Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cakesperiment #1- White Velvet Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Cake Bible"

A few weekends ago I created a fondant covered cake themed for "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" book by Eric Carle. I have been meaning to blog about the inside of this cake here but a head cold that made me very tired and a trip to California kept me from blogging. Now, at last, I get to share my experience with the first recipe I tried from the practically edible pages of "The Cake Bible".

I made Rose's White Velvet Cake recipe. This was the second time trying this cake. The first time I made it as a practice run and we sliced one of the layers immediately. It was delicous and so moist. The notes in Rose's recipe state that the cake is "most perfectly moist" the day same day it is made and she is right. I had to bake the cake a day ahead to decorate it and while it was still good, it was crumblier and not quite as moist a day after baking. This is still hands down THE BEST scratch white cake recipe I have ever made, and I have made quite a few!

"The Cake Bible" taught me a few more tricks that helped me in making this cake. These are probably elementary tips, but I had never used them. While I tend to stick with the old-fashioned way of doing things, in my opinion these short cuts make the baking process easier without sacraficing quality.

1) Baker's Joy spray. Where have you been all my baking life? You make it so unecessary to butter and flour the pan. It is no longer necessary to make sure the butter and flour coat every knook and cranny of the cake pan. You coat the pan thouroughly with your nice even spray. Thank you for letting me do in one easy step what used I used to do in two painful steps. I also love that your slogan is "avoid separation anxiety"... so catchy. I love you. I really, really do!

2) Line the bottom of the cake pan with parchment or wax paper. I am not sure if this was entirely necessary because the Baker's Joy spray did such a good job of coating the pan. It is extra insurance though, and when you have hours of decorating ahead of you some extra insurance that the cake comes out of the pan cleanly the first time is always handy! I sprayed the Baker's Joy both under and on top of my wax paper circle.

3) Magi-Cake Strips Rose recommends these. I have not purchased them yet, but I plan to in the near future. I was skeptical if this technique would make my cake layers rise evenly as promised so I made the DIY version of these using wet paper towels covered with aluminum foil. The homemade version worked and it worked well! Thus a purchase of the real thing is in my foreseeable future.

And so this post ends without pictures because the battery on my camera is too low to take a picture of my Baker's Joy Spray, my foil Magi-Cake Strips were too tattered to save and I somehow did not take a picture of my undecorated White Velvet Cake. I have some festive birthday cakes coming up though and I plan to try out another "Cake Bible" recipe or two. I promise I will not report back to this blog without a picture to share!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cookie Valentines

I am publishing this after Valentine's Day has passed, but the recipe and techniques can be used on any shaped cookie, not just hearts.
I made these Cookie Valentines for my daughter's toddler preschool class. I wanted to do a decorated cookie but I also wanted to keep the project simple. I happened to have some leftover marshmallow fondant from a cake I had done the week before. I also stumbled upon a tip for decorating cookies with fondant on the Cake Central website..perfect!
I rolled out some pink and red fondant and used my heart cookie cutter to cut it. I made the No Fail Sugar Cookie recipe below (from a Cake Central member) and used the same cookie cutter to cut out the cookies. The NFSC's hold their shape extremely well while baking and expand just a little bit larger than the fondant cutouts leaving a perfect cookie border and they taste great too!
I lined up my fondant hearts on wax paper on my kitchen table which is located right next to the oven. As soon as the cookies were removed from the oven I applied a fondant heart to the hot cookie. You have to work quickly, but the heat of the cookie makes the fondant adhere to it and it goes on smoothly.
After the fondant covered cookies cooled I piped on the names using royal icing. Overall this was a fairly easy technique and I think it produced some nice results. I am planning to try this again soon, but I want to make cookie pops next time!

This recipe is GREAT when using complex cookie cutters. The dough holds its’ shape and won’t spread during baking. Make sure you let your oven preheat for at least 1/2 hour before baking these or any other cookies.
No Fail Sugar Cookies – NFSC
6 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar (white granulated)
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like almond myself)
1 tsp. salt
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.
2. Chill for 1 to 2 hours (or see Hint below)
4. Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350
5. degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. This recipe
6. can make up to 5-dozen 3" cookies.
HINT: Rolling Out Dough Without the Mess — Rather than wait for your cookie dough to
chill, take the freshly made dough and place a glob between two sheets of parchment paper.
Roll it out to the desired thickness then place the dough and paper on a cookie sheet and pop
it into the refrigerator. Continue rolling out your dough between sheets of paper until you have
used it all. By the time you are finished, the first batch will be completely chilled and ready to
cut. Reroll leftover dough and repeat the process! An added bonus is that you are not adding
any additional flour to your cookies.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Traditional New Orleans King Cake

My friend, coworker and fellow cake decorater and baker, Beth, mentioned that she would like to try to make a King Cake for a Mardi Gras themed supper club she would be attending. I thought this sounded like a fabulous seasonally appropriate and fun first bakesperiment to blog. So, I asked her for the recipe. She kindly obliged.

This particular recipe includes two hours of rising time which is less than some of the King Cake recipes out there. A few of them ask you to allow up to 5-6 hours for the cake to rise.

I used my stand mixer with a dough hook to knead the dough and rolled it out onto my floured wooden cutting board. The dough is a bit sticky, just as the recipe says, but I had problems with it. As long as you grease the bowl you use for the dough to rise in and flour the surface you roll the dough out onto you shouldn't have any issues either.

One other trick I used that is not in the recipe was to preheat my oven to 175 degrees and then turn it off. I put the dough in a covered oven proof bowl to let it rise the first time, and on a cookie sheet covered with a clean towel the second time. It rose nicely, so I think the extra heat helped, or at least it didn't hurt any!

Traditionally, King Cakes are decorated with yellow, green, and purple colored sugar. I did not have green sugar, but I did have pink so I went for it. I think the pink makes my King Cake look more like a giant calzone-shaped marshmallow peep! Ah, well.

Overall, I think this recipe turns out well. I found it a little dry, but I have heard from others who have more King Cake tasting experience than I do that slightly dry is just the nature of this pastry.

If you try this be sure to comment and give me your review and any tips or tricks you pick up along the way!

Traditional New Orleans King Cake:
2 pkg. (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 warm 2% milk
2 egg yolks
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg beaten
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 to 3 tbsp water
green purple and yellow sugars
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add 1/2 cup sugar, butter, milk, egg yolks, salt, lemon peel, nutmeg and 2 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to turn the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16-inch x 10-inch rectangle. Combine cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over dough to within 1/2 inch of edges. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; pinch ends together to form a ring. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Brush with egg.
Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. For glaze, combine with confectioners sugar, lemon juice and enough water to achieve desired consistency. Spread over cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Happy Mardi Gras!