Monday, August 11, 2014

Brynn and Brandon's wedding cake


This past weekend, my very good friend Brynn married Brandon.

When asked to make a wedding cake before, I've always declined but this was one request I could not turn down.  I quickly set out by first writing a baking schedule:


I baked three lemon almond layers (12", 9", and 6") from the "Golden Dream Wedding Cake" recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum's Heavenly Cakes.



Instead of using Rose L. Beranbaum's frosting, I made my own Swiss meringue buttercream icing and flavoured it with white chocolate and almond oil.


Dowels or bubble tea straws are placed in the cake to support the layer above it (this is crucial).  For the cake to travel stacked, a 3/8" centre dowel must be driven through all the layers.  Here is a helpful youtube video.

A box makes transporting the cake easier.  And, of course, there is a youtube video on how to prepare a box.  I used a 16" cube box to contain my cake that is resting on a 16" round cake drum.

Just to make me nervous, a friend of mine sent me this picture of his cake transport disaster:


Note the absence of a centre dowel in the picture.

Thanks to the dowel and another friend's careful driving, the cake arrived in one piece:



Brynn and Brandon's wedding was a heartfelt event, and it was such a pleasure making this cake for them!

Notes:

  • The Swiss meringue buttercream (SMBC) is an easy recipe to remember: 4 egg whites, 3 sticks of butter, 1 cup of sugar, a healthy pinch of salt yields four cups of base.  Up to 8 ounces of white or dark chocolate can be added to this, or up to six tablespoons of lemon curd.
  • My SMBC had 8 ounces of white chocolate and 3/4 teaspoon of almond oil.
  • I needed about 8 cups to fill the layers and apply a crumb coat, then another 12 cups for the finishing (the rose swirl technique uses a lot of icing).
  • The key to successful SMBC is to keep beating the meringue and butter mixture until it curdles, and then to keep beating some more until the mixture reconstitutes into a smooth, dreamy and luscious buttercream.  See this video.
  • Try the rose swirl piping technique to frost your cakes.  It is super easy, and yields dramatic results.  Here is a list of videos demonstrating the technique.  You will be able to frost an 8" layer cake in less than 5 minutes - for real!
  • A cake with this much frosting on the side needs to be in a cool room (19C).  If not, keep in the fridge and take out an hour to an hour and a half before serving.  Otherwise there is a risk that the frosting might get too soft and slip down the sides.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saving a ripped bundt

David Lebovitz' almond cake whips up easily in a food processor and tastes incredible.  It has become one of my standby recipes. 

The other day, I took his recipe and multiplied it by 1.5 to make enough for a 12-cup bundt pan.  Baking time was about 60 minutes at 350F.  Everything was going well until I unmolded the cake:

The bundt cake ripped all across the centre.

To fix it, I took about six small Meyer lemons, sliced them thinly, discarding seeds as I came across them and gently boiled them in a cup of sugar and a cup of water for about 20 minutes until the rind was translucent.  I then arranged these candied Meyer lemons around the unsightly gash:

Very thinly sliced Meyer lemons are candied in simple syrup then arranged around the strip of torn cake.

And, with a "more is more" attitude, I used up the rest of the candied lemons to overdecorate the cake.

 

Notes:

  • I probably did not grease the bundt pan enough.  Often, if I use  "professional bakers' grease" from Baking 911, things turn out very well.  If the recipe is particularly sugary, I use the baker's grease and then spray it with Bakers' Joy.  This recipe is made with almond paste and is sticky, so next time I will go this route.
  • There are other tips on how to unmold cakes successfully on this website.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Return to baking: Apple pie

The gap between my last post and this one represents my clerkship year in medical school plus a bit of the beginning of my final year. Though I kept on baking through this time - my clinical teams and ward nurses were beneficiaries of banana breads, tarts and brownies - there was never enough spare time to blog.

Now as I am approaching the final weeks of medical school, I am happy to be able to blog again. Here is an apple pie I recently made:


My first successful baking attempt was making an apple pie using the recipe on the back of a Crisco box for the pie dough. I loved that pie dough because it was tender, flaky, and nearly fool-proof. How could it not be? It had all the necessary tweaks - baking powder for puff, vinegar for tenderness, sugar and salt for taste.

However, good as that pie dough may be, it cannot compare in taste to an all-butter crust. Unfortunately, my attempts at flaky butter pie dough had never been good. That is, until Chez Pim's ultimate pie dough.  Here are a series of photographs of this oh-so-easy to make and amazingly flaky pie dough, and yes it is made entirely by hand:


There is even a YouTube video of Chez Pim making this dough:



(If you are viewing this post through Facebook, the embedded video will not show, but you can click on this link).

I wanted a tall apple pie that has no gap between the crust and the filling, so I turned to Cooks Illustrated's Deep Dish Apple Pie. To keep the apples from shrinking, they are partially cooked first and then cooled. Ten large apples went into this pie.


After the filling has cooled, I rolled out the dough, and assembled my pie:


The pie is packed with Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Ambrosia, and Pink Lady apples, and the crust, which shatters into innumerable flakes, has the incomparable taste of delicately browned butter:



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Almond cake with chocolate frosting

Just a quick blog note while on a short hiatus from studying:



The cake layers are from David Lebovitz, and the recipe is available here. I used two 8" pans instead of the 9" that he calls for in the recipe; the baking time is about the same. Note that the cake requires almond paste, which is not the same thing as marzipan. Vancouver bakers can get almond paste at The Grainry inside the Public Market on Granville Island.

For the icing, I re-visited an old favorite: Mrs. Milman's chocolate frosting. The recipe and accompanying video are available here.

This frosting actually takes a good four hours to set in the fridge if you follow the instructions. Here are my notes and modifications:
  1. The recipe was halved.
  2. Pour the cream into the pan you're going to be cooking in and set it out to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking. This will take the chill out of the cream, and will hasten cooking a bit.
  3. The cream and chocolate chips are cooked on LOW (not medium low as the recipe says) for 30 minutes (instead of 35), all the while stirring to make sure that no chocolate is sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the chocolate has all melted and the mixture looked homogeneous, I increased the heat *slightly*. If the cream is chilled when you started cooking, this will take longer than 35 minutes.
  4. I placed the heated cream/chocolate in a pre-chilled metal bowl and stirred it for a few minutes to rapidly cool the mixture before proceeding with the cooling step.
  5. I then placed the bowl in an icebath and I began to stir vigorously, occasionally taking the bowl out of the bath to make sure that the icing isn't forming any solid lumps. This method is quite a workout but the icing will be done in about 15 to 20 minutes, not four hours.
The frosting is done when it is very thick but still spreadable (it should hold furrows and soft shapes sculpted with a butter knife).

This frosting swirls very well:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Chocolate salted caramel cake with lacquer glaze

Rose Levy Beranbaum's new book, Heavenly Cakes, features the shiniest glaze:



This glaze has intrigued me since I acquired her book a year ago. I finally had the opportunity to make it for this Thanksgiving weekend family gathering.

I decided to pair that wonderful Sweet and Salty Cake from NYC's Baked with Ms Beranbaum's new glaze:



From left to right the small photos above show my mise en place, two cake layers slathered with salty caramel and sandwiching a caramel ganache buttercream, three cake layers, all the layers with a skewer to keep the cake fro tilting, the crumb coat, the smoothed coat and the glazed cake.

Here once again is the finished cake:



Tips: The recipe for the lacquer glaze can be found in this post. Also, there is a youtube video where Ms Beranbaum shows how to pour this glaze.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Perfect chocolate chip cookies

Today I decided to take a short breather from studying for my anesthesia clerkship (which I am thoroughly enjoying). Pat needed some sweet treats for an upcoming office shindig, so I baked up two batches of my new favourite chocolate chip cookies:



Audaciously dubbed by Cooks Illustrated as their "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies," these truly live up to their name.

They bake up golden and crisply at the sides and chewy in the centre without tasting like unbaked cookie dough, which is a failing of many chewy cookie recipes. Instead what you get is the wonderfully complex taste of caramel, toffee and chocolate.



To bake these sublime cookies, first visit Une Gamine dans la Cuisine for a printer-ready copy of the recipe.

Prep your ingredients:


What sets this apart from other chocolate chip cookies is that it uses browned butter...


... which is then added to brown and white sugars with a bit more butter to make a caramel/toffee base.


Initially, the mixture will appear separated, greasy and gritty.


As you add the eggs and vanilla, and go through a couple bouts of stirring and resting, the mixture eventually becomes shiny and luscious.


At this point, all the other ingredients are ready for mixing.



I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the dough.


Tip # 1: If, after mixing all the ingredients, you find that the batter is too soft to scoop, pop your bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes, then proceed.

Tip # 2: Do not bake these right away. Instead, freeze the scooped dough overnight. This will ensure that the cookies do not spread too much when you bake them.


As with any other cookies, bake these until they are golden brown around the sides and soft and almost gooey in the centre. The residual heat will cook the centre perfectly. As they cool , the cookies will fall a little and wrinkle:



Tip # 3: All ovens are different, so it's good to get to know yours. In my oven, on a convection setting of 180 Celsius, these were done in 9 minutes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Icing a layer cake

Start with your components:
  1. Buttermilk country cake. The recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible. For the cake I made, I split the batter into two six inch layers instead of using a single larger layer that she calls for. This is ready to be pulled out of the oven in 25-30 minutes.

  2. Raspberry jam. Heat over a stove to a simmer, then strain to remove the seeds. A cup of jam yields about half a cup after straining.

  3. Milk chocolate buttercream. Also from The Cake Bible. Follow the recipe link and prepare as directed, which will make more than you need for this project. See the notes below for storage and reuse. This buttercream is so much better than anything made with icing sugar. (I can write a whole diatribe against icing sugar "buttercreams").
The picture below shows all the cake components; the chocolate is melted and waiting to cool before being whipped with butter.


Assembly is a breeze.

First, tort each cake in half, so you will have four layers in total. Take the first layer and place it on a parchment lined plate. Place two tablespoons of strained raspberry jam on the first layer:


Spread the jam, then place about a quarter cup (or a little more) of chocolate icing on top:


Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer of cake and dollop a large amount of icing on top. When it comes to chocolate icing, I prefer a relaxed approach. Instead of applying a crumb coat, then applying more icing which is then perfectly smoothed, I like to take that dollop of chocolate from the top and pull it to the sides and then swirl the cake around to make a whimsical pattern.


After this is done, I pull the parchment from the sides. Happy birthday, Patrick!



Notes:

  • What to do if instead of buttercream, you end up with melted slush. With Vancouver's hot, hot, hot August weather, I ended up with melted butter and chocolate instead of a luscious buttercream. If this happens to you, fear not, your icing is entirely salvageable. Take your Kitchen Aid bowl which is holding the melted puddle, and place it in an icebath. Stir. As soon as the buttercream solidifies on the sides of the bowl, return the bowl to the KA and resume beating. To arrive at the right consistency, you may have to repeat this process a few times. This buttercream really is best prepared in cooler weather... but it is noteworthy how this buttercream is able to withstand all that handling and the rapid temperature changes from a warm room to an icebath and back again.

  • In this hot weather, the cake was starting to become lopsided as the layers shift with each stroke of my spatula. I could have driven a skewer through the center to keep it still, but in keeping with the relaxed attitude of this cake, I just let it lean.

  • For a pretty cake - for any cake - there are three key visual elements: even icing, clean edges and a clean plate. Even icing means no cake layers peeking through on the sides. Clean edges means the angle between the icing on the top and sides is sharp (or sharp-ish for this casual cake). Tucked parchment sheets go a long way in giving you a clean plate. Below is a photo of two examples, showing a lemon curd cake and a bigger version of this chocolate swirl design. The sketches on the left are my vision of what a tiered version would look like.


  • The buttermilk cake rises very tall, so I only used three of the four layers. There will also be some spare strained jam and buttercream. To save the buttercream, freeze. To reuse, thaw at room temperature and then re-whip.

  • This post closes my summer as I head into the clerkship years of my medical schooling, which means my baking will likely become even more occasional. Much thanks to the readers of this blog who check in once a while to see what's up on Occasional Baker.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rainier cherry frangipane tartlets

The local cherry harvest is finally in full swing here in Vancouver.

Having feasted on cherries in almost about everything - tossed in salads, served alongside fiery Andouille sausages (works very well!), as a raw snack or dessert - I decided today to give in to a baking urge that I have been suppressing. This is the result:



I whipped up my favourite tart crust and used 1/3 of the dough to line two 4" tartlets, which I froze for two hours, then blind-baked for 20 minutes in a 350 F oven. Be sure to check out the tart crust recipe and the step by step photos courtesy of LA Times.

Then, I filled each blind-baked tartlet with a tablespoon of frangipane. The best frangipane, in my opinion is Dorie Greenspan's almond cream, to which I add a tablespoon or two of cream during the final whir in the food processor. This produces a lighter (well, not calorie-wise, just texturally) frangipane. The recipe makes quite a bit, but I find that it freezes well - just stir vigorously after thawing.

On goes some cherries, and in they go into the a preheated 350 F oven for about 30-35 minutes. Don't forget to turn halfway through the baking time.



They are done when the frangipane puffs and begins to brown at the centre.





Notes

  • This dessert relies on the sweetest cherries one can find. I prefer Rainier cherries to the more well-trodden Bing.
  • Don't overcrowd the tartlet with cherries, otherwise the frangipane won't bake.
  • Photos were taken with my iPhone 3GS.