We used 1/2 walnuts and 1/2 pecans just because that's what we had between our two cupboards. Robb was chopping the nuts and working really hard at getting them uniform. Well, a fit of obsessive precision came over us- shocking, I know. Thankfully we are simpatico in the kitchen and this was no exception. I suggested that it was too bad we couldn't shake the nuts through a screen the way archaeologists/ geologists & others do with dirt and get a uniform size of chopped nut. It took about a 1/2 a second for us to start looking around for a screen to use. I keep kitchen utensils in a metal mesh drawer and that turned out to work just fine. We were really pleased with ourselves. Knowing that all the nut pieces were uniform made me like this cake a lot.

Once we got it cut, we noticed large air bubbles- not tunnels really, but large bubbles for sure. Paired with the domes and subsequent fault lines on the chocolate layers (see photo above), we wondered what the heck had gone on. We tasted the cakes and they tasted good. The maple cake has a very nice texture, maybe a little dry, that is to say not wet with moisture the way the pound cakes have been, nice crumb, firm without being heavy. The chocolate cake had that very dark chocolate look that plain, regular, dare I say, box cakes (and I don't mean that negatively!!) have. As Robb put it, every family has a recipe that makes this kind of chocolate layer cake. You know the taste and texture. This is that cake. (So what is the devil's food cake coming up next time going to be??)

We studied the recipes and scratched our heads. Maybe the oven was too full and they cooked unevenly? But you'd have expected the oven to be too cool as a result of overcrowding, not too hot as would be suggested from the domed layers. Maybe the maple sugar wasn't the right stuff and contributed to creating air bubbles some how? That seems a stretch, but what do we know. Maybe the baking powder was old- but that would make less CO2 not more. We sent up the bat signal for rescue, and called my mother in Cincinnati. She immediately said she knew what was going on- she'd call right back.

We waited anxiously for the jewel of wisdom that she was going to share with us from her vast vault of knowledge created from years of professional work as a pastry chef. She called and said,"Yeah, turn to page 476 in that book of yours. There's a section called 'What can go wrong'. I think you must have overmixed the batters" and reading to us from the book that we were looking at "cracked or peaked surface and or large tunnels [caused by] oven too hot or batter overmixed."

In the very book we were poring over- each of us with our own copy on the work bench- staring intently at the recipe and trying to divine some explanation through sheer concentration, and all we had to do was look in the index under P for problems. It took a call to the queen city for us to turn the pages.

"It is a bible after all," said Robb.

Maybe a stopwatch will be employed in future sessions to ensure the proper mixing time down to the second? It is listed by seconds, and Rose doesn't seem to estimate.

Bake Through!


BellaJack said...

Those look so yummy, I'm drooling on my keyboard again. The maple cake is particularly lovely. I had no idea cake baking could be so complex, though.

joyforbaking said...

Such precision! Imagine--uniform nut piece sizes! Anyway, I learned about butter-cream icing and the cause of domed cake tops. Now that I know--can I eliminate them? We'll see.