Saturday, August 7, 2010

Baking Day, Part 1

Alot happened between the making of the test cake and the real deal. A suitable, basic buttercream frosting recipe was secured and tested on coworkers. Cake pans were procured, thanks to a friend with a mom who has made her fair share of wedding cakes. Ingredients were bought, actually loads and loads of ingredients. I'm talking a grotesque amount of butter, an even more disturbing amount of shortening, and enough powdered sugar to frost my bed if I desired. Well, maybe. I also discovered a cute bakery specialty store in Berkeley, turned onto by a good friend whose foodie knowledge is never-ending. The store, Sugar Spun, contained everything I had been losing sleep over....dowels galore, cake boards in every size imaginable, and BOXES. Finally, something to actually assist in the whole transportation aspect of this project. I left Sugar Spun feeling relieved, accomplished, and dare I say ready to get this cake baked.

I took off work for the two days before the wedding, but kept one private swim lesson scheduled for the Friday before. Wishful thinking, it would turn out. Thursday was deemed sheet cake day according to my handy dandy 'wedding cake schedule' I had made one night when sleep evaded me and cake dominated my thoughts. So on Wednesday night, I shuttled over a hefty load of ingredients to my friends' house...the decided location based on the superior oven and kitchen it contained. I also finally put some serious thought into final measurements and their derived proportions and happily discovered that one sheet cake would more than suffice the wedding guests. In fact, if my calculations were correct, there would be quite an abundance of extra cake. I also did some prep work to ease the initial baking process. I measured and cut out the parchment paper I would need, strained the seeds from the raspberry jam, and whipped up a good amount of buttercream frosting to be stowed away in my fridge until it could be put to good use. With the first baby steps taken, I drifted off to sleep.

Thursday morning started off with an SFO run to pick up a friend flying in for the wedding. After a quick breakfast with her, I headed over to the 'cake house' to start my endeavor. I needed to make three batches of the cake recipe to bake the two layers of sheet cake. Unfortunately, the batches had to be made separately, as I did not have the foresight to obtain an industrial sized mixing bowl. Alas. The first batch of batter resulted in me absolutely destroying my friend's kitchen. I'm talking creamed butter and cocoa powder EVERYWHERE, especially in my hair and on the walls. I vowed to make the next batch in a slightly deeper bowl. Soon enough, I had one layer of sheet cake baking away in the oven. I was already tired and couldn't begin to imagine how I would feel the next day, when I would have to make the recipe six times. I pushed those thoughts aside and powered out the rest of the batter to fill the sheet pan again. I've left out the disgusting amount of batter I consumed this first day, and also omitted the terrifying moment when I had to flip the first sheet cake out the pan to cool and prayed and cursed and promised to never do anything bad every again if only the cake would come out of the pan intact. Presumably it was quite a sight to take in. By the time the second cake was out of the oven and cooling on rack, it was time to get ready for the rehearsal dinner. Day two of cake baking still to come....

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Under Pressure

I decided to test out the cake recipe I had been eyeing for the WEDDING CAKE I was slated to make at a small get together with some friends (including the bride and groom). I had a new kitchen to work with, as I happened to be house sitting at the time. The whole experience was a little daunting and frustrating. It required me brewing my first cup of coffee on my own (using a french press which seemed suspiciously easy to me), as well as testing out an entirely new frosting recipe. It also required me to do this all with a big, yellow Lab watching me hungrily. The photos say it all...

So I mixed....and I mixed. And I cursed and I prayed for a delicious outcome. Naturally, the cakes baked unevenly in the oven and I managed to spill flour all over the kitchen floor, which the dog eagerly pitched in to clean up. I tried my best to even the cakes out by hand and then popped them into the freezer, sealed in layers of temperamental plastic wrap.

What these pictures do not show is the terrible, terrible moment where I opened the freezer door to get ice out, forgetting that I had precariously left the third layer of the cake to cool on a rack on top of the freezer. The pictures also fail to capture the shriek of horror and following curse that escaped from me as the said cake layer tumbled through the air and landed in my hands. Luckily, I managed to salvage the layer- with a bit of freezer magic and frosting. Sadly, I don't think I'll fix the damage I did to my nerves with the freezer...or frosting.

While the cakes were firming up in the freezer, I turned my attention to the swiss meringue buttercream I had been dying to test out. This frosting differs from the typical buttercream in that it involves many egg whites and granulated sugar incorporated with butter, instead of the tradition butter, powdered sugar, and cream combo. Why the extra effort of beating egg whites? Swiss meringue buttercream is supposed to be a frosting god, not too sweet and made, MADE for wedding cakes. It allegedly can hold up to any temperature and has a nice, natural gloss to it. This frosting god, however, is also supposed to be very tricky to mix together. So with a deep breath and a whole lot of butter, I went to work. And I did it! The outcome was unlike any frosting I had ever created or tasted. I couldn't decide if I hated it or loved it, so I slathered it on the cake and hoped my friends could help me decide. One thing I must frosted beautifully and held up just as well as it had been touted.

The filling for the cake was a raspberry confiture. I cheated and bought a jar of seedless raspberry jam from the store, and I still don't regret that choice. I popped open the jam and took out the cake layers from the depths of the freezer. Onto the layers went the jam and frosting. While I think I need to work on my frosting skills, before the wedding I was overall pleased with the aesthetic results. At the last minuteI decided the cake looked too blah with zero color, so on a whim I sliced up a strawberry and added it as garnish. Ta-da!

My friends- and myself- loved the taste of the cake. It was very dense and very flavorful. The coffee in the mix had definitely increased the chocolate flavor. The swiss meringue sadly fell flat with all of us though. I think we missed the sweetness of traditional buttercream, especially with a cake this chocolate-y. Thus, I was left only half satisfied and still on a quest for the perfect wedding cake frosting.

*Stay tuned for a post about the actual wedding cake! The wedding was this last weekend and was glorious in a multitude of ways. Till then, here's the finished 'test cake'.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dum Dum Da...Damn

So I realize it's been waaay long since I last posted. Pesky non-profit jobs will do that to you. Alas, the school year is FINALLY over and I've settled into my much less stressful summer job. Naturally, I have something new to amp up the stress in my life.

Awhile back, over either wine, beer- some beverage that clouded my judgment- I agreed (hell, I think I volunteered) to make my friend Hanah's wedding cake. That's right, a wedding cake. I remember waking up the next day, happy to greet my weekend only to suddenly recall my crazy pact to create a wedding cake in early July for Hanah and Scott.

Somehow, this fact managed to slip to the back of my brain until I glanced at the calendar at work last week and almost screamed out loud. How is it almost the end of JUNE? Do you know what month comes after June? That's right, JULY. THE MONTH WHERE I HAVE TO MAKE A WEDDING CAKE FOR 140+ PEOPLE. Somehow, the capital letters soothe my nerves. Sadly, the relief is only temporary.

Since my realization of the present date, I have finally buckled down and begun the groundwork. Here's what I know: the cake will be chocolate, three tiers, with white swiss meringue buttercream. One tier might, MIGHT be chocolate chipotle. That's only if I get my act together. Real flowers will act as the majority of the decorations. I know that there will not be an ounce of fondant on this years of working for a wedding business have permanently turned me off from the stuff. I have NO CLUE how I will transport the damn thing....or actually how I will go about putting the whole thing together. I have secured some pans (road trip to Sonoma County this Saturday, woot!), and I've also selected a chocolate cake recipe. Yet I still have nightmares of a cake that crumbles when I attempt to frost it and I still break into a sweat when I walk past the wedding magazines in the grocery store. Basically, I will be a nervous wreck till this cake is baked,delivered, and devoured.

To further alleviate my nerves, I plan on testing out the cake recipe I intend to use for the wedding cake tomorrow. This will involve me preparing coffee for the first time in my life. You read that right. Yeah, I don't drink coffee and I actually graduated from college. It can happen. I also will try out the swiss meringe buttercream frosting as well. If all goes well and I don't melt into a puddle of self doubt, I'll post about the trial run.

Till then...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An introduction....of sorts.

This blog has been marinating around in my brain for the past year or so, waiting to be brought to life. However, such life complications like college graduation, a hectic job search, and the start of (thank the lord) a new job have forced it to be put on hold...temporarily. But life has settled down, at least for the time being, and this blog can no longer be placed on the back burner.

I've been an avid reader of multiple food blogs since my time spent abroad in France. I spent a semester in the city of Bordeaux where I battled mastering the French language and life without an oven- neither proved to be easy feats. Perhaps because I couldn't personally whip up a chocolate cake or a lemon tart, reading about others doing so became my favorite past time in France. That and eating my weight in delicious, expensive pastries that were too beautiful to pass up.

Needless to say, I came back to the United States with a need for some serious baking sessions. Flash forward around a year and half and we have cheesecake, gooood cheesecake. We're talking bourbon pumpkin cheesecake. This was my first attempt at true cheesecake, though I've dabbled in the past with cheesecake bites and cheesecake marbled brownies. Let me just say, this certainly won't be my last one. I made it initially for a Thanksgiving themed party and let me tell you, the crust on this baby is worth the calories alone. In fact, I liked the cheesecake recipe so much that I made it again more recently, in celebration of my mother's birthday and my sister's return to the States. It's that good.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake, recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (who adapted it from Gourmet magazine).

For crust
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
  • 1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 ounces), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling
  • 1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping
  • 2 cups sour cream (20 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)

  • Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust:
Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.

Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake:
Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.

Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.

Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping:
Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.

Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

*From my two experiences, the cake definitely needs to be chilled for AT LEAST five hours.