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. (Wikipedia.com)

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,


Tamara said...

Tamara said...

Hi there! Well seems again I am in the wrong part of the globe because of all of your friends I may be the biggest chestnut liking friend you have Robb :-). The cake looks beautiful!

Here in Belgium admist the chestnut trees .... Tamara

octavius' human said...

Italian meringue - my favorite! Kind of a PITA with the sugar. I thought you liked chestnuts. Remember the meal we had at Mama's Maria's in the North End? The smoked cheshnut mashed potatoes with the venison? And do you recall going out to BR with me to buy work clothes for the next day because I was too drunk to go home? Good times, good times....

Robb said...

Octavius' Human, who knew that chestnuts would illicit such memories for Janet's friends :)

Janet said...

Missing the train home contributed, too. Lucky it was Christmas time and all the stores were open late.
And yes, the mashed potatoes were good, and I like chestnuts in stuffing too, so I was surprised to hate this cake. Perhaps it's the sweet chestnut that doesn't do it for me.

Robb said...

"hate this cake"....strong words there missy...


Anonymous said...

Hey guys,i have a question.
does the buttercream have a strong chestnut flavour?