Cake Year

One cake a week for 2013!

March, 2014: Mocha-Cappucino Petits fours

I had been wanting to experiment with jelly layers on petits fours and finally got a chance to with these little bites for a birthday tea party. They were delicious but so intense that just a morsel was the perfect amount. The base was a gluten-free chocolate cake layer, topped with coffee and then coconut jellies made with agar-agar. A gluten-free and vegan delight! These cut really nicely too, more so than I imagined. Although the topping was a bit firmer than I would have liked.

The last two pictures are of a petit four failure, once again trying to cover something in poured fondant and getting ugly blobs. But they were tasty — gluten-free almond cake with blackberry jam filling and almond-flavored fondant.

Week 48 - Glücksschweinchen for the New Year

I really wanted to do at least one recipe from Backvergnügen wie noch nie before the year was up. The title translates to “baking pleasure like never before,” so how could you pass that up?

These are a traditional German New Year’s Day sweet — sweet dough pigs filled with marzipan. Pigs are good luck for the New Year in Germany for reasons that are hidden by the mists of time. I made the recipe as written, even though it called for an obscene amount of yeast. In hindsight these would have tasted much better if made using a sponge and much less yeast. Otherwise, they were pretty decent. Thanks Manju for the lead photo.

And that’s it for the year!

I didn’t manage to bake each and every week, but did reach my goal of 48 cakes. And I worked through most of the different kinds of recipes I wanted to bake out of Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cake Bible.

Cakes I didn’t get to but wanted to try: carrot cake, chocolate indulgence cake, fruitcake.

My favorite recipe from the year wasthe white chocolate whisper cake (variation of a butter cake using white chocolate instead of butter).

Overall I learned that I don’t like pound cake, that I prefer traditional butter cakes to genoise for flavor but that genoise is much easier to cut/shape, and that silk meringue butter cream beats the pants off of standard vegan/Wilton buttercream.

I intend to take a few weeks off from cakes, but I can’t imagine I’ll never bake another cake; and will keep posting the interesting ones here. Here’s to 2014!

Week 47 - “Dacquoise” Cookies

Almost to the end of year! This is one of two final cakes/desserts that I made for a New Year’s Eve party. The actual dacquoise is a cake with big round layers of almond or hazelnut meringue and whipped cream or buttercream between them (this was a technical challenge on the Great British Bake Off 2013, a show I highly recommend although you’ll have to find it on torrent). These cookies are just the meringue portion, made of egg whites + corn starch + powdered sugar beaten into a stiff meringue and then folded with almond flour.

Weeks 45 and 46: Paris-Brest & Apple-Blackberry tarts

The year is coming to a close and I still have a few more cakes to bake; so yesterday some friends came by and helped to eat things that I baked.

The first cake for this week is a Paris-Brest. This cake is named after a 1200km bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back again that was run between 1891 and 1951. Traditionally it is filled with a praline cream, but this version is filled with a chocolate cream made with some Oaxacan hot chocolate that needed to be used (and was delicious). The chocolate cream was chocolate pastry cream (made by adding the hot chocolate mix to the milk in a standard pastry cream recipe and cutting out all the sugar), folded in with italian meringue. The cake itself is just choux paste (pate a choux) baked in the form of a wheel. I added spokes, just for fun.

Cake #2 is an experiment with different ways of doing tartlets. Both have vegan pie crust + apple slices + blackberry jam. I baked one in a loaf pan so that it could be cut into rectangular slices. The second one is topped with italian meringue and re-baked. I thought the meringue came out really nicely and elevated this from something super-simple to a little bit nicer.

Week 44: Truffles!

This isn’t a cake, but I’m including it because I (and Noah — this was a joint project) learned a lot about tempering chocolate, which was something that had eluded me in past cakes.

The most fun and challenging part of this whole experience was making our own vegan white chocolate using some spare bits of cocoa butter graciously supplied by Videri Chocolate Factory in downtown Raleigh. White chocolate is traditionally made from cocoa butter, milk solids, and sugar. The milk solids help it have a firmer structure, but are not necessary. So we made our own by melting cocoa butter and adding powdered sugar. Then we found out that without being tempered, melted + cooled cocoa butter is just a gloopy mess.

Most home recipes for tempering chocolate call for using a seed of already-tempered chocolate to set the crystal structure. But in this case, the whole reason to make our own white chocolate was that we didn’t have any! So instead of a quicker tempering method we had to use a method called tabliering. This was super-cool — you melt the chocolate, then cool part of it by working it over a cold surface (traditionally a chilled marble slab). This process was actually a lot like scrambling an egg, but with cold instead of heat. The parts of the melted chocolate closest to the surface would set up, then I would scrape those off and mix it up, until eventually everything had a uniformly firm consistency. That portion then got mixed back in with the remaining white chocolate goop until it cooled down to around 90 degrees at which point we could start drizzling with it. The white chocolate made with quality cocoa butter and without milk had a really strong flavor of cocoa bean, which was not something I’d tasted before.

Once we got that done the basic truffle-making process was pretty easy (and fun).

  1. Make up your filling centers, shape them into balls, and chill. Of course this implies that your centers have to be made of something that you can roll into a ball and which will firm up in the refrigerator. The three fillings we used were marzipan (which is hard already), ganache flavored with chili and cinnamon (which firms up in the fridge but is easy to roll at room temperature), and sweetened coconut flakes food-processed with coconut oil The last one was supposed to mimic a Mounds bar, and it tasted great but the filling was finicky to work with — kind of like making snowballs out of powdery snow.
  2. Make up a big batch of tempered chocolate. We ended up needing to use a lot more chocolate than planned. Most store-bought chocolate (chips, bars, etc.) is already tempered, and if you keep the temperature below 97 degrees Fahrenheit it won’t lose temper. So you can either slowly and gently melt chocolate chips, or use a quick tempering method.
  3. Dip the centers in the tempered chocolate using a fork. Drain excess chocolate, and let them cool. Because the centers are already cold, these will firm up really quickly! So if you want to add anything that needs to stick to the melted chocolate coating (like coconut flakes), do that ASAP.

Week 43: Yule Log!

I have been wanting to make this for a few weeks, so making it for Christmas dinner seemed appropriate. The whole family got involved in helping to make meringue mushrooms and moss on Christmas Eve. Why is it that meringue mushrooms are de rigeur for a bûche de Noël? As if a log with fungi sprouting from it would actually make for a good yuletide bonfire…

This is a variation of the RLB’s recipe. The cake is a chocolate cloud roll, which is actually flourless (made with melted chocolate, ground almonds, and leavened with egg whites and beaten egg yolks). Because of being flourless, it was a little bit dicey to roll up but luckily in a yule log the imperfections are covered up. I filled it with nutella and stabilized whipped cream, and covered in a light whipped chocolate ganache rather than the dark ganache RLB recommends. Even so it was kind of chocolate overload, but in a light creamy way that didn’t hit you until 5 minutes after you’d eaten it.

This is also the season where I pour through the Oxford Book of Carols for all the great old English and German carols with dark moody lyrics. I’ll close with a baking-related verse:

Rise and bake your Christmas bread:
Christians, rise! the world is bare,
And blank, and dark with want and care,
Yet Christmas comes in the morning.

Week 42 - “Special” sponge cake

This one is in RLB’s book as “Bert Greene’s Special Sponge Cake.” I think what is supposed to make it “special” is that you sprinkle superfine sugar over it before baking, which makes a nice crackly crust on top of the cake. Also that it is crazy light and has a ton of volume due to the addition of extra egg whites. According to Noah this cake “smells like a cake,” in a way that vegan cakes don’t. Probably because of the volume of eggs? The recipe calls for lemon zest which I didn’t have on hand, and also a tablespoon of orange juice which imparted no noticeable orange flavor.

Also this week was the first time I actually used this lovely letterpress sign from Anna Lena Phillips. The other side, which is usually the one displayed in my house, reads “You can dance now.”

Week 41 Classic Sponge Cake / Bizcocho

This is a super-simple and really light cake. I think it would have been even better with some fresh fruit sauce or syrup to drizzle over the top. Or with ice cream! We ate it dipped into hot milk and coffee which was nice too.

Week 40 - Sweet Potato Bundt Cake w/coconut

This is RLB’s recipe titled “golden carrot wheat ring” or something like that. I was bringing it to a Chanukah party and substituted grated sweet potatoes for the carrots. I had been worried that the sweet potatoes wouldn’t cook through, but the recipe instructed me to grate them really finely (I used a food processor), and they cooked up fine. On the down-side, however, because the chunks were so small there wasn’t a pronounced sweet potato flavor.

This cake got great reviews from folks who ate it, and I felt good about it too. It was simple to put together, flavorful, made with 50% whole-wheat flour, and had a lovely light texture. It was also really delicious with sour cream on top (since nobody brought latkes, but there was plenty of sour cream). My only criticism was that it was too sweet. Next time I’ll probably cut the honey by 1/3.

Week 39 - “Down-home” Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Cinnamon buttercream and Ganache Glaze

As the year winds to a close I’m getting into the “non-traditional” recipes in RLB’s cake bible. This one is a classic mayonnaise cake, made with Hellman’s instead of the eggs, butter or oil. The recipe was quick to put together, and the cake had a nice even moist texture and held together really well. But it tasted more like supermarket cake than anything I’ve baked this year, and not in a totally good way. The chocolate flavor was there, but ultimately not satisfying. RLB says to use non-alkalized cocoa, which I didn’t have, so that may be part of it.

The filling for this cake is a new buttercream recipe from America’s Test Kitchen which I wanted to try because it was so simple. You just heat eggs + sugar to the point at which they’re safe to use (160 degrees), then beat into a thick meringue and beat in softened butter. I added a few tablespoons of cinnamon, hoping for a real strong cinnamon bite in the filling to balance out the chocolate cake, but I think I probably should have toasted the cinnamon in a small bit of melted butter rather than adding it in to the eggs. The buttercream was good, but actually not sweet enough for me and also a bit too heavy. This was the first cake in a while that I ate a slice of and found myself eating more not because it was so good but because it was not quite satisfying.