May 31, 2010

Jim's Birthday Cake for Marie

OK, I didn't really go the Funfetti route; but I was a little bit tempted when I saw this gag present that Marie's brother Doug sent her.  Here's the real one:
When Marie first broached the idea of having me do a cake for her birthday and being guest blogger, I was taken aback and tried to talk her out of it - "It will look and taste like crap," I said (actually, I think I used a less polite word).  I've never baked a cake; I don't like to cook; and I'm a lousy cook.  There was no budging her, of course; so I went through the blogs from before the start of the Heavenly Cake Bakers to find a possible candidate for a person of my lack of skills and experience.

I found the ideal cake - the Golden Lemon Almond Cake that she blogged about on June 21, 2009.  This cake is on the quick and easy list, and more important, Marie had a couple of screw-ups when making it and received a lot of advice and tips about it.  The bar was not as low as I wanted, but it was as low as it was going to get.  Marie offered to help, but I decided I would put Rose's instructions to the acid test and do the whole thing on my own.

I gathered everything I'd need, went over the instructions for the fourth or fifth time, and added some stuff.

I took something away, too.

I love the scale.  I've watched Marie use it hundreds of times since she started the Breadbasketcase blog but never really appreciated it until now.  That's why there are no measuring cups in the picture (though that's not what I took away).  The precision that's possible with the scale appeals to my German background, accounting training, and bureaucratic soul (if that's not too blatant an oxymoron).  I weighed almost everything.

The nuts.
The eggs - I was so excited when the three eggs totaled exactly the 150 grams that were called for, that I rushed out to tell Marie (she hasn't yet had them come out at the exact weight straight from the shell).  With this kind of luck, I began to think that I just might pull off this cake.

One of Marie's screw-ups was having some cake damage when unmolding it - so I looked at the tips in the blog entry and sprayed half a can of Baker's Joy inside the pan and used a brush to get into all the nooks and crannys.
I avoided that mistake, but I made one of my own in grating the lemon zest - note how white the lemon is.
Marie came through the kitchen just then and asked me why I didn't use the micro-plane and why did I use so much of the white.  It seems you're only supposed to use the yellow because the white is bitter.  "OK," I said, "how do you happen to know that?" (I was about to be indignant about not being informed in the instructions)  "Everyone knows that."  "Maybe they do now, but they didn't five minutes ago."  Then, she patiently showed me the section in the back of the book in which a great deal of interesting information about lemon zest is laid out. 

I also avoided Marie's screw-up about forgetting to add the nuts at the right time, but then I screwed up by forgetting to sift the flour into the mixing bowl - at least everything was there.

Dry ingredients at low speed

Butter and sour cream added

And egg mixture gradually added and everything whipped smooth.

So far, so good.

It's a little rounded on the top (bottom actually), but I can live with it.

Slather some lemon syrup on the bottom-to-be [you can tell this is a staged picture because I'm not left-handed and needed my right hand to take it]

Et, voilà!

I even got the undissolved sugar to sparkle like it's supposed to.

Marie supplied the rose in remembrance of how she presented the cake last year. 

So, I failed to prove that Rose's instructions aren't foolproof.  I had a good time doing it (except for scrapping my knuckle on the grater), and Marie seemed to enjoy it.  And it wasn't bitter either.

Thank you, Rose.

Oh, and how did it taste?


Marie: "Very moist and tender."

Karen: "Lively lemony flavor."

Jim: "Well, it could have been worse."

May 27, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

It's back to reality for me. No more glitz and glamour. No more famous dessert divas baking up secret cakes. It's back to the same old grind. But I can't complain too much when I get to look at, and write about, about a dozen versions of the beautiful Bernachon Palets d'Or Gâteau.

As we all know by now, although we all follow the same recipes, we're not going to end up with cookie-cutter cakes.
Raymond, a self-professed Francophile, was in love with this French cake, and gave it the simple-but-ritzy treatment, served on an elegant gold plate and topped with just a few artfully placed strawberries.
Nancy B.--in a hurry this weekend--skipped the glaze. Look at her cake if you haven't checked it out already; with the ganache swirled decoratively on top, this looks like a completely different cake. Mendy also decided against the glaze, in the interests of saving time, but sprinkled some little gold hearts on top. To battle any possible dryness, Mendy added just a little extra water. From the looks of his photo, as well as a description, "rich, creamy...Heaven!", dryness was not an issue. Vicki was the third baker to omit the chocolate glaze. She couldn't find fresh currants (her Fruit Exchange told her, "Tomorrow!"), so she drizzled it with currant jelly. A fine substitute, and I'll bet the tartness of the jelly was wonderful with the ganache.
Monica not only took some fine photographs of her gold-flake-sprinkled cake, but she also gave us a brief history of chocolate, which, according to Monica, was first greeted with great suspicion in France, where it was referred to as a "noxious drug." Monica, who admits to being a chocolate snob, is glad that the French got over their suspicion and started making fabulous chocolate.
Lynnette (welcome, Lynnette!) made her debut cake by flouting the instructions and using a peanut-butter chocolate ganache instead of the creme fraiche one specified in the recipe. But she also made a super-shiny glaze and a skillfully crafted sugar design.
Katya, who described the cake as a very simple one "under a few layers of fancy," had access to a baker's sheets of real gold leaf, and had fun "peeling it on."
Commiseration to Joan, who had one of those weeks when everything goes wrong. Despite the best-laid plans, she ended up with a seriously overbaked cake and a "lumpy," "gritty" glaze. She thought she could rescue the cake only with lots of ice cream (which is really not that bad an idea). And commiseration of a different sort to Kristina--no trouble with the cake, but she ended up giving it away to the neighbor who came to the rescue of her and her husband, who were trying to pry a deeply embedded piece of concrete from their front yard.
The FEATURED BAKER this week just has to be Nicola. Why? Well, the sensible reason is that she decorated her slice of cake a simple strewing of pomegranate seeds. Inspired! The real reason is that she made me laugh with her links to treggings and to Kylie Monogue. Maybe the subliminal reason is that she also linked to my blog. Nicola, have you been getting enough sleep lately?
Matthew also joined us for this cake. He actually used both the recommended currants and the gold leaf (the currants were frozen from last summer), and his cake looks perfect. I'm glad I didn't see it before I started baking--I might have been too intimidated to bake my own version.

Just in case you forgot the rules for next week's Free Choice week, you can bake any cake that I've already baked and blogged about, and you've missed. If I'm counting right, I've done 52 cakes, so even the most diligent of you have a few cakes you haven't done yet. The following week is Quick-and-Easy chocolate cupcakes. What's not to like there? The week after that we'll try the Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake, which is not really a strawberry cake at all. It's a white cake, filled with strawberry mousseline. You'll get another chance to use up some of those frozen egg whites. The strawberry butter from American Spoon Foods is pecified for the buttercream. I ordered this on line from American Spoon Foods, and am eager to try it out. You can also use strained strawberry preserves.

May 24, 2010

The Wedding and The Cake

From left to right, that's me, Sarah (bride), Liz (sister/matron of honor), and Jim. The wedding is at the Lake Harriet Peace Garden. We know it's going to rain. It's just a matter of when. We're waiting for it to start.
This is little Esme, the flower girl. Esme really got into the whole idea of strewing rose petals. She would have done it all day if she hadn't run out.
Sarah, James, and his mother Mary. We're still waiting for it to start raining.
We actually had a Plan B in case of rain, but Sarah really wanted an outdoor wedding. We kept checking the hour-by-hour forecast, which changed every few seconds, going from a 10% chance of rain to a 50% chance of thunderstorms. That's when I said, "I don't want to have this wedding outside," and Liz said, "Let's go to Target and buy matching umbrellas." Sarah didn't answer her phone.
Naturally, as soon as all the guests arrived, it started raining.
But then it immediately stopped.
Liz signs the papers--it's official. That pink and white umbrella on the ground, no longer needed, is one of the matching pair we bought in case of rain.
And now, on to the reception, at Solera, in downtown Minneapolis.
Have you ever seen a more beautiful cake?
Can you tell how stunned I am by its beauty?
Okay, the cat's out of the bag.
Rose and Woody baked the cake themselves. I didn't cry at the wedding--why should I? Sarah was so happy. But I did cry at the cake, because it was so beautiful, and it was such a wonderful, generous, amazing thing to do.
This cake almost stole the show from the bride. Seriously, people were having their pictures taken with the cake! Jim did his best with his little shirt-pocket camera, and I think you can get some idea of how incredible this cake was, but I'm not sure that you can get the whole breathtaking effect unless you saw it in person.
You may recognize this lovely lacquer glaze from the cake that we just finished. This version is more perfect than the one I completed. It's decorated with hundreds of carefully hand-rolled chocolate fondant "pearls," each one individually weighed so that they'll all be uniform in size. Rose also made the beautiful rolled chocolate hearts from the same fondant.
And look at the flowers! Those are all from famous cake-baker/decorator Ron Ben-Israel, who did various sugar flowers, petals, and leaves.
Of course, everyone expected the cake itself to be a deep chocolate. But surprise!
It was even more astounding when cut, because it was a stunning red velvet cake, enrobed by a white chocolate buttercream underlayer. I'd say that it was so beautiful that you didn't want to eat it, but it would be a lie. Beautiful it was, but you definitely wanted to eat it, and, unlike most wedding cakes, it was actually good. No, it was delicious. I looked around, and I didn't see plates of delicately picked-at cake pieces; I just saw empty plates.
What a happy family!
And here's the top layer that Sarah and James can eat when they get back from their honeymoon in New Orleans.

Thank you, Rose and Woody! You are the absolute best!

Bernachon Palets d'Or Gateau

As you can see, there are no currants on top of this cake, and no gold leaf either, so it doesn't have the same spectacular look as the cover cake. It's still pretty spectacular, with the gleaming glaze, however, and the photos don't do it justice. Even my daughter Liz, who is, in her own words, "picky about everything," told me it was beautiful. The birthday candle is for Liz's husband Joe; the two of them flew in on Joe's birthday for my daughter Sarah's wedding.
I took Wednesday afternoon off from work to bake this cake, and it's a good thing, because I haven't had any time this weekend to do any baking at all. It certainly had the potential to be a disaster--I was distracted by a million different things I was supposed to be doing, and I wanted to bake a nice cake for my son-in-law, and it looked like such an elegant (that is, easy to botch up) cake. But it turns out to be a simple cake to bake and put together, and all of the components are forgiving.
The cake starts out with a rather unpromising mix of lots of cocoa and lots of sour cream, which, even with eggs added, didn't want to mix up. In fact, you could say "they're like sour cream and cocoa" instead of "they're like oil and water," except no one would know what you're talking about. And they do eventually mix together, so probably the "sour cream and cocoa" saying is never going to catch on.
After the sugar, butter, and dry ingredients are mixed in, it becomes a very thick and luxuriant batter, which will be darker or lighter, depending on your cocoa. I'm still using up a tin of Hershey's natural cocoa, which is lighter than Droste, my go-to brand. I have a friend who swore there was no Dutch-process cocoa available in Minnesota. I told her I'd get her some. I brought her a box of Droste, and she said "This doesn't say Dutch-process." I said, "Well, no, but it says it's made in Holland." "Oh," she said. "I get it." Anyway, I know that Dutch-processing is something that people feel strongly about, but I have no firm opinions one way or another; I just like the way Droste cocoa tastes in brownies.
A close-up of thick chocolate batter is Jim's second-favorite picture, right after the mountain of sifted flour.
Of course, at the point I'm about to put the cake into the oven, I see all the "plan ahead" directions, and I realize I'm going to be cutting it closer than I'd like. At this same moment, I get a call from Liz, saying their plane has been delayed. I think, but don't say, "well, that's a relief."
Now I have plenty of time to grind the chocolate in a food processor, add warmed creme fraiche and cream in which the chocolate melts, and smooth out the flavor with a ittle butter and vanilla. (I didn't use the optional creme de cassis, since I wasn't going to use the fresh currants anyway). You can see the very messy food processor behind the nice, neat bowl of completed ganache.
By this time, the cake is out of the oven. With two of the three elements done, I feel okay. I also realize that if I got really pressed for time, I could just stop with the ganache, and swirl it instead of smoothe it to prepare for the layer of glaze. But the lacquer glaze seems much less forbidding than it did the first time I made it (for the chocolate apricot roll).
In fact, here's how unforbidding it is. After I mixed everything up, and strained it, I realized that I'd forgotten to add the cream. I just added the cream after I'd already mixed in the gelatin. It didn't seem to care that I did a few things in the wrong order.
Another new experience: I've never done a crumb layer before. In fact, I had no idea what a crumb layer was before I started this cake-baking project. It sounds unappetizing, doesn't it? But it's just a thin layer of frosting that anchors any crumbs in place so they don't show on the real layer of frosting that comes next, after you refrigerate the crumb layer for an hour or two.
And it's true. The frosting does go on more smoothly. Because any faults will show under the glaze, the layer of frosting is supposed to be as smooth as possible. Once you smooth out one place, however, someplace else gets messed up. Eventually you run out of patience, and say, "good enough."
Before you say anything, I know I should have had the cake layer on a wire rack with foil under it instead of on the serving plate, but I couldn't figure out any way that I could possibly get the lacquered cake from the wire to the serving plate, so I already had it on the plate. I think I'm going to have to get some cardboard rounds. I'll bet they're cheaper than edible gold foil.
It's so shiny! The shine is not quite as intense after it dries, but its gradual drying allows you to carefully slide the pieces of wax paper out from under the cake, leaving a simple, beautiful, one-layer shimmering cake. It's just lovely.
I topped the cake with a few cut strawberries, a few blueberries, and a sprinkling of sparkling sugar. Not as elegant as the currants and gold leaf, but--again--good enough.
Do not, I repeat, do not be put off this recipe just because it's five pages long and has three components. It's not as easy as the infamous cake-in-a-cup microwave cake, but it's not difficult. It does take a while, although I managed to finish it before Liz and Joe landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. It has the sophistication, taste, and simple elegance of a French little black dress. Three days later, I served the rest of the cake to family who was in town for the wedding, and it was still good--a little bit drier, but that was made up for by plating it with a dollop of whipped cream.
The next time I see currants in a grocery store--and that's a very iffy proposition--I think I'll bring this recipe out and try it again. Maybe I'll even bring out some gold leaf.

Jim: "It has a great chocolate flavor. It's beautiful too!"
Liz: "I like flourless chocolate tortes better, but this is nice too. Maybe it's a little dry."
Joe: "It's perfect. Except maybe it's too moist." [joke]
Doug: "I love the frosting."

May 20, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

As usual, I'm amazed at the variations that people come up with in what's basically a very simple recipe: one layer of sponge cake, one layer of mildly lemony cheesecake, and a final layer of tart lemon curd. Except that Gartblue substituted a graham cracker crust for the sponge cake. Nancy B made passion fruit curd instead of lemon curd. Now that is an inspired idea.
Faithy substituted a cookie base for the spongecake AND orange curd for lemon curd.
Raymond has been getting worried about all the rave reviews he'd been giving Rose's recipes. As he says, "I was actually beginning to frighten myself, thinking I was getting soft in my old age but this recipe proved that I am still an ornery old cuss," and preferred his former teacher's recipe for "cheesecake in a glass." He included that recipe as well as another recipe for lemon cheesecake.
Katya, in an uncharacteristically restrained moment, baked only half a recipe of these babies, and sold them all at the bakery in no time. In contrast, Mendy doubled the recipe. Guess who was happier with his/her decision? Also, Mendy explained the Shavuot holiday: "Realizing that the new laws for slaughtering and preparing meat were complex, everyone just ate dairy instead until they got the hang of it." And that's how cheesecake came to be invented, boys and girls.
Kristina explained what biscuit means. She wrote, "This recipe begins by making a biscuit, which acts as the crust for the cake. It amused me that in this case, the biscuit name is actually literal — bis (meaning twice) and cuit (meaning cooked). It’s baked once on its own, then goes into the oven again as the base of the cheesecake. I’m easily amused."
Although Vicki includes pictures of her sadly overbaked (but only on one side!) sponge cake, her final photos of the put-together cheesecakes end up looking exactly like the pictures in the book. It's a good lesson on how not to let a minor setback like a burned bottom layer deter you from carrying on!
Jenn discovered, to her amazement, that she likes cheesecake, after years of not liking it at all.

called her versions "very little, as in non existent. These babies went out with the bath water. Let this be a lesson to all of you, just because your silicon muffin pan *can* float in your water bath, it doesn't mean that you should let it. Heed Rose's advice and put in that wire rack for them to rest on."

Our FEATURED BAKER this week is Elaine. Actually, it's both Elaine and her sister, "Little Miss HP." I loved it that Elaine had her very own guest baker, who baked a whole cheesecake, not the baby-cake rendition. Elaine gave this three stars for difficulty, although she said it was not so much difficult as time-consuming and four stars for "yumminess." She described the filling as "wonderfully creamy," not "dense and sturdy," as you'd expect. Elaine said her sister added a few drops of yellow food coloring to the lemon curd, because it didn't come out as brilliantly yellow as she had hoped it would. (The color must come more from the egg yolks than from the lemon, don't you think?) Elaine also reported that her fellow workers all liked the cheesecake, which she brought in to share--including Mark, who sent his high praises to H.P. I think it would be very romantic if one of Elaine's co-workers fell in love with H.P. because of the cheesecake and they lived happily ever after.

Next week is the beautiful Bernachon Palet d'or Gateau--the cover cake. This cake requires no special equipment and no special ingredients--unless you want to duplicate the cover cake. In that case, you need fresh currants and edible gold leaf. Good luck to you. I could find no fresh currants, and I priced edible gold leaf on the internet and decided against it. The cake, which uses the Rose's trademark lacquer glaze, is so gorgeous that it really needs no further decoration, but it's also so beautifully simple that it will accept almost any decoration, and my guess is that we'll have quite an array of presentations.

The following week is my birthday weekend. (It's all about me, you know). This means that it's Free Choice week, which means, in my house, it's Jim's turn to bake the cake. I'm sure you'll all be waiting to see which of the cakes he'll pick out. I told him to check out the Quick-and-Easy list. But the rest of you experienced bakers are not limited to the Quick and Easy cakes. Check out any of the cakes that I've already baked (and you haven't), and add it to your growing list of completed cakes.

May 17, 2010

Baby Lemon Cheesecakes

I love the idea of serving baby cakes at a dinner party. Giving each guest his or her own little treat seems both elegant and personal--sort of like the queen giving you a hug. And these are especially good for parties because they can be made ahead of time. Also, although there are many ways they could be plated, they don't need anything at all--the three layers are neat and visible, and that's really the only decoration you need. Another plus is that if you're running short of time (my daughter Sarah is getting married on Friday, and there are many things to be done, even if you are only MOB),you can use a good bottled lemon curd instead of making your own. Of course, it's not as good, but it is good.
The recipe in the book is a little deceptive because it appears to have only two elements--the filling and the curd. Then, when you read it again, you see that you are supposed to bake a cake first. The first step is to "make one recipe biscuit," from the dreaded Caramel Apple Charlotte recipe. I'm dreading that recipe a little less now because I know that making this biscuit is easy as pie.
It's just a simple sponge cake routine: beat the egg yolks, and then beat the egg whites. Then mix them together.
This biscuit gets spread out in a jelly-roll pan instead of a cake pan, so you end up with a long, thin cake, which enables you to cut out pieces that will fit your muffin pans.
Jim and I are taking care of two cats for a few weeks. Like most cats, they're shy and skittish with strangers and new places, and they spent the first few days hiding under a couch. I knew they felt at home when I came downstairs this morning and saw that they'd jumped up on the counter and nibbled away at the cake.
Don't worry--I cleaned the counter and I only used cake circles that were far away from the cat-tooth circle.
The cheesecake is easy, even if you have a fear of baking things in scalding water.
Eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and cream cheese are mixed until smooth. Then big blogs of sour cream are added until everything is combined.
You can either pipe this mixture into muffin tins (or muffin silicones, I guess), or you can pour it into a measuring cup. Anytime I have an option other than piping, I'm likely to go for Plan B.
I hope this is not the same kind of silicone they use for breast implants.
This silicone withstands very hot water baths, as well as being in the oven, so I suppose that would be somewhat comforting if you had said implants and liked to take hot showers.
I've already admitted to using store-bought lemon curd. This should show that I'm very honest, because I could have just used pictures of lemon curd formerly made, and no one would be the wiser. But I am completely willing to admit that I did not make it.
American Spoon, which makes some very good things, made it. And I just spooned it on top of the cheesecakes.
The color of the store-bought curd is more golden-tan than brilliant yellow, so I think it's marginally less attractive and not fully as delicious. But it's a perfectly acceptable substitute, and, if you didn't bother with the cake rounds, you could whip this up in nothing flat.
These cheesecakes, made with more sour cream than cream cheese, are softer and creamier than the pumpkin and ginger cheesecakes we've made before--more like the no-bake whipped cream cheesecake that we've also made. I don't think that one version is better than the other, although some of you may have your preferences--they're just different.
Oh, I almost forgot. Why is this a Shavuot cake? What does a cheesecake have to do with the giving of the Torah? Because a customary way of celebrating this holiday is to eat dairy foods, and read the Book of Ruth. You're on your own for the Book of Ruth, but I think this little cheesecake is a dairy food par excellence.


Jim: "I like the three textures together. You might want to mention that I had seconds."
Karen: "The cheesecake is heavenly."
Betty" "Lemon is my favorite. Chocolate is second."