Monday, February 16, 2015

Ruffles, Roses, and Cake -- Pure Poetry. . .

As I've gotten older, my appreciation of poetry has increased.  Lately, I've been absolutely smitten with e.e.cummings.  (although, I must admit, the brazen disregard for capitalization and punctuation put me off at first. I know, I'm a nerd. . .)

I really do love "i carry your heart with me."  I know it's cliched like, but in my defense, i love the lesser known part of the poem:
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
{swoon. . . }

So in honor of my new favorite poet, and, of course, .. . Valentine's day, here's a sweet little cake to help you celebrate.

{Of note:  The cake may be inspired by e e cummings, but is, of course, dedicated to my forever love, my husband, George.  He may not write poetry, but his loving insistence that all my endeavors are delicious, (even those that could only be described as kitchen disasters), is much more valuable to me}

Vanilla Cake:

This cake was a dream for the most part --it's the same cake that I used in my previous post. However, due to my (unwise) decision to experiment with frozen cake batter, it didn't turn out quite as well.  I know, I know. . . gasp -- FROZEN CAKE BATTER???.  I had to try, though -- making the batter eats up a good part of the afternoon and I always end up making too much, since my cake size of choice is a 6 inch. . .  and most recipes make two 8 inch cakes. Anyways, to make a long story short -- just don't do it.  The cake itself cooked fine, but the crumb was most definitely compromised.  It was still light and fluffy at the periphery, but centrally, the cake failed to rise as it should have, and took on a very dense, almost pound- cake-like consistency.  So that's the last time I'll try to freeze cake batter.  Oh well, worth a shot.


Mango Curd:

This is the best curd recipe ever.  The most wonderful part -- it can be modified to feature whatever fruit your heart desires.  I used mango, because I can buy mango pulp, saving me the extra step of pureeing the fruit myself.


1/4 cup pureed fruit
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice (I never use enough lemon juice to finish a whole container before it goes bad -- so I've started to use this)
1 stick unsalted butter


Combine all ingredients except butter in a saucepan over medium heat and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Add the butter and whisk until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Immediately strain into a bowl and cover with cling wrap.  Make sure that the cling wrap is touching the curd and there is no air between the curd and the wrap, to ensure that a "skin" does not develop on top of the curd.
Refrigerate until desired, at least a few hours.

Grand Marnier Strawberries:

1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Mix all ingredients together and cover with cling wrap.  Let sit at room temperature for an hour.  Refrigerate until needed.


Coconut Buttercream



1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar + 2 Tbsp


4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
pinch tsp salt


3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (essential -- if the butter is not at room temp, this will not work)
2 1/4 tsp vanilla paste
just under 1/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 tsp coconut extract


Boil ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees.  While the syrup is forming, whip the meringue ingredients at high speed to stiff peaks. (This does not take long, so if you hit stiff peaks before the syrup is hot enough, reduce the speed of your mixer to low and keep the meringue moving.)  When the syrup reaches temperature, remove from heat and pour down the side of your mixer while continuing to whip at low speed.  The mixture will be HOT.  It is essential to wrap an ice pack around the base of your bowl at this time, otherwise it will NEVER cool down.  Whip until the mixture reaches 80 degrees, then add the butter a few pieces at a time.  If you do not wait until the temperature cools sufficiently, you will be left with buttercream that is the consistency of milk, so be patient. After all the butter has been added, whip at high speed for a little less than a minute.  Then add in the flavorings and whip at high speed until fully incorporated.


Level the cake and tort into two layers.  Spread mango curd over one layer and top with macerated strawberries.

Place the second layer on top of the filling and coat the entire cake with a generous layer of buttercream frosting.

Now. . . . decorating!!!(Yay, happy dance)


Wafer Paper
Silver dragees, 4 mm
24 oz white fondant
Pink gel icing color
2 Small circle cutters, of different sizes
Food writer marker
X-acto knife
Fondant smoother
Food tweezer

I wanted the cake to have a snippet of a poem scribed on top, so I used Word to print out the desired wording in a 6 inch diameter circle (to match the dimensions of the top of the cake.)  Then, I placed a piece of wafer paper (shiny side up) on top of the template and traced the wording onto the wafer paper using an edible ink marker. Finally, I cut the wafer paper to size using an X-acto knife.

After brushing the back of the wafer paper generously with corn syrup, onto the top of the cake it went.  I used a fondant smoother to make sure that it was firmly adhered to the cake (wafer paper tends to curl on the sides if not tacked down.)

Take a small handful of the dragees and pat gently against the sides of the cake.  I wanted a wavy pattern, so I drew an outline on top of the cake (as shown above,) but I found that the action of patting the beads against the frosting automatically creates that pattern.  Note: These beads are tiny, slippery, and bounceThey go everywhere when dropped.
(Further complicating matters -- they are described as non-edible, non-toxic.  Whatever that means. . . so if small children or pets are around, be extra careful.  In the interest of full disclosure, I've eaten these in the past.  They taste really yummy, actually.  And I'm still ok. . . I think. . .)

Color the fondant, a small amount at a time, using the pink gel icing.  Use sparingly -- the gel color is very potent.  If the color is too deep, knead in some white fondant to lighten.  Roll the fondant out and use the larger circle cutter to cut a few circles at a time.  Fold each circle in half, and then loosely again
in half.  This will form your ruffle.

Line the top and bottom of the cake with these little mini-ruffles.  Fill in any gaps with dragees using a tweezer for detail work.  Using the smaller circle cutter, repeat the process and border the top of the cake with the mini-ruffles, so the edge of the wafer paper is not seen.

Ahhh, ruffles, how I do I love thee, let me count the ways. . .
And let's not forget about poetry!!!

                         Flowers, Poetry, and Cake -- who could ask for more? :)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vanilla Cake Flies High

I can now breathe a sigh of relief.  I'm always a little nervous after a spectacular baking failure.  Is something off with my oven? Am I getting careless? Have I lost that little bit of luck that is absolutely necessary to success?  Well, after this previous weekend, I can happily say that my little streak of bad luck has ended.  Not only that, this weeks project was a resounding success! So much so, that I must brag a little.  The cake that was produced this past Saturday is my all-time best result ever, both in taste and appearance.  Let's pause while I do a little happy dance. . .Seriously, I haven't been this psyched about a final product in a very long time. So, without more ado, here we go.

First things first. . . the basics -- cake, filling, frosting.  (Everyone knows that the best part is the decoration, but some things are unavoidable -- namely, producing the actual cake.)

This cake was a vanilla (white) cake.  Simple, right?  Oh no; until you've slaved and despaired over many a too-dry, then too-dense, then too-shallow-a-flavor-profile cake, you do not know how crazy frustrating it can be to find that perfect white cake.  (Side-note: I thought I had already found mine.  The King Arthur white cake was awesome at first, but for some baffling reason, the next few times I made it, it turned out so dense that it tasted like pound cake, which, incidentally, is not my favorite.)  But, finally, success.  I can't take too much credit -- I took it straight from Sweetapolita.  Well, almost exactly.  I added an additional 1/4 cup of milk when it says to add in the butter, and my baking times were definitely different.  I only used half the batter (weighed out as always -- 1/2 was about 725 grams) and baked the cake in a 6 in square (3 in deep) cake pan.  The temperature didn't change, still 350 degrees; but the baking time most certainly was longer.  In fact, I checked the cake at 30 minutes, and it may as well have been a souffle -- very jiggly.  Makes sense though -- the depth of the batter was so much more due to this being a 3 in deep pan.  Slightly better at 40 minutes, but still wet on the inside, so 50 minutes it was. 
Yummy, fluffy, cake batter yields a yummy fluffy cake

The filling was made the previous night.  Here's a secret.  For a delicious, quick, cake filling, whip one small packet of flavored pudding with either: 2 1/2 cups of heavy cream or 8 oz of cool whip.  Both will give exceptionally light, airy, and flavorful mousses, with endless variations.  Some people are adverse to the taste of cool whip, and if you happen to be one of those people, just use the heavy cream.  The most important part of this process is to refrigerate the filling overnight.  Right after mixing, it can have a slightly artificial flavor, but this disappears when thoroughly chilled.  I used a cheesecake pudding mix with regular heavy cream this time around.

Frosting was a simple ganache -- with high quality chocolate.  Because this frosting is essentially pure chocolate, it's essential to use a good one so the flavor shines.  This ganache was heavenly -- unfortunately, I didn't make enough and it stuck to the fondant, so it was kind of a waste.  Except I knew how good it was, so I actually went through the work of forcibly scraping it off of the fondant so I could eat it.  It really was worth it (although, I don't think anyone else went through the effort. . .)  In the future, I need twice as much.  Another issue that I almost always have with ganache, is that it gets rock hard if I abide by the overnight rest. So I find that, at least with my ganache recipes, it's best to make the ganache a couple of hours in advance and whip after leaving it on the counter for about an hour.  Then, it's still creamy and easily spreadable.  Last tip for ganache: When melting the chocolate, I always use a double burner.  It is essential to not try to melt too much chocolate at one time.  Otherwise, the lower layer gets burned, the top layer doesn't melt, and it ends up being a chalky, greasy mess. I melted the chocolate in three separate batches, heating a single layer of coins at a time. Here's what to do for a double batch of the most amazing ganache you will ever taste: Use 16 oz of chocolate.  (I used a mix of Valrhona Dulcey Feves 32% and Valrhona Caramelia Milk Chocolate 36%.)  While the chocolate is melting, dissolve 2 Tbsp of corn syrup (invert sugar is the correct ingredient, but I never have it on hand) and 1 tsp fleur de sel over medium heat into 3/4 cup heavy cream.  Bring to a boil and then combine with melted chocolate.  Mix vigorously until homogenous. Let sit at room temperature until the chocolate thickens.  Whip with a whisk attachment until fluffy and slightly lightened in color.  The ganache is now ready to use.

I wanted to make a carved 3 dimensional cake, but the first step is the same for any cake.  Level the top, so you have a flat (not domed) surface.  Tort the cake and fill as desired.

As you can probably tell, I don't like to skimp on the filling.  

Delicious . . . it looks like an enormous square whoopie cake. . .

Now comes the fun. . . and slightly scary part --carving the cake.  Should I let you guess what this is going to be in the end?  Hint. . . it's not for a bachelorette party (although now I know how I would go about making one of those as well. . .)

                                    Crumb coat in ganache (or whatever you choose to use.

                                                                     The plot thickens. . .

This particular cake needed a base -- something that would look like a worn leather, so I mixed up some brown gel icing color with a fistful of fondant (I use Wilton -- I find that it doesn't dry out too quickly, so it's easier to work with.)  I should have taken a picture of my hands after I finished coloring the fondant. . . Take home point -- use gloves if possible.  I got a little lazy in the end, but it ended up working out -- the fondant had a marbled look to it that gave it some texture that would have been lacking if I mixed it until the color was evenly incorporated.

                                                                                    I used a palette knife to create a "seam" around
                                                                                    the edges, but this easily could have been done
                                                                                    with a toothpick as well.  Any ideas yet?

Next, the cake went on the fondant base (it was remarkably easy to move, since it was a thicker cake.)  And after that, the whole cake got covered in white fondant.  (No pictures for this part.)

A little aside over here.  Have you ever used wafer paper?  It's that edible paper that's used at church for taking communion -- it has absolutely no taste (it tastes like paper, essentially,) but it also is completely edible and works just like regular paper.  As in, you can write on it, paint on it, even print on it.  My first experience with wafer paper was this past weekend.  It's a great tool, and looks really fancy when you use it to mimic pages.  I fitted a sheet of wafer paper to the cake, and before placing it on the cake, used a stamp painted with black food coloring (thinned with a little bit of vanilla extract) to "print" on the paper.  (Note: there is a rough side to wafer paper, and a smooth side.  I've heard that you can decorate either side, so I used the shiny side.) Paint a thin coat of corn syrup on the back of the paper and glue it to the cake.  Wafer paper has a tendency to curl at the edges, but for this project, that worked perfectly with my goal. 

Here we are, almost done:

So, now you know what I was going for, right?  It's a book, of course. . .  But, wait, it's not finished yet! I got my inspiration from SprinkleBakes (Pinterest again. . . I know. . .Her cake is prettier, I must say)

I loved the idea of the butterflies flying out of the book, but I thought it would be so cool if I punched the butterflies directly out of the printed wafer page and made them look like they were rising from the actual paragraphs --like words literally taking flight. (She actually carved each individual butterfly out of the wafer paper, but I'm too lazy, not to mention too artistically challenged, to make that process work, so I used a butterfly shaped punch.) Because I didn't want white paper to show through the butterfly shaped holes in the top sheet, I layered two sheets of printed wafer paper on top of each other.  The punched one is on top, so you can still see printing through the holes. I lightly drew slightly wavy lines on the sides of the cake with a fondant knife to mimic the look of multiple pages. I also got to use these fabulous things called cake wires by Duff.  I stuck the straight end into the cake and wove the curly part of the wire through the tiny holes in the butterflies so it looks like they are flying.

Now, multiple pictures. . .

The details could have been slightly cleaner, but overall, I think this was a success.  And it combined my two favorite things -- baking and books (not to mention my third favorite, the best part of all -- eating!)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Saga of a Blueberry Brioche Baking Disaster

Happy Super Bowl Monday everyone!!!

Ok, full disclosure: Despite attending a Big Ten school (Nittany Lions 'til the end!).. . .I don't like football . . . at all.  Actually, that may be an understatement.  Given the choice between giving up television altogether or only being able to watch football, I would happily turn over my TV to Goodwill.  I realize that that makes me somewhat of an oddity (especially in Columbus Ohio), but what can I say. . . I am who I am.

However,  I do watch football one day a year (the term "watch" is being used loosely -- mainly to indicate the action of eating loads of really delicious, really bad for me food, and playing on Facebook with the television yelling out something about first downs and record yardage in the background.)  That day is Superbowl Sunday.  Again, the main draw for me is the food (no surprise there, as anyone who even peripherally knows me is aware.)

No, I take that back, it's an equal pull between the grub and the commercials. (And that really is the only day of the year that I will say that.)  Yesterday, though, the commercials were sub-par, in my mind at least.  The Nationwide Insurance one was straight-out depressing (and in shockingly poor taste,) and even the usually spot-on Budweiser commercials were just "eh."  Don't get me wrong, the puppy/Clydesdale one was cute and everything, but the Clydesdale commercial from 2013 had me tearing up big time.  As in, I actually needed to get up and get Kleenex's to mop up my face.  (Seriously, Google it -- best commercial ever. . .I dare you to watch it and not start weeping . . .so maybe don't watch it at work)

And the other Budweiser commercial just seemed a little desperate.  "You can have your namby-pamby taste-good beer, who needs that?  We've been here since the 1800's with the exact same recipe, since we want to appeal to people who hate change" (and hate beer that tastes good apparently.)  No offense to anyone who actually likes Budweiser. . .

I did love the Dodge commercial with the centurions (and near-centurions) and the Jeep "love our Earth" commercial, but some of that can probably be chalked up to my Michigan roots.  I do love my mitten state.  But even with that, I was really missing the "imported from Detroit" commercials.  Where was Eminem and the annual "go Detroit " piece?? (Again, Google it -- another tear-jerker. . . but maybe (probably) only if you're from the Motor City.)

Ok, enough of that; I bet, right about now, you're wondering what this has to do with baking.  So I'll tell you.  This blog entry doesn't have to do with baking.  It has to do with disappointment (with baking.)  That's right, my most recent, highly anticipated, extremely time-consuming, heart-breakingly beautiful project. . . failed.  Remember the look on that Seahawks player's face, (I don't know his name because I don't really know anything about football,) right after their last pass.  You know, the one which was supposed to result in a touchdown but instead resulted in an interception (which anyone with half a brain could have predicted, because, really Seahawks, you were like 3 yards from the goal line with one of your players being the closest thing to a human personification of a bulldozer possible.  Run the ball!  (And this is from someone whose entire knowledge of the game comes from high-school gym class.) The poor man looked like someone had ripped his dream from his tightly clasped fist and then proceeded to stomp on it until it bled.  Really.  Well that's how I looked, and how my heart felt, at the end of my journey (to be fair, the end of his journey was likely more traumatizing.)

Oh well, at least the pictures were pretty -- I'll let them tell the story.

 This recipe was from Bon Appetit,
which in turn borrowed it from Huckleberry by  Zoe Nathan with Josh Loeb and Laurel Almerinda

Blueberry Brioche 
recipe here 


Blueberries prepped and ready to go.
Brioche rolled out to a thin sheet.

Two batches:

1. (Right) Layer of lemon cream topped with blueberries and sugar
2. (Left) Sugar topped with blueberries, covered with more sugar.

                                                             Don't they look lovely?

Rolled tightly to lock in
each and every scrumptious blueberry.
  Look at that gorgeous buttery dough.

Now for an overnight rest in the fridge.

Pat into a nice even rectangle. (The dough is so cold, fingers frozen!!)

Roll again into a cute chunky coil.
  Trying desperately not to lose any blueberries!!!

Now proof for three whole long hours.

Top with egg wash and even more sugar, 
place in loaf pans and into the oven they go! 
As you can see, they grew even more 
in the past couple of hours!

                    One hour later, and. . .

And even more amazing. . . .

So, you may be asking. . . . What's the problem?  It looks like a beautiful brioche (maybe with a slightly crushed crust from overzealous cutting,) with a crisply crackly caramelized crust, and filled with the ooeyest, gooeyest, most delicious luscious blueberries.. .

Well, it was. . . except for the raw middle.  That's right.  The center of the bread was pure uncooked dough.

My first reaction was to frantically try to throw it back in the oven. . . but any of you who cook know that the center cooks last -- so the second it hit the counter, there was no turning back.  The top would just burn to a crisp before the center even started to re-bake.

My second reaction was to consider eating it anyways.  (Don't judge me -- it looked amazing, and it took 27 hours to make.  My husband was encouraging me in this direction as well.

But, my better senses prevailed, and into the trash it went.  Both loaves.  Talk about love's labor lost. . .
So you can see why I felt as crushed as the poor Seattle Seahawks.  (27 HOURS!!!)

I may retry with a lower baking temperature and longer time.  Or cut the amount of dough down, so there are less layers to bake.  Maybe. . . if I can submit myself to the possibility of this heartache again.  If anyone has any ideas, I'm open to them. . . let me know. . .
Until then, I think I'll go and re-watch the 2013 Clydesdale commercial.