Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Older Than Dirt Cake

How fun! A cake that insults you on your birthday?!? Who wouldn't want one? Oh, you wouldn't? Well, I suppose that's because you don't have a playful sense of humor. Your loss....

I had a lot of fun making this cake. I might even venture to say I've never had more fun making a cake. And despite the few little upsets baking the cakes (more on that later), the cake weighted a billion pounds (give or take a few) and filled many bellies.

Three days before delivery: Baked two of the cakes. The recipe I used yielded a lot of batter. I was WAY surprised with how much I had left over and even happier when I realized that I was going to have to bake three layers instead of the typical two because these cakes didn't rise as much as I thought they would while baking. The next time I use this recipe, I will be filling the pan three quarters of the way full (I typically fill halfway).

Day Before Delivery: Since I had family over the weekend before delivering this, that's why I baked the cakes so far ahead of schedule. But don't worry, it wasn't a dry cake.

1) Made cream cheese icing, leveled cakes (I only had to cut the edges down), filled, crumb coated, set in the fridge, then applied the final layer of icing. After that I used a Wilton star tip (#18 to be exact) and piped a shell border on top and bottom of the cake.

2) Made some dirt. That was fun. Used some oreo cookies and my make-shift "food processor" and grinded them away. I made WAY more dirt than what I needed. I guess I got a little too excited.

3) Made a dirt bag. See the pictures below. I took a small piece of fondant and colored it brown. Then rolled it very thin (about 1/16 of an inch), and cut myself a rectangle. I wanted the "dirt bag" to have some movement to it, so I crumpled up some paper towels and laid the piece of fondant down to let it dry a bit.

4) Piped (part of) the message. However, if you notice I was a little careless. If you didn't notice, then you shouldn't try.

5) Finished the decorations. I did put some of the "dirt" under the dirt bag to give it some support to hold it's shape. But other than that, the rest was easy. I dumped a couple piles of dirt on the cake, commanded the bugs and snakes to get crawling, and then threw some dirt at the cake to make it look even more dirty. Making a cake...and then ruining it? Who wouldn't have fun doing that?

Chocolate Butter Cake
adapted from Sky High Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

This recipe will yield a 6-inch cake, but it would definitely be enough for an 8-inch cake or quite possibly one layer of a 1/4 sheet cake. For this cake, I used one recipe each of the 6-inch and 8-inch adaptations.

2 cups cake flour*
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutch process
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk**
2 eggs
1 cup water

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 6-inch square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper. (I used Pam instead of a stick of butter.)

2) In a large mixer bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

3) Whisk the eggs and water together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. (Baker's note: REALLY scrape down the sides of the bowl. When I made the first batch of batter, I thought I was too good to have to scrape down the sides of the bowl. I was so wrong.) Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans; each 6-inch pan will take just slightly more than 2 cups.

4) Bake the layers for 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for about 15 minutes. Carefully turn them out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are cool.

*Cake flour substitution: In a one cup dry measure, put in two tablespoons of corn starch, then fill the rest of the cup with all-purpose flour.

**I didn't have buttermilk, so I tried out this substitution. I don't think I'll ever buy buttermilk again. For each cup of buttermilk called for in a recipe, place 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a wet measure then fill with milk to the 1 cup line. Let sit for 5 minutes then use.

Monday, April 13, 2009

German Chocolate Cake

The two most often favorite cakes I hear about are German Chocolate Cakes, and Red Velvet Cakes. I don't often hear people say, "Oh, I love a good French Vanilla Chiffon Cake soaked with a raspberry syrup with mango curd and coconut cream cheese icing." First of all, I don't know even know if that would taste good. And second of all, everyday home bakers don't bake like that. So when it comes to favorite cakes, they tend to be something that can easily be made with a box cake and a can of icing. Just follow the directions and voila! A fancy, favorite cake.

I don't want you to believe that I am complaining because I love German Chocolate Cake. It's nice and light with a moist crumb. The icing is not too sweet and the coconut and pecans add a wonderful texture. It's really just a delicious invention. But it's still not my favorite.

However, once again, I'm not making a cake for myself, this is for my brother-in-law who's favorite cake is German Chocolate. And who also brought his family for a short, last minute trip to visit us this past weekend. We decided that Saturday would be a family day of fun and the night would be a wild party in honor of his upcoming birthday.

Family day of Fun: Included a picnic at the park and then a stroll through the Harry P. Leu Gardens. I've lived in Orlando practically my whole life and the only time I've been to the Leu Gardens was when I was a little girl. And I don't remember a thing about it, so I'm glad I went.

It was the perfect day for walking around and looking at flowers. It was overcast, but not rainy. Cool, but still warm. Breezy, but not too much. The Gardens even featured an old house which we took a tour of. It was awesome. However, I love that which is old, so my opinion is biased.

Wild Party at Night: The hardest Easter Egg Hunt. Ever. (okay, not really) Dying Easter Eggs. Then, cake and ice cream. To answer your question, yes - there were some serious sugar highs in my house.

But I digress, isn't this blog supposed to be about cakes? And isn't this post supposed to be about German Chocolate Cake? And more importantly - Isn't this the part where you tell us how to make one? Yes, Virginia. It is possible to make a delicious German Chocolate Cake at home in your own kitchen. Chances are you've done it (with a box mix and a can of icing). Well, I say keep the box mix but nix the can of icing. Behold, I give you German Chocolate Cake icing....from scratch (you'll never go back to the canned stuff).

German Chocolate Cake Icing
recipe from my mother

Note: I used 7-inch cake pans because I wanted nice thick cake layers (otherwise I would've used 8- or 9-inch pans). I baked the cake 2 days in advance, wrapped, and stored in the fridge until I had to time to ice it.

1 (12oz) can evaporated milk
1 heaping cup brown sugar (packed really well)
3 egg yolks (save the whites!)
1/2 cups (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (feel free to add a bit more if you like. I did.)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut, toasted

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place chopped pecans and coconut together on a cookie sheet. When oven is preheated, toast and watch carefully. My advice is to make sure this step is completely finished before moving forward. Pecans can burn pretty easily (so check this every 5 minutes). Toasting took me about 15 minutes with two stirrings.

2) In a large saucepan, combine milk, sugar, egg yolks, and butter. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until thick. This will take 20-25 minutes. (Toward the end, I got impatient and turned the heat up to medium and just kept whisking to keep anything from burning on the sides).

3) Remove from heat. Stir in pecans and coconut.

4) Cool to room temperature, then move to fridge for the icing to set up before icing the cake. This is a runny icing coming right off of the stove, it spreads fairly easily coming right out of the fridge, so I would say there's no reason to let it come to room temperature.

Word of warning: This makes JUST ENOUGH to fill and ice an 8-inch cake. I watched my mother do it once and doubted if she had enough. So just ration out accordingly when icing your cake.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Baby Sprinkle Cake

So what makes a baby sprinkle different from a baby shower? I have no idea. I couldn't make it, but I did send a cake on my behalf.

Okay, so I'm being a little self-indulgent. My friend asked me to make a cake for the party. Lucky for me, she didn't care what it looked like - so long as it was cute. And vanilla. She didn't want kids at her house eating chocolate cake (which wouldn't have been something that I would've thought of since my only child walks on four legs and is covered in fur).

My original idea for the cake was a little more elaborate than what I ended up doing. The problem with the first idea is that it would not yield enough servings, so I had to compromise. Final design idea would be a quarter sheet cake decorated to look like baby blocks with letters spelling out "BABY" and numbers zero through 9. Let's say it together: awww!

Two Days Before Delivery: Made the royal icing decorations. I printed out letters, numbers, and a safety pin clip art graphics (since I would have two baby block "sides" that would otherwise be empty). My friend made these adorable invitations, which were teal and green so I decided to make my cake colors match the invitation colors as much as possible.

As always, the hardest part of this project was getting the colors right. I started with some white royal icing that was extra from a previous project, and first added some kelly green food coloring. That was too green, so I added some yellow. Then it was too bright, so I brought it down with just a touch of blue. After comparing with the invitation, I saw that the green on the invitation was a little on an army green side, so I added a little brown to the icing. See what I mean about getting the color right? It can be tedious. I've even seen cake decorators on those Food Network Challenges get colors wrong. I feel like mine was the right color, but a shade too bright. I didn't think at the white to add some white coloring to bring it down a tad.

One Day Before Delivery: Baked the cakes. I've really enjoyed working with the vanilla cake recipe that I found on Delish.com. It's just wonderful. But disaster did strike when I took the second cake out of the pan (see what happened in the picture above?!?). I think that from now I will always line the quarter sheet cake pan with parchment paper. The hole in the cake wasn't devasting...just frustrating. Luckily, these cakes have been baking up pretty level, so I could forgo leveling them.

Day of Delivery: This was a very busy day since I (obviously) had to finish everything. First thing I did was reduce some strawberry jam over the stove, I probably put in a cup (maybe a little more) of jam in a small pot and let it boil for a bit...maybe about ten minutes after it came to a full boil. Afterward, I let it cool on the counter while I made a triple batch of American buttercream icing. The fist layer of cake was the one with the chunk of cake missing from the bottom, with the top side down so I could fill the hole with strawberry cream filling.

Mmmm...Strawberry cream filling. How do you make that? Easy. Take the reduced preserves and stir as much American buttercream as you like. I probably used about a cup and half of buttercream. It was delicious!

After filling, I placed the top layer, crumb coated, placed in the fridge for about 3o minutes, got a snack, and put the final layer of buttercream on the cake. Then back into the fridge while I colored some buttercream teal. This buttercream is delicious because it's all butter (no shortening). However, because it's all butter, that means it's sensitive to temperature so putting it in the fridge to chill helps it stay stable while decorating. Sometimes I'll even put my bowl of icing in the freezer for five minutes if it starts to get too runny.

The next part of the project meant marking my lines for the baby blocks, so out came the ruler! The cake was 13" long (even with the icing, which I wasn't anticipating) so it made it easy to mark out 3.25" for each block. Done. Next was to make some lines so that way no block edges would be slanted (how embarassing would that be if it happened?). I used a flower former to imprint the line (yes...I could've used the ruler, except I really used a tape measure and didn't want that touching the cake).

After marking out the lines, I took a star tip (Wilton #18) and did the boarders of the blocks making sure to double the lines (since baby blocks always have a band of color for each face). Placed the letters and numbers then stood back and took some pictures. The final touch was a trio of rubber duckies and I completely forgot to take a picture of the cake with the rubber duckies. I'm currently trying to procure some pictures from a friend. Oh, what was I thinking? I suppose I wasn't.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Happy Anniversary Cake

Husband has a co-worker that asked for a cake for his 20th wedding anniversary. After some discussion, we decided on a vanilla cake, with strawberry filling and swiss meringue buttercream. The design was to be simple: heart shaped cake with red roses and a small message.

So, to work I went!

One Week Before Delivery: I made the royal icing roses. I made a half batch of royal icing and used 2 ounces of red-red Wilton coloring. Because I had used so much coloring, I had to add 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar to stiffen the icing. For the roses, I used a Wilton #12 tip for the base of the roses, and a Wilton #59 degree tip (there's actually a little degree symbol on the tip) for the rose petals. Using the #59 tip creates what is called a Victorian Rose. Those are my favorite. The petal folds over and is just so pretty. For the rose buds I used the standard Wilton #104 tip.

Two Days before Delivery: I found out on Wednesday (cake was due on Friday) that on Thursday I was go to on an up-and-back business trip. It was truly awful, but I won't make you suffer through the details. What I ended up having to do was cram in when and how I was going to complete this cake. So two days before delivery, I baked the cakes and made the Swiss Meringue Buttercream.

To store the cakes, I wrapped them up tightly and stored them in the fridge. I contemplated freezing, but decided that they would do fine in the fridge for a day and a half.

Morning of Delivery: Thank goodness my customer was flexible because he agreed to pick up the cake in the afternoon. So I got up early, and went to work:

1) Leveled, filled, and stacked the cake. For the filling I used a low sugar jam, personally I think low sugar jams are fine even on your everyday PB&J, but on a cake it's probably even more appropriate considering all the other sugar in the cake and icing.

2) Crumb coat. I love crumb coats. I'm sure I've mentioned that before. I let the crumb coat set in the fridge for 30 minutes while I colored the green buttercream for the leaves on the cake...and got a snack.

3) Iced the cake.

4) Wrote on the cake. This part was tricky because I don't completely trust myself when it comes to writing, yet - I always seem to amaze myself whenever I give it a shot. Part of my prep work was to pick a font and a size for the writing that I thought would be appropriate for the size of the cake. I originally thought that I could pipe the writing in royal icing, let it harden, and then transfer, but the writing was too fragile and ended up shattering. So I ended up pricking the letters and laying it on the cake to get a guideline for the writing. I think it came out very well. And I think that next time I'll just measure out my margins and go for it (it's time to take the training wheels off).

5) Placed the flowers. I just piped some buttercream onto the bottom of the flowers and plopped those suckers onto the cake!

6) Greenery. The masterful finishing touch. I used a Wilton #3 tip for the vines and a Wilton #352 for the leaves. But wait, why didn't you use the standard leaf tip, Wilton #67? Well, that's because I hate it. I don't like that wrist flicking thing you have to do to get the leaf just right and I don't feel like I have the same kind of control I have with the poinsetta tip.

7) Boxed and delivered. I always put my finished cakes in fridge (if they fit. I made a 3/4 sheet cake once, there was no way my fridge would be able to swallow that). Each cake I make is like a baby to me - so I treat it as if any sudden move would ruin the thing, even though that's not true because they always turn out to be a little sturdy. However, delivery was successful, customer said many nice things about the cake which makes me happier than a dog on the dinner table at Thanksgiving.