Aug 29, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache

I was hoping for cooler, more chocolate-appropriate weather this weekend, but the thermometer is heading up toward 90, and who knows whether it will stop there. Even though a rich, heavy chocolate cake was not on my tempting-foods radar, I was unreasonably excited about it because it gave me a chance to use to new Fat Daddio's cake slicer and leveler. I don't think that Cooks of Crocus Hill has ever had a customer who carried on the way I did after asking if they had a cake slicer in stock. It turned out that they'd just received it the day before, and I was the first customer to buy it. They are probably thinking they should have ordered more. But before I could find out if the slicer worked better than my shaky bread knife, I had to bake the cake.
The cake is pretty easy. What makes it different from other chocolate cakes is that it's got a lot of butter, but one of its other ingredients is a small amount of canola oil. Compared to the German Chocolate Cake, it has a little less cocoa dissolved in the same amount of water, fewer eggs, more flour, less sugar, and more fat (butter plus oil vs. all oil).
I took my cake out of the oven after 25 minutes at 325 degrees on the convection setting. I didn't think it was done, but the cake tester came out empty. This is one of the first cakes I've managed to take out of the oven before it started to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Yes, I know that's what the directions say, but I usually second-guess myself and decide to bake it a few more minutes. Yet this cake, which I think achieved the perfect moment of doneness, is the only one that Jim said he thought was a bit dry.
The cake is a nice cake, but the star of this particular show is the ganache. Caramel makes me nervous for obvious reason--there's a very small window of opportunity for perfect caramel. Sometimes it's not amber enough, in which case it's not caramel, and sometimes it's no longer amber, in which case it's burnt. I dthink that this one was right on the money--if it had been left it on the burner any longer, it would have started to smell like carbon instead of caramel. I turned off the burner about 45 seconds after this picture was shot.
When you pour the hot cream into the caramel, it is suposed to "bubble up furiously," and indeed it does.
But after adding almost two cups of cream, the mixture looked like weak butterscotch, not like caramel. And when I tasted it straight out of the food processor, I thought the deep chocolate totally overwhelmed the caramel so that I figured the burnt sugary nuances would be lost.
On the other hand, I've never cut a cake so easily, so straightly, and so confidently. I'm in love with Fat Daddio's Cake Slicer and Leveler, and I want to use it every time I bake a cake, whether it needs it or not. It comes with zero directions--not a booklet, not a card, not a picture in universal cake decorating language--nada. My clever little brain figured out that if I unscrewed the feet and took them off, the wire landed at the exact middle of my cake. I used a gentle sawing motion, and got the cake cut in half before Jim could take the lens cap off his camera. I totally recommend this little gizmo.
My doubts about the cake returned when I started to frost it. As I have told myself on other occasions, "Self, remember that the ganache doesn't
become the proper consistency on a 90-degree summer day." But I was having dinner guests, and it was time to frost the cake, ready or not. Directions: "It should be the creamy consistency of softened butter." Reality: "It is like gloppy, creamy pudding."
I knew what was going to happen, and it did. The filling was okay, and my hopes lifted. (And can you see how nice and even the layers are?)
But when the ganache started to ooze down the sides, I know that this was not going to be a photogenic cake. And things went from bad to worse when I tried to remove the pieces of waxed paper from under the cake.

Oh well, I thought, there will be other bakers who will take pictures of a lovely chocolate layer cake with a ganache that is the proper consistency. But perhaps only I will have the Fat Daddio Slicer and Leveler. As seen on late night TV.
Tasting the ganache makes you feel like it merits a wine description: "Nicely integrated aroma of vanilla and dark chocolate. Flavors develop nicely and finish with lingering tastes of caramel and creme brulee. Rich mouth feel." It's a lovely chocolate cake, but it's more, and the more is the delicious caramel.
I don't know what else you should use this ganache on, but I do know that it shouldn't be limited to this cake. I also know that it might work better on a nice fall day, not in the dog days of summer.

Betty: "It melts in your mouth."
Sarah: "Light and airy. The raspberries are a perfect complement. And the ganache is phenomenal!"
James: "Yummy and chocolatey."
Jim: "Good chocolate flavor, but it seems a little dry. It goes well with red wine."

Aug 25, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

Do you remember the search for the Seville orange that kept many of us occupied for a full month? This week's search for the elusive marionberry reminded me of that.
Nothing if not resourceful, the Heavenly Cake Bakers looked high and low for marionberries (fresh or frozen). Did the absence of marionberries stop anyone from making marionberry shortcake? Indeed it did not. There were nearly as many substitutes as there were bakers, and all the varieties of fruit went well with the delicate, beurre noisette-flavored sponge cakes.
If you're going to make shortcake--even a spongecake shortcake--and you don't have access to marionberries, the logical first choice for replacement berry would be the strawberry. That's what Mendy did, and he mixed a little strawberry juice in the whipped cream for a pretty pink tinge. Kristina too used strawberries, adding "a handful from [her] own patch of 5 everbearing plants" to her storebought berries. Apparently berries of any kind are in short supply in Malaysia, but Gartblue's husband proudly presented her with a kilogram of jaw-droppingly expensive berries, so she made a double batch of the shortcakes, which are already long gone. Lois added her own special take by roasting the strawberries, both to help her sister's food allergy and to make the flavor more "intense, tart and sweet."
Lynnette substituted fresh raspberries (also with the pink-tinted whipped cream), which is a natural choice because, as Rose noted in her comments, the raspberry is a close biological relative of the marionberry.
An even closer relative is the generic blackberry, which both Raymond, who was reminded of his "childhood when we had whole fields of them in our neighborhood and we children would spend all day in what we called “Blackberry Land” picking and eating them," and Lola, who jazzed hers up with a little cabernet jelly and homemade Greek yogurt, used. Nancy B. opted for frozen blackberries after being unable to find marionberries in Atlanta, and was sorry she hadn't remembered Rose's warning about using fresh berries if frozen marionberries are not to be had. Still, she liked the combination of fruit, cake, and creme fraiche.
Katya balked at calling these cakes "shortcakes," which means a biscuit-like creation to her, but liked them all the same with her "tiny Maine blueberries."
And yes, there were a few people who managed to make the marionberry shortcakes with marionberries. In fact, Julie insisted that it was the marionberries are "what made this dessert fantastic"--and she should know, since she made it twice. Once to get it out of the pan, and once not. Vicki said she "felt like she won the Marionberry lottery" when she found the berries at her local natural foods co-op, and her blog helpfully includes a link to Stahlbush Farms, which will tell you your closest source for frozen marionberries if you type in your ZIP. She didn't make the cakes twice, but she made both whipped cream and whipped creme fraiche--and topped her own piece with both. A woman who knows how to live. Jenn's source was Vitamin Cottage, and she loved the result: "Oh boy oh boy oh boy... This is one of THE BEST cakes from RHC. Light, moist, and tender. The berries added a wealth of flavor - sweet and slightly tangy. I don't know if I'm still giddy from finding frozen marionberries or it's the chambord talking."
But the person who is truly giddy from finding the marionberry, and the FEATURED BAKER this week is Jennifer, whose post title contains two exclamation points!! Because she grabbed the gold ring: fresh marionberries straight from Sauvie Island Farms right smack in the middle of Marion County itself. Spying a lone marionberry at the bottom of the bush, Jennifer's friend Cookie picked it and ate it, which prompted her to insist that if there was one berry left, there must be a bucketful. After an hour of searching, Jennifer and Cookie had a pound of beautiful berries. Jennifer likened the juice-brushed cakes to "kids who got into their mom's lipstick." And, although she loved the cakes, Jennifer said her favorite way to eat the berries is "right out of hand, preferably while still standing in the berry patch, juices staining my fingers and mouth purple with Oregon's summer bounty." Should she be hired by the State of Oregon to do a little promo?

No searches are involved for the next cake, unless you need to search out some high-fat cocoa or some "fine-quality" unsweetened chocolate for the Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache. However, noticing that this layer cake requires you to make your own layers by cutting a cake in half, I'm going off in search of the cake slicer/leveler that was recommended to me the last time I complained about my uneven cake layers. I hope I can find it in time, or there will undoubtedly be more complaining.
The following week, we'll be doing gold ingots--the third of three financier recipes in the book, and your last chance to buy the silicone financier pans to make them properly (we've already done the chocolate and peanut butter ingots). But if you don't want financier pans lying around in your kitchen cabinets, people have successfully made these little cakes in many shapes and sizes.

Aug 23, 2010

Marionberry Shortcakes

I had never heard of a marionberry (except for the former mayor of Washington, D.C.) who is in no way connected to the berry, which you can tell because he spells his last name "Barry." Then, after I tasted them, even frozen, I got all sulky: why do marionberries only grow in Oregon? What's so special about Oregon? Why don't they grow in Minnesota? (Answer: they like warm days and cool nights in the summer and temperate winters). Why can't I buy them in Minnesota? I can buy pineapple. I found out that everyone's crazy about marionberries. The Oregon legislature wanted to make it the state berry of Oregon, something that you'd think everyone could get behind. But the raspberry growers got all bent out of shape, and accused the legislature of being anti-raspberry. Anyway, I liked these marionberries a lot.
I also liked being able to use my Mary Ann pans. (I always want to call them Mary Janes, but those are shoes, aren't they?)
They're just little sponge cakes, and not difficult to make except for the beurre noisette. It's a sign of how far I've come that I can now read a recipe and just say to myself, "oh, just make a little beurre noisette," instead of "what the heck is she making me do now?" Just to make things interesting, I decided to time exactly how long it took for the butter to turn the right shade of brown on low heat. 16 minutes. If I had the nerve, the next time I'd just turn the heat to low, set the timer for 16 minutes, and go work on the crossword. But I won't.
This is another one of those cakes that's based on the miraculous transformation that eggs make after being beaten for five minutes. After three minutes, I looked at the eggs and I thought, "Those are done enough." Because I'm a rule-follower, I continued for the entire five minutes plus one more for good measure. I'm so glad I did!
Just a few hours later, I happened to be reading a story on Rose's blog where she talks about her only failed genoise. And why did it fail? Because she made the mistake of thinking, “Why do I have to beat the eggs and sugar for five whole minutes on high when after three minutes they look thick enough and don't seem to be getting any thicker or fuller in the bowl?" The exact question I asked myself! However, because I was more dutiful at following Rose's instructions than she was at following her own, my genoise did not fail.
If any of you had trouble finding frozen marionberries, this is what they look like--from the frozen foods section at Whole Foods.
At least, I am assuming they were the real thing. Apparently there is a big problem with counterfeit marionberries, which are harder to grow and more costly than regular, bigger, seedier, less tasty blackberry varieties. Some people are paying top dollar for the fake marionberries, and then wondering what all the fuss is about.
I sugared them lightly and doused them with framboise (misreading the directions, which do not call for the framboise to be added until the syrup is made--however, I don't think it hurt a thing).
The final thing to do before composing the shortcakes was to whip some lightly sweetened creme fraiche--easier than whipping cream. I warned people that it would be tarter than whipped cream, fearing that someone would think the cream had gone bad, but everyone loved it. Jim insists he likes it better than whipped cream. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it did seem to go exceptionally well with the faintly exotic marionberries.
I served this for dessert after making Korean lettuce wraps for dinner. You wouldn't think that would be a match made in heaven, but the shortcakes were a surprisingly appropriate ending for the meal.
I bought three bags of frozen marionberries, so I have plenty left for another batch. It's hard to repeat recipes when a new one is calling out to you every week, but I'll have to find time for more of these lovely summer treats.

Pat" "Very good. I love the berries and the creme fraiche. In fact, the cake is my least favorite part of the dessert."
Lisa: "I think all three components are equally good. The cake could be just a touch less sweet, but then I'm very sensitive to sweetness."
Jim: "Delicious. I like the way the syrup soaks into the cake, and I like the faintly caramel-y flavor of the cake. What makes it taste like that?"

Aug 17, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

I'm afraid that my remark about doing penance with a chocolate cake scared some people off this week. As of this moment (Tuesday at 12:49 PM CST), only nine people have baked the cake. This is about half the number we had with the lemon meringue cake and the plum and blueberry upside down cake. (Katya kind of made up for that by baking the cake for the second time, and Jennifer made two different versions, so that enthusiasm made up for the relatively small numbers).
There were really only two basic decisions for this cake: 1) make the whole cake--which required two separate half-sheet cakes--or make a half-cake and 2) make the whipped ganache or just whipped cream. Most people opted for half a cake and chocolate ganache.
If you're really creative, however, you might do what Vicki did, and decorate the cake with grated white chocolate and garnish it with fresh blackberries. The blackberries gave it a lovely fresh look. If you really want to see cute, though, forget about looking at the cake and just take a gander at the picture of Vicki's granddaughter ensuring the quality of the ganache.
Monica did the half-cake and the chocolate ganache. Hers looks stunning, partly because she took the trouble to trim the cakes so they stacked neatly together and because she also took the trouble to make real chocolate curls, not just grated chocolate. It paid off in photogenecity. (I thought I'd just made that word up, but it's a real word and means just what I thought it should mean).
Nancy B also did a half-cake (in fact, she's the one who started the trend). I'm not sure how she does it--flying into town, baking a cake, then flying out again for another business trip (next week, it's Albuquerque)--but she does. She did her version of stabilized whipped cream and chocolate curls--which brought back memories of her grandmother's "zebra pie" (chocolate wafers and whipped cream).
Lois used the chocolate ganache. She compared the cake to a "very thin chocolate souffle," with a whipped ganache to "continue the light as air chocolate theme."
Jennifer decided against making either of the decisions, so she just made two cakes: one with the whipped chocolate ganache and one with the whipped cream. This decision, mind you, was made in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave in Portland. (Yes, a heat wave in Portland). "We all unanimously agreed the whipped cream variation looked more appealing as well as being more to our tastes."
This was Katya's second go-round for this cake, which she noted was perfect for Passover, and also gluten-free--a handy thing to have in your repertoire. This time, Katya decorated her cake with white nonpareils, giving it--in her opinion, at least--the look of a "cafeteria sheet cake." (Maybe in Brooklyn it looks like a cafeteria cake.  Where I come from, in northern Indiana, there were no cafeteria featherbed cakes).
Mendy was racing against the clock to finish this before the start of Sabbath, and ended up (again, in his words), with "chocolate sludge" and a cake that was a featherbed cookie. Tasted good, though. Check out Mendy's blog from time to time to see if his wife posts for his birthday. I'm hoping for another spousal birthday blog event!
Jenn also claimed to have a feather-less chocolate featherbed. In her case, it wasn't the clock that was her enemy, but the cacao content (her theory is that the high cacao content made her cake ultra-thin--it took six layers for her to get the desired height. Take a look at how she decorated the sides of the cake before you feel sorry for her, though--it looks fantastic.  I'll admit to piping envy.

This was another week when I had a very hard time deciding on the FEATURED BAKER. Such lovely cakes, and such dedicated bakers! Finally, after going from blog to blog, I realized that I was always giving extra time to Raymond. Not only were his step-by-step pictures perfectly illustrative, but his final product was so beautiful, with its piping (yes, I'll admit it, I'm jealous), and its sprinkle of almonds. I imagined walking in to Raymond's house and spotting that gorgeous cake, hoping that I'd be able to sample a slice. And, although Raymond claims to be the consummate "grumpy old man," I'm pretty sure he'd cut a piece for me. And that I'd love it.

Next week is the Marionberry Shortcake. For those of you with access to fresh marionberries in season, I apologize for missing the season. If I'd done research instead of just guessing, I'd have planned the cake for July. According to Rose, the thing about marionberries is that they freeze beautifully, so you can make this cake successfully with the frozen berries. If you opt for a different berry, or another fruit, you should use one of the fresh fruits that's available season now, unlike the marionberry, which must have about an eight-day season.
If you don't have the very cute little individual Mary Ann pans, you can use custard cups to make the baby shortcakes.
Coming up after that is the chocolate layer cake with caramel ganache. By then it will be the end of August. Perhaps the cool winds of autumn will make an appearance and this rich-sounding chocolate cake will sound wonderfully appetizing. If it's still hot where you live, turn on the A/C and eat up.

Aug 16, 2010

Chocolate Feather Bed

After two glorious fruit-based cakes, I said, only half-jokingly, that another chocolate cake would seem like penance. This Chocolate Feather Bed is so light and delicious that if it would be assigned as penance, people would be lining up for miles outside the confessionals.
Flourless cakes kind of amaze me--especially cakes like this one, which is made with only eggs, sugar, and chocolate.
I decided to pay careful attention to the cacao content of the chocolate. Most chocolates labelled "dark" or "bittersweet" have higher cacao contents than the recommended 53% to 62%, and I wanted to make sure my cake didn't taste too bitter. At my grocery store, a Perugina 60% was the best bet.
Jim bought the eggs at the Farmers' Market, and accidentally picked up medium instead of large eggs, so it took nearly eight egg yolks to make 112 grams. I'd have been in a heap of trouble if I hadn't weighed the egg yolks.
The yolks look nearly white after they're beaten for five minutes.
The chocolate-y egg yolk mixture and the beaten egg whites are about to be mixed together.
And that's all there is to it! I don't know why I thought this cake was going to be difficult. I think the directions about baking two cakes confused me. Fortunately, I only baked one so I didn't stay confused.
Here's the cake after baking for precisely 16 minutes. It was another sweltering day, so I was very relieved that I could turn the oven off after such a short time.
The cake was shrouded in a dish towel (one that is "clean" and "dry"--the instructions specify-- in case you were inclined to use one that was wet and dirty) until it's cool. Then I could wrap it in plastic and put it in the refrigerator while I went off somewhere cool.
I asked Jim if he wanted light whipped chocolate ganache or gelatin-stabilized whipped cream. I thought he'd probably choose the ganache because the "gelatin-stabilized" part of the whipped cream sounded suspicious, but he opted for the whipped cream. Adding gelatin to cream was a brand new experience for me. It simply involves heating the cream with a few teaspoons of gelatin.
After that mixture has cooled, it's just gradually beaten into ordinary whipped cream.
If you had made the full cake, you'd cut each long rectangle in half, making a more or less square cake with four layers. Because I made only one pan, I cut it in four pieces, to make a small rectangle with four layers.
Then all four layers are topped with whipped ganache or whipped cream. I made the double recipe for whipped cream for my half cake, and only had a bit left over. Perhaps I slathered it on too thickly, but it didn't seem like too much whipped cream to me, but then I'm not sure that "too much" ever describes "whipped cream."
After I was done with the filling, and I'd grated chocolate for on top (it was such a hot day I didn't want to let the chocolate get warm enough to make curls--I thought it would go straight from room temperature to melted), I stood back to admire. I could see that I hadn't been careful enough in measuring my layers, placing them directly on top of each other, or evening off the filling.
Let's just say it had a casual look. Or perhaps the look of a cake put together by someone who had been blindfolded. But the pieces looked attractive when they were sliced, even though the chocolate shavings didn't all stay attached to the whipped cream.
I liked this cake a lot--it had a deep chocolate flavor without being overwhelmingly chocolate, especially for someone coming somewhat reluctantly back to Chocolateville after being gone for a few weeks.
I'd like to try it with the whipped ganache sometime, but I thought the whipped cream was a perfect flavor and color contrast, so I'm not sure that the ganache could be better.

Jan: "It's light and delicious."
Laurel: "Is there egg white in the filling? It's airier than ordinary whipped cream. I like it that it's not overly sweet."
Betty: "It's wonderful. I like the chocolate shavings."
Fred: "If I had a criticism, it would be that it's almost too delicate. It's just a little bit too light--not enough heft."
Jim: "The cake is delicious. I think it has plenty of heft."

Aug 10, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

How did we like the Plum Blueberry Upside Down Torte? Here are a few of the conclusions: Raymond "liked its old-fashioned simplicity." Mendy thought it was "easy and delicious." Jenn went him one better: "awesomely good and super-duper delicious." Lynnette thought it was "one of the easiest and one of the most flavorful" of the cakes she's baked so far. Julie said it was "easy to make" and had "nice balance of flavors." Do you see a theme here? It was EASY. Not that we're not up to challenges--we are. But what a treat it is to find a cake that's, as Mendy says, both easy and delicious.
Congratulations to Kristina! She managed to bake this cake in her new oven, even though her new kitchen is still far from being done. That's dedication!
And congratulations to Jennifer too. Although normally you don't get congratulated for being confused, I'm going to make an exception with Jennifer. Her confusion: she thought the the plum-blueberry cake was the week before (the week of the lemon meringue cake), and she made a trek to Sauvie Island Farms to pick her own blueberries. Not wanting to let the blueberries go bad (naturally), and not wanting to miss the lemon meringue cake (again, naturally), she just squared her shoulders and made both cakes in the same weekend.
I figured there would be lots of alternatives to the plum-and-blueberry combo, but most people stuck to the recipe. A few people strayed from the path: Lola added blackberries; Monica ("good enough to eat--for those who like fruit") used pluots; Lynnette thought apricots were a good substitute; and Katya added peaches to the mix. Gartblue used the standard fruit, although she threatened to add Malaysia's infamous durian fruit.
On the other hand, there were a few people who were able actually to find the coveted greengage plums (or an approximation thereof).
Vicki spent hours driving around looking for greengages, and finally found something called "Kelsey greengages" in a small produce stand--the last place she stopped at after many discouraged stops. Nancy B. had to be satisfied with some unknown kind of green plum that did not call itself a greengage.
And Joan (who was obsessively taking the tart's temperature) didn't even say where she got hers.
This week's FEATURED BAKER gets the "Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear" Award for her very clever save. Lois was doing the fear-inducing, gravity-defying part of this recipe--turning it upside down--when she realized that the middle of her cake was seriously uncooked. She had no choice but to put it back in the pan and bake it another 5 minutes or so. But when she re-flipped it, it didn't look pretty. Rather than giving up on it, however, she remembered that whipped cream covers a multitude of sins. And she didn't just slather the whipped cream on--she elegantly piped it on. So professional was her piping job that the people who saw it assumed she'd bought it from a fancy-schmancy bakery!

Next week we're back to chocolate. To make a whole recipe, you actually have to make two separate cakes. In other words, if you make only one cake, you'll be making half a recipe. So those of you who typically cut the recipes in half will not have to do any scary math tricks. To make the cake you'll need a standard-size half-sheet pan.
You can frost and fill this four-layer cake either with a light whipped ganache filling or with gelatin-stabilized whipped cream. I think I'll let Jim decide.
After that, we'll do Marionberry Shortcakes, using the elusive Marionberry. Elusive unless you live in the Pacific Northwest, that is. For the rest of us, frozen marionberries are a good substitute. (I found them at Whole Foods).

By the way, if baking a cake every week isn't enough of a challenge for you, Heavenly Bakers Monica and Jenn are starting another make-through challenge. They're looking for about 30 people who'd like to try a recipe once a week from The Illustrated Kitchen Bible, by Victoria Blashford-Snell. See Monica's blog if you'd like more information.

Aug 9, 2010

Plum and Blueberry Upside-Down Torte

I have loved these last two fruit desserts so much that going back to chocolate next week seems almost like a penance. Despite being called a torte, this cake is not fancy. It belongs to the wholesome club of buckles, crisps, and cobblers, except it's richer and prettier.
Rose recommends making this cake with greengage plums, which may be available in some parts of the country (Manhattan, for example), but Minnesota? Not so much. So I got regular plums.

And regular blueberries.
Instead of a brown sugar mixture on the bottom of the pan, as is typical with shortcake, there's a lovely caramel syrup.

The sugar first turns into a clear liquid,

then back to a thick, sugary mixture (this had me worried)
and finally into the caramel sauce that coats the bottom of the cake pan.

I rearranged the plums several times, cutting them into smaller pieces as I went along. The plums shrink during baking, so I could have squeezed more of them on the top.

I weighed the blueberries carefully--the 350 grams turned out to be one pint plus a handful. You could get away with using just one pint.
After the caramel sauce is made, and the fruit is cut and somewhat decoratively placed on top of the caramel, the cake itself is easy. (There's a reason this cake is on the Quick-and-Easy List).
Dry ingredients are mixed in a food processor. (The recipe calls for bleached all-purpose flour, which I didn't notice.) I can hardly see how it would have been any better if I'd used bleached flour, but I'll try it next time. Then mix in butter, eggs, and vanilla until it's a batter. Did I mention that this entire mixing episode is done in the food processor and takes about 10 seconds?
After about 40 minutes in the oven, it's brown and fragrant. It also has a few air bubbles on top, but I don't care since the top is going to be the bottom.
You must wait for a few anxious minutes until it's time to do the upside-down business. When I turned the pan over, I didn't hear the satisfying thunk that tells me that the cake has emerged more or less intact. But after a few more minutes, I heard a kind of whiffling noise that sounded like the cake was removing itself from the pan. I carefully lifted the pan, holding my breath, and discovered that all was well.
Jim and I each had a slice immediately--for scientific purposes only--so that we could compare the right-out-of-the-oven piece with the 24-hours-later piece. Jim thought it was just slightly better on the second day, and I thought it was just slightly better on the first day. Both of us thought the difference was so small that we wouldn't want to have to try to explain it.
Then I had to get rid of the rest of the cake. I cut what was left into two big hunks, put them on paper plates, wrapped them in plastic, and gave them to Jim, with instructions to give to the first neighbors he found home. He went next door and gave both plates to David and Tracey, who questioned whether he really intended to give them both plates. He explained that his job was to distribute to neighbors, but no one had told him how many neighbors, and it was too hot to wander around the neighborhood, cake in hand.
And that was the end of the blueberry-plum torte. I would like to make this again, maybe with peaches and raspberries. And if I ever spot greengage plums, I'm buying them up, because they too have an appointment with upside-down cake.

Aug 4, 2010

Last Cake, Next Cake

The wonderful lemon meringue cake is one of those projects that you would think would be more or less duplicated by all of the bakers. After all, it's just a layer cake filled with lemon curd and topped with meringue. But, surprisingly, differences in the size of the cake, as well as the design and browning of the meringue led to cakes that were as individual as the bakers themselves.
For one thing, several people balked at the idea of turning their oven on to 500 degrees on a sweltering August day, and instead used their mini-propane torch, which had hitherto probably been used only for creme brulees, if used at all.
Monica ("apparently all I needed to do for Tom to propose to me was to make this cake"), Jennifer ("the curd has been bullied into tasting good by the rest of the components"), Nancy B. ("didn't set the cardboard round on fire either"), and Mendy ("I bet [friend who turned down the cake because she only eats things sweetened with agave] is having second thoughts now about her whole off-the-sugar kick") all opted for the torch. Candi briefly considered the torch, but decided Rose must have had a reason for not recommending it, so she went with the hot oven. I wonder if there is a reason. Torchers, what do you think?
Nancy B., Jenn, and Jennifer all made half-recipes. This seems to be a growing trend. (A shrinking trend?)
Katya was one of the very few who took liberties with the recipe, using rhubarb curd instead of lemon curd, which would seemingly make it a rhubarb meringue cake. Katya's post is also noteworthy for comparing her technique of removing the cake's crusts ("pinching and rolling and peeling it") to peeling off sunburnt skin. Katya also said this was the best Italian meringue she's ever made--very impressive in my eyes, as it implies that she's made a whole cartload of them.
On the other hand, Vicki deserves a cartload of credit for making this cake because she hates meringue. Her childhood question: "Why did meringue have to shove whipping cream, the stuff of [her] dreams, off a perfectly good pie and runin it?" And yet, turning from the Sunday paper to the computer to see what the Early Posters made of this week's cakes, she decided to jump on the bandwagon and started her "meringue monstrosity at 3:30 a.m." Good news--Vicki's now a convert, and "Baked Alaska is suddenly calling [her] name."
Raymond just plain loved this cake, calling it "light, tart, and refreshing," and "just what the doctor ordered this week."

This week's FEATURED BAKER is Gartblue, who baked this cake for her own birthday! Happy belated birthday, Gartblue! Even though "Malaysians don't quite fancy sour cakes," Gartblue took this into the office, where "Azlan was sent deliriously ecstatic to LemonHeaven and Hazel licked her fingers shamelessly." Her own review of the cake: "It’s a magnificent cake. A show-stopper. A drama queen and not an ounce of fat in sight. It was so decadently rich in appearance but tasted as light as a feather." (Well, there is some fat in the lemon curd, but let's just forget about that and pretend we're eating non-fat cake this week).

Next week is a fruit dessert, but you would be stretching it a little if you called it healthy, what with its glorious-sounding caramel sauce. And you wouldn't have to serve it with whipped cream, but don't you think you should? Remember to make this cake the day before you want to eat it.
The following week, we're back to chocolate, and I hope that you're ready for the Chocolate Feather Bed cake after our 2-week chocolate hiatus. If I'm remembering correctly (which I wouldn't bet on), Katya made this cake for Passover, and praised it highly. If this is true, maybe you could pass along some tips? If I'm hallucinating, never mind.

Aug 2, 2010

Lemon Meringue Cake

The last time I made something with lemon curd, I used store-bought curd. (My grandmother always said "boughten" instead of store-bought. Did anyone else grow up thinking that "boughten" was a word?) The boughten lemon curd was good, but there's no substitute for the real stuff, made with fresh eggs, butter, and lemons. Especially lemons.
The first time I made lemon curd, many years ago, I couldn't see how it would possibly work out. But it does. There are just those few breathtaking moments when you think you should take it off the heat because it's going to curdle any second, but you want it just a wee bit thicker. Non-bakers have no idea how thrilling this is.
After taking pictures of the lemon curd, my (usually) trusty photographer skipped town, leaving me, with my little point-and-shoot, to be the meringue photographer. Too bad for Real Photographer that he didn't get to taste any of this lemon meringue cake, because it was spectacular--one of my favorite cakes so far.
So much lemon! Grated lemon rind in the cake, along with egg yolks and sugar.
The egg-yolk part of the batter after it's been beaten for five minutes.
And then after the Wondra flour is laid to rest on top of the batter, waiting for the meringue mixture to be mixed in.
When you're baker and photographer both, you keep forgetting to take pictures. At least I do. The rest of you take amazing pictures all by yourselves. The good part of taking your own pictures is that you don't take shots of your own hands. "Jim!" I always say. "Don't take pictures of my gnarly hands!" He ignores me. I delete many, many photos of said hands each week. No age-spotted hands on display this week, however, as it is not easy to hold the camera with both hands and photograph those same hands.
No meringue photo, but here's one of the thick, rich batter as it's ready to be put into the baking pans.

And as the cakes come out of the oven.
More lemon--lemon juice for the syrup.
I tried sawing the crust off the top of the cake with a serrated bread knife, but I found that what worked best was just to roll it off the top.
And the lemon curd on top of the bottom layer. As Rose recommends, I saved a bit for myself to have on toast.
Then I forgot to take any pictures of the Italian meringue process, which was scary, but not hard. First, because of the warnings I've been receiving about the tricky nature of meringue, especially when made on a humid day in July. But, to my amazement, there were no problems at all. Beginners' luck, probably. Frosting the cake with meringue didn't work out so well, and no matter how I tried to even it out, it had a distinctly lopsided look.
Here it is before going into the 500-degree oven, which, frankly, I did not believe would work. This made me wonder about meringue. Meringue may (or may not) have been discovered by a Swiss chief named Gasparini in the town of Meringen. Before that, there was something called "snow," which was popular in Medieval Europe. There is no definitive answer about who first thought about putting a delicate meringue in a hot oven and browning it.
I've never been a huge fan of meringue, but Rose's Italian Meringue has changed all that. You probably already know it's "Italian" because it's made with a sugar syrup, which makes it more stable.
The browning worked perfectly and beautifully, and I'm now in love with Italian meringue, especially when it's made with lemon. More lemon! I had a lot of fun taking pictures of the meringue because it was so photogenic.
Now here's the sad part. As you can see from the pictures, I placed my cake on the bottom of a springform pan instead of the bottom of a tart pan. I figured that because it was bigger and taller, I'd be able to transfer the cake better, as I was taking it to a party and I wanted to move it to a cake carrier. What I didn't think of is that as soon as I started moving the cake carrier, the springform pan bottom would slide into the sides of the carrier and swoop-swoop! completely eradicate the nicely browned sides of the cake.
But when I showed the denuded cake to my friend Betty, who was hosting the party, she just cut it into slices, and soon you couldn't tell (much) that the sides of the meringue had been deposited on the sides of the cake carrier.
My TASTING PANEL consisted of all the neighbors who came to Betty's TGIF party. First, they reminded me that the TGIF rules forbid homemade treats and allow only things that come in a bag or a can. After scolding me, they started eating.  Then they started oohing and aahing about the cake. Some of the comments: "How did you get the cake so moist--it's not a mix, is it?" "The sweetness of the meringue is so perfect with the tartness of the filling." "This meringue has lemon in it! Usually meringue is so blah, but this is really good!" "I love the way that all the flavors just kind of explode in your mouth." "This is so much better than lemon meringue pie!"

If you want to be the star of your neighborhood, or any other gathering you go to, just take this cake, sit back, and wait for the accolades.