Monday, June 25, 2007

Hiatus is on the horizon...

Our latest effort seen here is the Chocolate Domingo. It is a simple one layer chocolate cake adorned with a dusting of powdered sugar. It is definitely dinner party -worthy, even though it is so simple.

Some of the other chocolate cakes have had a very dark, shiny interior, with uniform tiny bubbles (aside from the tunnels from occasional over mixing), what we have described as being similar to a box cake. We mean nothing negative about that, btw. I think many of the cake mixes out there have totally nailed Devil's food cake. The Domingo however, has a brown, maybe even reddish interior. It's crumb is fine, even though RLB says there will be no crumb.?? It's flavor is complex and pleasing.

We tried a new cocoa this time. I wonder how much of the color and texture change is due to the recipe versus the cocoa. We had been using Hershey's Dutch processed cocoa. This week we used a higher fat alkalized cocoa from Bergenfield. What comes to mind, I'm sure is no surprise: do a side by side comparison! Perhaps I will try that this week on my own.

Robb and I will be taking a breather from baking together for the next two weeks, due to work obligations and guests visiting. For those of you following along in the Bible, we are almost done with the butter cake section. Only a few more weeks, Yippee! We are very excited to get into the next sections. Coming first are the fruit and vegetable cakes. We plan to do a massive test day and try lots of different carrot cake recipes, so please send us yours! Or, if you don't have a recipe per se, you might write and describe the best carrot cake you've had. With pecans? With walnuts? No nuts? Crushed pineapple? No pineapple? Shredded carrot? Pureed carrot? Applesauce? Very spiced? Mildly spiced? Molasses? Coconut? Sheet cake? 3 layers? 2 layers? Cupcakes? etc. etc. etc.

Before we get to that section and testing all kinds of carrot cakes, we will attempt one of the "show case cakes" in our next session. It is the White Lilac Nostalgia cake, p. 167. I'm sure we will be raring to go after our two weeks off.

Until then...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Don't Judge a Cake By Its Frosting

Janet has been away. So, I have taken the liberty of not writing right away. You can tell as this is Sunday night and we baked last Tuesday. Actually, truth be told, I lost track of time. A couple days this week and today, I lost about an hour -- somehow it was 1 pm and I was supposed to be at my Dog Run Book Club meeting in New York and I was wandering out of the Food Emporium at that same time. What does that say? Lazy summer wanderings I guess.


Look at the lovely picture of this cake. It's a striking amalgam of about 15 different ways to make a cake and frosting....Not really, but I get ahead of myself.

For those into the page numbers and such, we are still in Butter Cake land -- the first section of _The Cake Bible_ by Rose Levy Beranbaum (from now on, we're going to use RLB to indicate Ms. Beranbaum, it's just more streamlined.)

The Chestnut Sand cake is found on page 42. We still wait for a chance to cream the butter and sugar. Alas, it was not to be with this cake either -- I wonder if it will come about when we are doing the next couple chapters of "quick bread" type cakes. We'll soon know.

The cake seemed to come together with very little problem. We didn't have any doming in the baked cake -- we think it has something to do with our chocolate cakes as they are the ones that have consistently domed. Any bakers out there who may know why, email us. It had a fine crumb and a nice heft when it came out of the oven. Both of us thought it would be a winner of a cake. It just smelled so earthy and good.

We paired this with her complementary adornment suggestion of Chestnut Buttercream. We did the complicated variation of Chestnut Silk Meringue Buttercream. Complicated in that it's really two different things combined with a third thing. You make a Creme Anglaise. If you've ever made a creme brulee and it didn't set up, you've done this. Really it's a custard that didn't quite thicken. It's quite tasty, especially when you use the vanilla bean that she suggests.

The next part of it is an Italian Meringue. This is a meringue that is heated up with sugar, then cooled down in a mixer. It's a fascinating technique where you make stiff peaks of fluffy meringue by drizzling hot sugar syrup into egg whites beaten to soft peaks. Somehow to me, it seemed a bit weird to pour sugar -- roughly 249 degrees F. into egg whites. I half expected them to collapse, but Janet said, they were stiff peaks and they weren't going anywhere. She, as always with baking stuff, was right. (I should mention in writing that i'm no longer able to doubt her -- I did doubt at this time and one other time and, hey, she knows her stuff.)

Once you have the Creme Anglaise cooled, you add it to the Italian Meringue, beat in a pound of butter, and then, viola! it is a buttercream. That's your Silk Meringue Buttercream (page 239).

But wait dear reader, there is more....

Then, for the Chestnut Silk Meringue Buttercream variation (page 243), you cut the Silk Meringue recipe in half and add lightly sweetened Chestnut puree (page 353) flavored with rum. The puree recipe starts with whole chestnuts, but thank God we found the already roasted chestnuts -- we didn't have to worry about them popping if we didn't score them with a cross on the top, etc. The puree had to be pushed through a food mill, so we used the next best thing -- a fine meshed sieve, added milk to get it to the right consistency (what ever that is!), and powdered sugar and a touch of rum completed the puree. We were slightly skeptical about blending 3 cups of puree into half the recipe of silk meringue buttercream, but RLB did not steer us wrong.

Chestnut (Castanea), including the chinkapin, is a genus of eight or nine species of trees and shrubs in the beech family Fagaceae, native to warm temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The name also refers to the edible nuts produced by these trees. (

For people who like _Steel Magnolias_, it is set in Chinkapin Parish (which would be Chestnut County up here in the North.) That came from my random factoid producing mind.

We put all the various things together and came up with a beautiful cake. Look at the pictures like I said.

But, we both ate it and said, "Meh" Not really all that great to us. A bit bland. It tasted, dare I say it, like chestnuts.

Janet and I decided (or realized) that we don't like chestnuts. But, for the record, we did cool the cake, crumb coat the cake and fridge the cake before we finished the cake. These all did work -- have I mentioned that you should look at the pictures. Janet did a bang up job decorating the cake.

Because we liked the presentation of the cake so much, we tried adding chocolate chips in various amounts of cocoa from milk to dark to our forkfuls of cake. The chips that worked the best were the mini dark chocolate chips. The milk chocolate chips were too mild and sorta got lost. The really dark stood out too much. Janet said, "We are trying way too hard to cover up the fact that this cake tastes like chestnuts." She was right. Although chocolate chips might work, why bother if you don't like chestnuts.

I dropped a piece of cake off to my friend Kathy. She took a bit and said, "The cake texture is wonderful. The taste is a bit bland. But, I don't really like chestnuts."

That evening -- what is commonly known as cake night in our house -- Michael said, "This cake is really good."

Weird. I was so expecting him to not like it. He liked it, he really, really liked it.

Janet and I learned a very valuable lesson: We don't really care for chestnuts. Luckily, it's pretty easy to avoid them. Well, that and the fact that a pretty cake doesn't always make for a taste extravaganza.

Bake Through,

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Recipe Request

Janet and I are preparing to make Carrot Cake in the upcoming weeks. The recipe in the Cake Bible is very different from what we are used to so we wanted to ask our readers to email us their favorite carrot cake recipes.

Please send them to or

This way we can compare and contrast a few recipes that week.

Thanks in advance,

Robb & Janet

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Chill Out

It all started with a moment of panic -- not real, OH MY GOD! panic, but panic nonetheless. We hadn't found the chestnuts. I realize, again, in the grand scheme of things, this is not a problem. But, without the chestnuts, we couldn't make the Chestnut Sand cake.

Really, we bouyed and came up with an alternate plan. We'd skip it this week. Really ingenious of us wasn't it?

From that bit of panic, we searched the next few recipes, fore warned is fore armed, right? Then we saw that we're fast approaching the fun times -- named cakes at the back of the book. This time we made one of the "named" cakes near the end. But that's a bit ahead of ourselves.

After the chestnut discussion, we began making the Chocolate Fudge Cake (page 60) with the Milk Chocolate Buttercream (page 250) that we made on May 17. We decided that it was ok to repeat as it's what she suggests for the "Chocolate Spike Cake" (page 198). (You know if you take the page numbers in that paragraph add them together, divide by 7, multiply by 18 and subtract 84, you end up with the exact day the world ends.)

Our second cake was the Golden Grand Marnier Cake. For the adornment, we used powdered sugar.

We baked the Chocolate Fudge cake and honestly, it was the nicest chocolate cake in the mixing bowl. I almost would rather have eaten it with a spoon out of the bowl! Again, we had a bit of difficulty with the doming effect and a bit of tunneling. Janet thinks we over beat it and while it's one of the reasons that those things can happen (see "It is called a Cake Bible" installment in a previous week), I don't really think we did. I think we underbeat it according to the directions that Ms. Beranbaum gives. Well, it ended up being a beautiful "chocolate brown" Nice, rich, almost red with streaks of a darker, dark-chocolate brown. In certain light, it looked like a red velvet cake. I don't know if the picture actually shows it.

When we were looking at the cakes, just before pictures, Janet said, this one just needs a cold glass of milk. During the tasting, we both agreed. Try it out as an afterschool snack or a post work pick me up.

It was so tender, it split when we took it out of the pan. But never fear, we are intrepid and managed to conceal a whole host of things in the frosting. So, why did we try the Chocolate Spike? Because Ms. B suggests it and it was a way to try a new technique.

I have to say that for me all the techniques are new. My usual technique has been to open a tub of frosting and slather it on the cake, praying there would be some left over so I could cover my graham crackers with it. Usually, my tub o' frosting was too cold and I'd end up with a crumby mess. Of course, it still tasted ok.

This particular technique seemed suited for me. Take the icing and "pull it away" from the cake, causing spikes. At first it looked good, but as it sat for just a few minutes, the peaks became a bit bent. (I understand a bit better what a food stylist goes through.) The top has a neat squiggle pattern on top, but because we had a dome (and this is only my second "correctly" frosted cake) it didn't turn out right. Remember, just like bloody marys it may be something simple on paper, but in practice, it's a whole other ball game. In hindsight, we found that we ought to have been a little more patient by waiting until the cake layers were completely not warm anymore, and avoiding the temptation of "well, they're not steaming anymore, maybe it's ok to go ahead?" That, added to getting the frosting nice and tight would have produced a better result... we'll learn.

Golden Grand Marnier Cake, say that with me. Golden Grand Marnier Cake. Can it get any better than Grand Marnier, oranges and almonds? We'd have to say no. This was the easiest cake to put together. One of the prettiest out of the pan -- look at those pictures! And, trust me, the one that just called out for a dusting of powdered sugar. Our only comment was that the Grand Marnier Cake needed a cup of coffee. Try it for an after work snack or a Saturday or Sunday brunch. You brush the hot cake with a yummy syrup of Grand Marnier, orange juice and sugar that smells fantastic. That should help keep the cake very moist, as if there will be any trouble finishing this one before it dries out! The cake has a very nice texture due to the ground nuts and orange zest. For anyone who has had Janet's orange almond biscotti at Christmas time, think of that same flavor but in a buttery cake form.

But at the final discussion, we realized, if you're going to do something right, do it right. When it comes to baking a cake, it boils down to WAIT. Pause. Halt. Cease. Don't just go barreling through.

Let the cake layers completely cool.
Let the buttercream cool way down.
Crumb coat.
Then, chill.

Really, chilling out is your best friend and isn't that what baking with friends is supposed to be about?