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!)

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