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Friday, June 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Cakes

It is officially summer.  Well, no, actually it isn't (not until this coming Sunday, at least) but obviously, mother nature has missed the memo.  It is so hot out there.  And not only it it hot, the humidity is, oh, I don't know. . . 100%?? I'm not sure if that's even possible, but, really, it feels like walking into a brick wall when I leave the house -- if a brick wall were made of compressed water, that is.  You would think that because I work inside, and I live in Ohio (leaving me very little time to actually bear the brunt of the sticky heat, what with cars and air conditioning,) I really wouldn't be affected by this kind of thing.  But, in classic form, the air flow system at work this week has been broken.  The temperature in one of the meeting rooms? 88 degrees. Brutal.

But enough of the complaining (especially since in about 6 months, I would probably give my arm for this kind of weather.)  Summer brings about good things too -- like celebrations!  Celebrations requiring cake, to be exact. Usually, these are predominantly the wedding/graduation/shower type of activity, but this year, different types of transitions are happening.  For one thing, one of my colleagues at work just worked his last day with us. (So... that's not actually good news; we were all very sad to see him go.)  But, on the bright side, it's still an occasion for cake. . .

On a happier celebratory note, I have new neighbors! Now, I always wanted to be the type of neighbor that welcomes newbies with fresh baked goods; but, let's be honest, I've never been organized enough to actually fulfill that goal.  But, my friends, that is about to change.  (And actually would have already changed, since the cake is already baked, decorated and ready to go.  Unfortunately, my new neighbors haven't been at home both times I tried to deliver it.  I'm going to be positive about it and believe that they weren't actually at home, peering out the window, but refusing to answer the door.  Because that would be kind of disappointing. But not altogether out of the realm of possibility, given the aversion multiple families in our development have to dealing with the Verizon U-Verse salesperson.  An almost unhealthy aversion, I may say. . .but who am I to judge, really.)  But, no, I shall succeed; I have confidence (or if all else fails, I will just eat it myself.)  Hence the beauty of gifting baked goods.  If it ends up being a gift to one's self. . .well, worse things have happened.

So here we go, two cakes for the price of one.  (The only way that I was able to get this done in one day was to use a box cake mix base for both.  But that's really not a bad thing. . .)

 Pineapple Yellow Cake with Vanilla Bean Buttercream -- 14 in round
(decorated with Brown Sugar Buttercream) 
This was the larger cake, so obviously, for work.  Something smaller was in the works for my neighbors.

Cake

Ingredients

2 boxes Golden Butter Box Cake Mix
2 8oz cans of crushed pineapple, drained into a separate cup
14 Tbsp butter, soft
Juice from crushed pineapple, plus additional water to make a total of 1 cup liquid
8 eggs

3 cake heating cores (if you don't have these, you can use flower nails instead, or purchase here.)

Process

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Spray a 14 in round cake pan generously with baking spray.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fully line the bottom of the pan. 

Punch the heating cores through the parchment paper and place the cores and parchment into the pan with the flat sides facing the bottom of the pan and the pointy sides sticking up. Spray the parchment and heating cores with baking spray. Heating cores are absolutely the key to achieving an even consistency throughout larger cakes.  
 Because I wanted the cake to bake flat, I also used wet heat strips to wrap around the side of the pan.  If you don't have heat strips, you can utilize damp kitchen towels and fasten the ends with a safety pin.

Mix the ingredients (obviously not including the heating cores) at low speed until moistened.  Beat at medium speed for 4 minutes.  The cake batter should have increased in size.

Spoon into the pan, making sure not to topple the heating cores.  Spread evenly with a spatula or spoon.


Bake for 70 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream
(this makes enough to frost, but not fill, the cake)

All of you out there who read my blog probably think I can support a dairy farm by the amount of butter that I use on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, that isn't an option.  The next best thing?  Walmart.  Yes, Walmart.  The super premium European butter that cost $4.99 at Kroger?  Well that costs $2.99 at Walmart.  So go there, seriously.

Ingredients

4 sticks butter, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar
1Tbsp and 2tsp vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup half and half

Process

Cream the butter and powdered sugar together until well incorporated.
Add vanilla bean paste and half and half and beat at high until creamy.  *Note: If you like a fluffy frosting, you only have to beat for 3-4 minutes.  But if you're like me, and like a really creamy, smooth frosting, beat a long time, approximately 10 minutes.

Turn the cooled cake out onto a cake board.  Remove the heating cores. With the heating strips, there should be no need to level the cake.  If there is, use a serrated knife to cut the domed top off of the cake. (Great for snacks!)

Spread a thin layer of frosting over the entire cake to seal in the crumbs.  Pop in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to harden the coat.


When the frosting is chilled and hard, put a thicker layer of the butter cream on top and smooth.  Some frostings are almost impossible to get a flat air-bubble-less coating.  In this case, pop back in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until the frosting is firm, but not hard.  Place a Vida paper towel  (it has to be Vida; it is the only brand without a texture) on top of the frosting, and using a fondant smoother, glide over the surface of the paper towel, using gentle pressure.  When you remove the paper towel, the frosting should be smooth.

Brown Sugar Buttercream

To be honest, I wouldn't make this buttercream again.  It's much too sweet for me, and the brown sugar doesn't dissolve, so it has a bit of a gritty texture.  But if you're into that. . .

Ingredients

1 stick butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 Tbsp half and half
Pinch of salt

Process

Cream the butter and powdered sugar together until smooth.  Add the remainder of the ingredients and beat until fluffy.

To Decorate

Fit a pastry bag with an Ateco 21 tip (star.)  Fill with frosting.
The bottom edge of the cake was piped with a shell border. To accomplish this, you would pipe a dot of buttercream and in a continuous motion pipe a semi-circle (top-half).  Each "shell" should be piped separately.


I was a little less meticulous with the top of the cake and simply piped a curlicue pattern, which still looks great, but is easier.  It is one continuous motion, as opposed to the shells above.


Now, for me,the hardest part of decorating a cake is always the writing on top.  I have found that one easy step to make the writing look as nice as possible is to use a round tip that is the perfect diameter: Ateco 4.  Too wide, and the writing looks like globs and too narrow, and it looks very shaky. However, even with that, my handwriting in general is, well, not the greatest.  Add in the difficulty of manipulating a piping bag, and the script generally looks as if I'm utilizing child labor to scribe my cakes. And then, to try to mask my imperfections, I start piping curlicues and vine-like lines, and though I'm going for whimsical, it usually ends up looking a little kooky, like I've apprenticed under Redagast the Brown from Lord of the Rings (or the Hobbit?)  In any case, it is what it is. 

Final Product: 



Now for the smaller cake.  I find that an 8 in round is the perfect size for a family/gift cake.  For this cake, I used my chocolate cake recipe from here.  And a 1/2 portion of the vanilla bean buttercream from above. 

Okay, like I said before, no one was available to claim the cake the first couple of times I tried.  But that's not a huge deal, because of this amazing secret that I'm going to share with you now:

*** This is a great tip -- if you take anything away from this post, this should be it: ***

Cake freezes beautifully.  
Buttercream freezes even more beautifully.

So I know, I know, everyone is stuck on this fresher is better thing.  But really, because of all of the butter in the frosting and the cake, both taste great even after being frozen and defrosted.  In fact, cake actually can taste better after being frozen.  The moistness seems to be locked in during the process.  This is a godsend for anyone whose schedule is insanely busy (and isn't that everyone, really?)

Here is how to perfectly preserve a cake:  
After fully decorated, stick the cake in the freezer for about 20-25 minutes to make sure that the frosting is nice and hard.  This decreases the probability that your decorations will get smashed.  Then take it from the freezer and put the cake in a cake box. Any old cake box (that's big enough) will do.  Put a bit of double-sided tape at the bottom of your cake board and place in the center of the cake box.  This will ensure that the cake moves around as little as possible.  Cover the box with plastic wrap.  Cover it aggressively.  Make sure no air is getting in the sucker.  Then place the whole thing back in the freezer.  Cakes can freeze well up to a couple of months.  Trust me, I've done this.  No one will be the wiser. (And even if they are, they shouldn't care -- it really does improve the taste and texture.)

After that little aside, back to the decorations.

The border on the bottom was again the shell pattern, but for the top I just piped the buttercream into a circle, going in a counterclockwise direction for each circle.





Throw some sprinkles on top, add my slightly wonky writing and there you have it.  

A cake that says you care.


                                                     And a dancing version, just for fun.
Enjoy!



   

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