Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ruffle cake

Ruffle cake for my niece's first birthday.

More and more bakeries in Vancouver are featuring cakes styled with one piping tip.  I've used a large open star tip to decorate my friend's wedding cake last summer, and I've been wanting to try ruffle cakes made with a large petal tip.

Rose Levy Beranbaum's all-occasion downy yellow cake is an excellent base for many cakes.  I baked the recipe in two 8" x 2" pans at 350F  for about 30-35 minutes.  After cooling, I torted each layer in half, and filled it with strawberry jam - the kind that has twice the fruit and less sugar.
Cakes iced with one piping tip typically uses double the buttercream.  This double-layer 8" round cake used about 9 cups of icing in total.  I used my favourite Swiss meringue buttercream base and flavoured it with three cups of pureed strawberry jam (pass though a fine strainer after pureeing).  The colour will be a light, natural-looking pink.

The cake is crumb-coated and guide lines are marked:
There are a number of helpful youtube videos for this technique.  I particularly liked this video.

I did not find the technique to strain my hands as the videos warned.  Using a larger Wilton # 125 tip (instead of #104 shown in the video), I finished the sides in a little over five minutes.

Instead of piping concentric circles of ruffles up top as shown in the video, I pulled the ruffles inward to the centre.  Here is the finished cake:

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bûches de Noël

It has been 6 years since I last made a bûche de Noël.  A collection of my previous yule logs are compiled on this page.

Early this month Melissa Clark (NY Times) made a bûche with Dorie Greenspan, and the duo can be seen in this video.  Ms Clark says, "it takes all day, it's incredibly complex, and it's a little bit nerve wracking.  But if you do invest the time, it is one of the most spectacular holiday desserts you can make and your guests just die.  They just die.  They die."

Well, it doesn't have to take all day.  I've always thought that this is such a fun project to spread out over two to three days.  On day one, make meringue mushrooms (and these are entirely optional).  Day two, make the sponge sheet and filling, then roll the cake and pop in the fridge.  A day's rest in the fridge actually benefits sponge cakes as the moisture from the filling or any syrup used diffuses and the different flavours meld.  On day, three put it all together.

Meringue mushrooms

Martha Stewart's website is a treasure trove, and I like the meringue mushrooms by one of her guests, John Iuzzini.  Basically, make a Swiss meringue, pipe some discs and "kisses" (like the Hershey's chocolates).  The discs become mushroom caps, and the kisses the stems.

I improvised a little by applying some tempered chocolate to the bottom of the meringue caps with an offset spatula, then sticking the peaks of the "kisses" into the bottom of the caps.  Tempering is an optional step.  It prevents the cocoa butter from coming to the surface of the chocolate and creating what looks like mold on the surface.  While this is not mold, and the chocolate remains edible, it may be off-putting for some finicky eaters.

As a tip, small mushrooms are more esthetically pleasing.  My very first attempt in 2006 resulted in gigantic mushrooms.  The ones I made this year are as dainty as I want them:

Invariably, there will be leftover tempered chocolate and meringue (stems in the picture below) - which I am sure will not go to waste.

Sponge sheet cake and white chocolate mousse

A yule log needs a sheet cake that can be rolled, often a European sponge cake that has a lot less butter and sugar and a lot more eggs by proportion than the American butter sheet cakes.  Sponges tend to be dry and need a brushing of simple syrup (one to two tablespoons per egg used in the recipe).  However, my favourite sponge is Rose Levy Beranbaum's cocoa souffle roll, which is so moist it needs no syrup and is so pliable it does not crack when rolled.  I took her recipe and simplified the mixing technique.  My tweaks can be found here.

I filled this roll with Martha Stewart's white chocolate mousse.  The linked recipe makes 5 1/2 cups and you only need a little over 2 cups per 13" x 17" sheet (I use a 14" x 14" sheet because I have a very small oven).  Since I had a lot of family dinners this year, I just made two sheet cakes to use all the mousse.  It also wonderful eaten without any cake.

Here is one of the two chocolate logs filled and ready to be wrapped in parchment before resting in the refrigerator for a day.

Putting it together

Trim the ends.  Then cut off two pieces from the ends on an angle.  Stick them on the the main trunk to approximate a log:

Make seven-minute frosting.  Modify the recipe by reducing to 4 egg whites, one cup of sugar, and 1.5 tablespoon of corn syrup (optional).  This will be enough for two logs.

For drama, take a kitchen blow torch and singe the meringue.  If you do not have a blow torch and you want browned meringue, cover the entire log with meringue (do not leave the ends exposed) and place under the oven set to broil.  Keep your eye on the cake the entire time and pop it out when you have achieved the browning you are after (this happens very quickly).  Browned seven-minute meringue tastes like toasted marshmallows!  

Finally, stick on the meringue mushrooms and serve:

The prequel

Before making the chocolate log above, I experimented with an almond paste sponge.  It is the same process: make the sheet, fill with mousse or cream (I used the same white chocolate mousse recipe), then ice (I used a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream).

Almond paste is not the same as marzipan.  The former has about 50-60% almond content, and the latter 30%, with the remainder made up mostly of sugar.  If marzipan is substituted for almond paste, round layer cakes will fall and dip, and jelly rolls will crack because of all that sugar.

To make things more confusing, some bona fide almond paste will be marked "marzipan."  Check the ingredient list.  First on the list should be almonds, not sugar.

I took James Peterson's recipe in Baking - a masterful tome, but I do wish he gave weights of ingredients - and made some adjustments to the ingredients and techniques:

Preheat oven to 375F.  Chop 142 grams of almond paste (not marzipan) and place in a Kitchen Aid bowl with 100 grams of sugar.  Run on low to medium until you have ground the paste into very small pebbles.  Add 5 whole eggs and 1 yolk, then whisk this mixture over a bain marie for about three minutes until it is hot to touch.  Switch to the Kitchen Aid and beat with a whisk attachment on high for 12 minutes.  At 8 minutes, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  With a balloon whisk, fold in 87 grams of all purpose flour.  Pour into a 13"x17" sheet pan lined with parchment and bake for 17 minutes (12 minutes was sufficient on convection setting) until the top springs back when pressed lightly.

Take out of the oven.  Immediately invert onto a piece parchment heavily dusted with confectioner's sugar.  Peel off the back parchment.  Dust with confectioner's sugar liberally, then roll the cake along with the parchment, using the overhang to help you.  Rolling the cake while warm helps it form a pliable cylinder for filling later.  Cool rolled:

When cool, unroll and brush the with about half a cup of simple syrup.  This makes a dry sponge and needs a good amount of syrup.  Dry sponges are great for simply filling with whipped cream.  In this case, only about three tablespoons of syrup are needed.  As the whipped cream emulsion breaks and the water seeps out, the sponge will soak it all up.

After brushing with syrup, fill with mousse:

Roll again tightly in parchment, then cool in the fridge.  Here is the log ready to be iced:

Tuck some waxed paper under the log prior to icing for a clean finish.  Keep buttercream strokes rough to simulate tree bark:

Meringue mushrooms and a dusting of confectioner's sugar helps create a wintry appearance:

Next year, I'm going to use this almond paste sheet cake along with the seven minute frosting, and maybe use as milk or semisweet chocolate mousse filling.

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!


  • 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.



  • 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.