Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dare We Talk Discipline?

I have struggled with this blog. Why? You intrepid reader may ask.

Well, it's be so long since we cooked. The last post was May 16 and it's now June 1. That is such a long time. I know we started doing this to hang out but also to bake better. That is one definition of discipline: an "activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training: A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer." (

I love baking and hanging out with Janet (baking in the evening means we can drink wine -- because drinking wine at 9 am makes for a long, long nap in the middle of the day.)

But after the last couple weeks -- my trip to Connecticut to do an evening event for framesi (the color company I work for), a baby naming at the begining of my vacation and my best friends' father's death the week before really limited baking time. Seymour was a great guy who could identify a song if you said a phrase from it -- he'd sing the whole song. If you had a question about a Yiddish phrase or what it meant -- he was the go to person for that. I thought of him as a human

So, with all the precariousness of life, we finally got together on Tuesday (I realize that I'm typing this on Friday -- but vacation takes a lot out of a guy.) I hope that explains the long gap from the last installment and some of my hesitation in writing.

And, honestly, nothing much happened in this session. Well, nothing except we turned out two very good cakes with lovely icings (or is that frosting) and we drank wine (one nice one and one that wasn't so nice).

So, why is it hard to write about? Well good writing needs conflict. A tension, if you will. There wasn't really any tension this time. Perhaps it was the wine or it was the fact that we've become old hats at doing these.

Well, as is usual, we did two cakes: Buttermilk Country Cake (page 41) and the Triple Layer Devil's Food (page 62). Here, don't they look pretty:

Really both of them turned out beautifully.

The Buttermilk Country Cake was made in a springform pan and used a lemon buttercream. It was the variation of the NeoClassic Buttercream, lemon variation (page 234). It was one of the best colors of buttercream that we have created from this book. It's a soft butter color, but not flat. The lemon adds a brightness to the color and a pleasant, sharp tang to the buttercream, which to me can become a bit cloying. Why is it called a buttercream frosting when there isn't a drop of cream to be found. (I assume it's because the butter gets creamed, but I do love asking that question.)

The Devil's Food layers were a bit thin, and slightly domed. We have begun to suspect the oven doesn't like more than two pans at a time. The crumb and structure of the cake was nicer than the previous chocolate cake. It wasn't so aerated. We did honestly count the time for all inclusions. And, there were no cracks, the cakes were quite strong, but still light.

After we did both of them, we realized that when you have completely aerated the cake and developed the structure, you find that it almost ribbons in the stand mixer. You can see a "spirograph" image in the top of the batter. For those of you who remember the Spirograph, it really does look like that!

My favorite frostings so far is the one that we used on the Triple Layer Devil's Food -- Burnt Almond Milk Chocolate Ganache (page 277). You start with a chocolate bar. Yes, a candy bar! You know it's not going to get any better than that, right?
You add a bit of cocoa and heavy cream. It all gets melty and good -- i seriously considered eating it right off the spoon. But, Janet, being the voice of reason, talked me off the ledge (so to speak).

It's sorta weird. You have this melty, crunchy concoction that is way too soupy to be a frosting. Matter of fact, you can pour it like a glaze. Janet had made it earlier in the day and it needed more time to set up than we had, so we used our new favorite technique an ice water bath. In a couple minutes, it was a rich frosting. And, the pictures don't do it justice, it was just amazing.

After I arrived at Janet's I started to complain about the baking, making a cake and doing the whole process. It seemed daunting and unimportant. Half way through cooking the first cake we were both humming along like a well oiled machine -- she did the combining of the dry ingredients. I got the wet ones whisked together. Then we'd alternate who was the sous chef and it flowed.

It was after that happend a couple times that I realized the other defintion of discipline: doing something even though you really don't want to.

So, here's to discipline. Just leave the leather straps at home.


suzyboo said...

These look delicious! Janet, are those pretty pink roses I see from your garden?

Janet said...

Yes! The rose is blooming like crazy!! I wonder how long it will last.

The chocolate cake is very pretty- I think whenever you have 3 layers it's hard to go wrong. As Robb said, we were very careful not to overmix after our experience in the previous session. Using Rose's method of adding the butter at the end (as opposed to beginning with creaming butter and sugar) and beating to develop structure still seems so odd. I'm sure there is a line between developing structrue and overbeating. I wonder what underdeveloped structrue would be? The cake has a great texture, very dense, a fine crumb, moist. The mayo cake had a darker shinier interior. I wonder how much of that difference is due to a change in ingredients and how much is technique.