Sunday, March 22, 2009

Passed the Mid-Term Exam

It's big, giant box o cake! Nifty. Weighed in at about 15 pounds and about 7.5" tall, before resting on the plywood for transport.

This was like my mid-term exam, and it went relatively well. A+ for effort and C+ or B- for decorating, so say I.

Reason for being of the cake: Paul played celebrity for a day at the semi-annual Northeast Kotei (a game tournament) in Agawam, MA. A fine opportunity to make a cake for over 100 very un-picky people. So if I muffed it up, which I magically didn't, at least it's a very forgiving crowd.

(The game is Legend of the Five Rings, or L5R. They've commissioned Paul for artwork over the last 12 or 13 years, so he goes to some of the tournaments, signs cards, sells prints, original paintings, sketches, mugs, t-shirts (of his own line), etc. I play the self-proclaimed Lovely Assistant. We've been a fixture at the NE Kotei for years. We're heading to the Tacoma, WA, kotei the first week in April. No cake for them, sorry. The narc dogs at the airport might eat it.)

Funny thing about the tournament... apparently, the tournament organizer (Eric) also had a baked goods competition with an L5R theme, unbeknownst to me. And I show up with a cake for the occasion anyway. Fantastic!

I didn't enter the contest, even though the judges tasted my cake too. They were pleased with the edible (even yummy) marshmallow fondant, and the lack of a cake mix.

I attempted so many techniques and stuff with this cake, and most of it went relatively well, yay!

Check out the fine tier separation (between yellow cake and chocolate cake) with the thin sheet of ABS plastic. Durable, lightweight, food-safe, almost easy to cut to size... what's not to like? Just don't get acetone on it, or it'll melt.

Both chcocolate cakes came out well! About flippin' time I caught a break with the choc cake deal. Yeah, yeah, they look the same in the photo. We'll they're different. The bottom one (Marcel's) is a little darker, didn't rise as high, domed (even though I used cake strips, stupid recipe!), and was a little too dense. The top one (Siren's) has the somewhat airy, moist consistency I've been looking for, but less chocolatey. That might be ok with the filling and fondant, though. Of the people I polled, the returns were split.

Tried tons, learned tons, didn't mess it up except for not enough fondant, and last minute, sloppy (but I meant it to look like that, yeah, that's the ticket...) painting.

Details of the cake:
Four layers (9 x 13" each layer) in two tiers, bottom is yellow cake, top is chocolate cake:
- Two batches All-Occasion Downy Yellow Cake from The Cake Bible, about 1.5" tall, each.
- One batch Marcel's First Birthday Chocolate Cake from Marcel Desaulnier's Death by Chocolate Cakes, about 1.25" tall, and domed, even with cake strips.
- One batch Siren's Chocolate Cake from Bon Appetit Cakes, about 1.65" tall.
- Syruped all layers with 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. Yellow cake: Diluted Buttershots and clear vanilla extract. Chocolate cakes: Diluted coffee liquer and vanilla schnapps.

Used Magi-Cake strips (the Wilton knock-off ones), which worked great again! Forgot them on first batch of Yellow Cake, so had to cut off browned sides and slightly domed top. Didn't rise as tall as the second Yellow Cake.

Stacked all layers so that I had one 9 x 13 cake with 4 layers (two tiers), about 7.5" total height.

Used 1 batch of Mousseline BC between yellow cake layers and for crumb coat.
Used 1 1/2 batches of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated between the chocolate layers.

Used 3/8" thick sheet of ABS plastic between yellow and chocolate tiers.
Used 3 bubble tea drinking straws pushed into the yellow cake tier to support the chocolate cake tier.

Fondant painted and dyed with Wilton's gel colors.

Fondant made 1 week before decorating.
First yellow cake made 6 days in advance, and 2nd cake made 4 days before serving. Syruped when cool, prior to storage. Stored in 'fridge.
Both chocolate cakes made 3 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled the night before serving.
Cake decorated the night before serving, including ribbon. (Does 4 am still count as night before?)

Bottom line:
- Big ribbons cover a lot of flaws. Attach with BC that compliments cake colors.
- One batch of mm fondant wasn't really enough to cover this cake.
- Messy decorating that isn't trying to look neat and tidy is better than no decoration.
- Assemble and final crumb coat the cake the day before decorating, if possible.
- Layer of buttercream on top of the cake layer that will support the ABS sheet, otherwise the center pieces lose out on any type of frosting.
- Any liquid works for syruping, so long as it compliments the cake flavor.
- More syrup! Try at least 1 cup next time. Syrup several times before wrapping for storage, rather than just once per side.
- Siren's Chocolate Cake recipe is current favorite for chcocolate cakes. Marcel's was ok, but still not the texture I'm looking for. Next time, add another ounce of chocolate to Siren's recipe to try to boost choc flavor without mucking up the rest of the cake.- Bring down flour or sugar amount in Yellow Cake by a tablespoon or two? Still crumbly, but not as bad as without syruping.
- Transport: Wound plastic wrap around the entire cake, even under plywood. No movement, no shifting. Figure out how to wrap vertical book stack for transport.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Choco the Cake: The Return

Onwards, to find a usable, yummy chocolate cake!

I used a recipe that's made for a 9 x 13 inch pan, instead of continuing to doctor recipes that really belong in two 9 inch round pans. Unfortunately, I went a smidge too basic because this cake is supposed to be served right in the pan. It was quite soft and a little crumbly, so of course I broke part of it during assembly. Whatever. Just going to the co-workers anyway. (I can't believe some of them still haven't had enough chcocolate cake. I am totally done. Paul is way beyond done.) But the ganache frosting is a better glue than most others, and no one can tell that one whole layer cracked completely through. Can you see it? Nope. And it's even in the top layer.

Cake tasted pretty good, though. Maybe I'm on the right track, sort of. Edges weren't dry, so yay cake strips!

Skipped the fondant because I didn't try to make the cake smooth. Got in a little practice time with the cake comb, not that it helped.

The frosting came out very well and the ganache filling came out decently, but not quite as well. I could use either one as frosting or filling, they were very similar.

Details of the cake:
One batch of Chocolate Sheet Cake from Baking Illustrated (if you have a subscription to Cooks' Illustrated online, here's the recipe), baked in my still-fabulous, not-as-new Calphalon 9 x 13 pan.

Cut the cake in half to get two 9 x 6.5 cakes, about 1.5" tall, each, maybe a little taller.
Stacked the small cakes so that I had one 9 x 6.5 cake with 2 layers, about 3.5" total height.

One batch of Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting from Baking Illustrated, which is paired with the Chocolate Sheet Cake in the book. I used semi-sweet chocolate (about 55% cacao, Nestle's chips) instead of milk chocolate.

One batch of Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Cooks' Illustrated online recipes for the filling and crumb coat.

A few handfuls of Nestle's raspberry and chocolate swirled chips for decoration.

No fondant.

Cake made 2 days before serving.
Cake layers assembled and crumb coated 1 day before serving.
Cake decorated and assembled the night before serving.

Bottom line:
The Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting, made with semi-sweet chocolate, is a keeper. Must double it for this recipe to use it as the filling too. Try it under fondant sometime, hopefully it won't be too rich. Narrowing down the type of chocolate cake I need: light, but sturdy; chock-full of chocolate; but not overwhelming, rich, or super-sweet (like a mix). Maybe I'll try other sheet cake recipes. Maybe I'll try a pound cake recipe after all, even though they're not exactly light.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Guess What Flavor of Cake This Is...

No, really, I'll bet you'll never figure it out.

I decided to make a chocolate cake that was a cross with a brownie. I was super-excited because I found such a cake in Marcel Desaulnier's Death By Chocolate Cake book over the weekend. It actually didn't call for chocolate in the batter (except as chocolate chips added at the very end), so I melted down some Lindt 85% cacao with a little butter from the recipe, popped it in after the eggs, but before the flour mixture.

The brownie cake turned out ok. However, it was too rich and dense underneath the American Buttercream and the fondant. Foisted on the hapless co-workers as usual, hence the stupendously lame decorating job, which amuses the hell out of me.

So it was about 11pm on Monday night, and I was done trying to figure out how to dress up this cake. I attempted to cover it in frosting, like any normal person making a cake. But I couldn't get the thickness right, and it wasn't smooth, and I didn't like it. So I scraped it off, gathered together my elderly (but ok to eat, in fact still tasty) bits of fondant, and pressed on.

Plus I messed up the frosting on the side when I grabbed for the turntable and missed. Sad part is that this is still the best side of the cake, more or less. Good part is that it was a fine way to spend my snowday.

Details of the cake:
One batch of Anniversary Brownie Cake from Death By Chocolate Cake, baked in my still-fabulous, still-new-ish Calphalon 9 x 13 pan.

Cut the cake in half to get two 9 x 6.5 cakes, about 1" tall, each, maybe a little taller.
Stacked the small cakes so that I had one 9 x 6.5 cake with 2 layers, about 2+" total height.

Made a 1/4 batch of Peggy Weaver's (American) Buttercream I recipe, and added Tocani Raspberry syrup. Turned the thing a horrid shade of baby-pink. Blech.

Fondant dyed with Betty Crocker's gel colors.

Fondant made 3+ weeks before decorating.
Cake made 1 day before serving.
Cake layers assembled and crumb coated 1 day before serving.
Cake decorated and assembled the night before serving.

Bottom line: I forgot to use the Magi-cake strips! Aaaargh! The sides were a little too crusty, like a normal brownie. Well, whatever, no brownie cake for the wedding anyway. I think I might just make a very basic chocolate cake next time and see where that gets me.

Thank You, Tania!

A very special and sincere thank you to Tania K, Mari's mom!

After hearing about my (possibly ridiculous) cake mastering endeavor, Mari put me in contact with her mom. Then Tania very graciously invited me over to go through some of her successful cake recipes. As a bonus, I had a wonderful time meeting Tania, her husband Valeri, and their dog Giza. (Not sure about the spelling in English. Give me a Cyrillic alphabet for Russian, and I'll get it right.)

Tania gave me these recipes (I'm taking liberties with the titles):
- New Year's Cranberry Cake
- Three Cakes Cake
- Cream Frosting

And let me borrow these books:
- Death by Chocolate Cake by Marcel Desaulnier
- Bon Appetite Cakes
- 500 Fabulous Cakes and Bakes

I can't wait to try all the new, fantastic recipes! Thank you, Tania!