Friday, December 28, 2007

Project Lila

Robb and I had a wonderful opportunity to make a cake for the 3rd birthday of Lila, the daughter of our friends Geoff and Hillary. Her birthday was on Thursday December 13th, and the celebration continued through that weekend. Lucky girl!

This post has obviously taken some time, but we've had a lot of real life stuff happening, some of it happy and some of it sad, and we are able to get to writing about this really fun time now.

Lila loves princesses and pink. So, castles, tiaras, pink, pink, pink, polka dots, flowers, whimsy, pink, pink, gowns, frills, etc. swam around in our minds as we thought of lots of possibilities. We hoped to include only edible items, this is obviously a big limiting factor for novice decorators, but we were willing to be pushed to (and beyond?) our limits. We considered that cake that is shaped like a gown, with a waist-up barbie sticking out the top. Seemed too predictable... although we did purchase the pan, and some scalloped edge pans that looked like they might be useful: 6 and 8 inch just in case. We also knew that we wanted sparkle and did I mention, pink? We found some pink gel food color (and a zillion other cool colors, too), flaky edible pink glitter, some pink food spray- yes like pink spray paint, also some really cool stuff called lustre. It's a powder that you can brush on and it's really sparkly. We got some of that in dark and light pink, white and pearl. We knew that we wanted the cake to look top notch and that our frosting skills are ok, but not professional looking. We decided that we would have the best luck creating a smooth cake with fondant. We got some pre-made fondant, and also made some (recipe in the CB pg. 307), and discovered in a practice coloring and rolling session (see the Art Deco cake) that they were virtually identical. And easy to work with- really easy! We were so confident, we didn't give the fondant another thought.

Originally, Robb and I had a design that included two tiers: one 9 inch round, topped with one 6 inch scalloped, each with some combination of cake and fillings, and a pointy princess hat on top. The 6 inch layer was to hover over the 9 inch layer by about a 1/2 inch or so. We figured that we could make the pointy princess hat out of caramel, similar in concept to a caramel cage that we've all seen placed over fancy shmancy desserts. For the cone shaped mold we considered foil, but realized that we'd have trouble getting it smooth enough. We ended up making one out of radiator screen. We thought that would be smooth and flexible and could withstand the hot sugar. We also tried a styrofoam cone covered with foil, and hoped the foam wouldn't melt. We planned to get it colored pink or close enough with all manner of the pink items listed above. We tried it out and for a number of reasons, did not get a good result. #1 we overcooked the caramel, #2 the radiator screen mold was too wide and short, #3 the application of caramel wasn't uniform enough to produce a strong enough caramel network to withstand the prying needed to unmold it, and #4 and most problematic for this project, it didn't color very pink with the stuff we had to work with. I think that it could be done, but we made this discovery on the Tuesday before the party. Yikes! So, we relaxed our restriction about edibility and agreed to use a plastic tiara. That was a tough choice, but a pragmatic one.

Funny how in making this cake, the actual cake part wasn't our focus. We were feeling fairly confident in our ability to make tasty cake and had dwelled completely on the look of it. In our batting ideas around stage, we had talked about an almond flavored cake layer with some kind of pink filling. That would have been fine I'm sure, but like a lightening bolt I was struck with the idea of making the inside look like Neapolitan ice cream. Brilliant! We decided on chocolate, raspberry, and vanilla, with raspberry puree between the layers and the wonderful raspberry mousseline buttercream for frosting (see our July 17, 2007 post for our raves). We still had to pick which cake recipes, so we looked back through our notes of butter cakes and decided that we like the Chocolate Domingo and the White Velvet Butter Cake best. We agreed that we could just color some of the white cake pink and call it raspberry, which we did. The only adjustment that was made to the cake recipes aside from coloring one batch pink, was some brown and red food color was added to the chocolate layer. In a practice muffin-sized version, the chocolate layer took on a slightly chalky look once it was cut. The brown and red made it just enough richer- or my imagination said it worked! Lastly, in addition to the cake layers, raspberry puree and yummy buttercream, I thought it would be good to have an almond dacquoise layer to add a bit of nice texture. Robb agreed once he tried the muffin-sized mock up. I think this may have been his favorite part! (It definitely was. A good crunch in a lovely cake!)

So, we come to Friday night, the night before her party and we have tickets to see Paula Poundstone (right here in Peekskill at the wonderful Paramount Center for the Arts) and we get started on assembly and decoration AFTER the show. We at least had the cake layers assembled: chocolate, raspberry puree, dacquoise, pink layer, raspberry puree, dacquoise, white layer, all covered with a thin layer of the raspberry mousseline buttercream, and the same for the 6 inch layer, except that the scalloped edges got lost in the trimming and it turned out to be round. That's ok in the big scheme of things. But, oh boy, we enter murky territory...

We got the fondant colored pink finally- it took a bit of time and a total scrapping of the first attempt. Fuschia isn't really pink, at least not in the way we wanted. Adding more and more of a color that isn't what you want doesn't magically make it the right color- go figure! Lessons learned- color a little bit at a time instead of 4 pounds worth, and use pink food color if you want to end up with pink fondant! (Ok, I'm a hair colorist and I know this, but somehow after seeing Paula Poundstone, it didn't come to me in a blinding flash, until the 4 pounds were already a lovely shade of a too violet fuschia.)

We had a heck of a time getting the fondant on the cake this time. The Art Deco cake was simple, partly because it was very wide and only an inch tall. So much for smooth sailing. Our 6 inch layer was at least 6 inches tall,and we ended up with a LOT of excess fondant on the sides and had a terrible time trying to smooth it. In fact, we took so much time trying to get it sorted out, it got hard. So, we ended up with a sort of bustle of fondant on one side of the cake, and a couple of seams. We were strategic with some fondant ribbon placement and all in all I think the "bustle" area looked suggestive of flowing hair at the back of the tiara. We stuck on some flowers and dusted the whole thing with the fantastic lustre mentioned above. Some princess ribbon on the tiara added to the flowing look.

Given the excitement of the fondant effort on the 6 inch layer, and that it was past midnight, we figured we'd go with buttercream for the bottom layer. We had a terrific polka dot ribbon and I was especially keen to see it wrapped around the base of the cake; minimalist and classy. We topped it off with a small branch of alstroemeria. (I think this small hand-held bouquet is called a tussy mussy or something similar- from Victorian times.) Lila enjoyed the flowers, carrying them around and then later in the day when she was tired, she got to tear them up into very tiny pieces. What a bonus!

We intended to have the layers stacked, but the pinks clashed and the style was quite different for that to make sense. With the overhanging fondant, we did need a pedestal for the smaller layer, so it was perched on some columns with a fluffy cloud of organza ribbon beneath.

The cakes were well received, the taste was great. And despite being mashed into slices with the side of a dull cake server, it held up pretty well. We had a great time thinking and planning for this one! We learned a lot in the process- found some good sources for supplies and interesting products. To some extent executing this one was less fun- there was even a moment for one of us of laying on the kitchen floor and trying not to lose it. But, we're troopers! We made it through and isn't that what this blog project is all about...

Bake through!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge

Just a quick post... more about the daring bakers group shortly... we have departed from the Cake Bible on this one.

The Yule log, or Buche de Noel as some of us might call it was a great success. It is a basic yellow genoise and a very yummy coffee buttercream For the filling, we chose cranberry, which turned out to be a very good selection. It was pretty simple: cranberries, a left over can of cranberry sauce that never got used at Thanksgiving, and a LOT of ground cloves, some apple cider vinegar, and so on. It was a chutney really, and modeled after one we recently enjoyed from Trader Joe's. It wasn't so sweet which worked out very well becasue the cake itslef was really sweet, too sweet actually. The contrast of tart cranberry, spice, and coffee buttercream is pretty darn good.

The mushrooms are marzipan, and were a treat to make, the evergreen bough is rosemary that was still hanging in there in the snow covered garden. I'm very pleased with the festive look.

Like I said, more about what the daring bakers are next time- back to holiday guests and fun.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The New Math

Ok, we decided a long time ago to do the all the brioche recipes over December 3 & 4. It seemed like a good thing to do and we put it in our calendars weeks ago. I was afraid if I didn't do it, I'd end up scheduled teaching a class on the Monday and leave J the excitement of roll out, fold, roll out, wait, fold, wait, roll out, place. Truly, since it was on my calendar when I got the email for open days to teach in December, I could honestly not include those days as open.

Well, the week before, we were discussing what we were going to do and realized that about two recipes later, there was a sticky bun recipe that used the brioche as its base. Again, any forethought shown in this blog goes to J. She's the one that finds all these connections. It's times like these that I feel like I'm just along for the ride.

There was this great moment when we were doing three batches of yeasty bread type cakes and rolls, and had doubled one, even though we really could have just tripled it and had two batches to work with since the sticky buns and the struesel brioche start with the very same dough. It was confusing, and it looked like a comic kitchen. I sorta half expected the Three Stooges to come out and poke our proofing yeasty bread type things for fun and hilarity.

We did manage to make three batches, and never had to throw any out and start over, thank you very much. It's really much easier when you double -- if you forget to double you can always add. Halving on the other hand is a bit different. By the time you discover you forgot to halve the leavener, your zucchini bread has exploded out of the pan onto the bottom of the oven- not saying that's ever happened of course.

Just as RLB cautioned, we did find that we were overtaxing the motors on our two food processors when we were making the brioche. We ended up using the Kitchen Aid mixer. The virtue of using the food processor is lost on us, next time we will begin in the stand mixer and just stay there.

Our day started with the La Brioche Cake (CB pg 76) which is used in the Praline Brioche (pg 171). It started with making a sponge the night before. Relatively simple process. Actually nothing we did for any of these recipes was difficult or required a lot of hands on time. While it took about 2 days to make them, we only had to be in attendance on them for about 15 minutes.

I loved the fact that we start on Monday and when we get to cooking on Tuesday, it's only in the oven for 15 minutes!

After all the work, the Praline Brioche wasn't one of our favorites. So much so that we never even took a picture of it after we sliced and soaked and frosted. You are asked to make a cake which is not really a cake, but a giant domed mass of brioche in a 9" springform pan- see below,
then cut away more than half of it to have a crustless 7 1/2" by 1 3/4" disc of brioche. Then into this relatively small amount of cake, you are to let it absorb, practically submerging it, almost 2 cups of rum syrup. Then the the sodden layer gets frosted. All that manhandling -- or should I write person handling as J did quite a bit of that herself? :) -- seemed for naught. The texture was a bit weird, as in wet, and the rum was totally overpowering although the sugar put up quite a fight in that battle. This is one that I might think of making again only because it seems like it should work. It seems unlikely that what we produced could possibly have been near the mark, despite following the instructions explicity. Really, I think it was the fabulous Coffee Caramel Silk Buttercream (pg 242) that makes me such an optimist- what a delicious buttercream.

This is The Holiday Hallelujah Streusel Brioche (CB pg 94) and it was really similar to the previous in process. The recipe states that it freezes well and since we'd been pretty much brioched out, we froze it. J and K brought some over for the holiday party that M and I throw every year. (One of the happier things that took up some of our time this last month). This recipe did hold up well in the freezer. It was a nice addition to the other cloying sweets that we had on our table. It was eaten quickly. With many compliments. The texture was a bit dry to me. But others disagreed, they said it was flaky, which might have seemed a bit odd since it was a yeasty cake, not a pie crust. But a good brioche has a texture that is a cross between flakes of yeasty dough and the crumb of cake.

MMMM sticky buns (CB pg 98) These were very much worth the effort that we made them again for our Carb Fest 2008 (More on that in the next installment).

These start out with the exact same dough for the Streusel Brioche. Then you top (or is it really, bottom) them with butter light brown sugar and pecan halves. This is the most dreamy, melt in your mouth, smells like a home should smell like bit of baking we have done. It comes out all toasty and gooey and if you stop to think about it for any amount of time at all, everyone has beaten you to them and all the sticky buns are gone.

As you can see, these are well worth the work.

Bake through....


Fondant ain't so bad after all.

Well, this is a long time coming. J & I set to work right after Thanksgiving. The Tuesday after, we bit the bullet and did the Art Deco Cake, including working with fondant, and the crumb cake.

Could we have chosen two more dissimilar cakes?

We were excited and I have to say for me, a bit scared of the fondant. Honestly, I don't like fondant on my cakes and usually peel it off like it's the rind of a cheese. But now that I've worked with it, it's quite fun really.

Let's back up....
Our first cake was the Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte (p 84). I guess I shouldn't say ours as J did all the baking of this as it needed 24 hours in the fridge. According to her, it was simple. Really, it's only three ingredients. Yes, three: Chocolate, butter, eggs. Amazing what can be done with eggs.

When I arrived on Tuesday, 11-27, it was a thick, dense, rich, chocolate colored torte not too high, but remarkably heavy.

We had decided to do this as the Art Deco Cake (p 204). Here is where the fondant comes in. We decided to decorate only one layer. Remember J doesn't like chocolate that much, and really why would two couples need enough cake to serve 50? That's just crazy talk.

So, we followed the directions of covering the torte in a layer of white fondant, and created green stripes to mimic the art deco feel of the picture. We really enjoyed working with the fondant and J is excellent at creating an even color with food grade dyes.

This is a good thing since we are doing the cake for our friend's 3-year old daughter next week, and our design has a lot of fondant in it. We'll post about it as well....since we won't have a Cake Bible cake that week.

This concluded the Custard Cake Chapter for us. So, on to the Breakfast Cakes Chapter with the other cake we did, the Sour Cream Coffee Cake (p 90).

Simply put, unanimously, the cake rocked. Never has everyone liked a cake, until this one. My only complaint, if it can be called that, I would have liked more streusel topping. That is usually the case for me. I love the "extra streusel topped" Entenmann's coffee cake. And most times, I make a double recipe of the topping, but not this time.

This cake had a layered effect. Once you have the dry and wet ingredients combined, you put about 2/3 of the batter in the bottom of the pan then sprinkle with some of the streusel topping. Then, place the remaining 1/3 of batter on top in "large blobs" then spread it out. Then sprinkle the remaining topping on top and bake for about 60 minutes. It seemed like a long time, but it did take the time suggested.

It was crumbly, and light and moist and really good with coffee. I guess that is why she called it a coffee cake. And, it smelled like all the good smells of a grandmother's kitchen.

I don't want this to feel like the reading of the minutes of previous meetings, but there is a bit of unfinished business from the previous post......

Fruitcake follow up: My sister in law loved the fruitcake. She said that the rum was mellow, but with enough kick to stand up to the sweet fruit. It must have been a hit as all of it was gone when we left Saturday morning.

And for those of you who know the reason I was I Indiana for so long, my 21st High School Reunion!, it went well. Got to meet up with a bunch of people who I've not seen for about 20 years. And to think these are the people I spent every day during the school year and much of the summer as most of us were in marching band together. I know, it's hard to imagine that I was in marching band, but I was (I played the Bass Drum - loud and plodding, just like me.)

20 years ago, I couldn't conceive of a time without Bekki, Teresa, Kelly or Mike around. Hopefully, 20 years from now, I won't have to conceive of a time when J and I aren't baking.

Bake through everyone,