Friday, October 21, 2005

The Cake That Started It All

I started planning my 31st birthday cake maybe about a month before the actual day, and one day I realised that I really should be keeping notes on all my musings. Hence, the cake journal was born, and from that, this most excellent blog.

May 27 2004
Jen’s 31st birthday (The Mad Hatter Tea Party)
The Grand Cake Extravaganza
2 layers perfect all American chocolate butter cake (10 in)
strawberry mousseline buttercream
caramel cheesecake with almond flour crust (7 in)
chocolate sheets encasing and undulating over both tiers

I want a tiered cake, just to see if I can do it. Not that many people are coming (not enough I mean to warrant a tiered cake) but dash it all. I’m doing it.

Botom tier: 2 layer choc butter cake filled and frosted with strawberry mousseline buttercream. 9 in.
Top tier: cheesecake, toasted almond flour crust and toasted chopped almonds and caramel top. Caramel might have to be swirled in to prevent oozing.
Tier the sucker, heat the bathroom, and encase both top and bottom in choc praline sheets!!! It will be like a chocolate mountain! Or a volcano! What could be better than that?!?!?

I’m slightly concerned about the cheesecake because I’m not sure how high to fill the pan and the last couple of times I tried her cheesecake recipe it didn’t fully cook. But I’ll try anyway. And also; should I omit the lemon juice since I’m doing caramel? Will they clash? You know what might be cool: a hard caramel disc to place upon the cheesecake. Like a crème brulee topping. Oh my god. That could be EXCELLENT. Or, I could pulverize the caramel in the food processor and stir it in with the batter so that there would be little crunchy bits of caramel in the cake. That would go with the chocolate praline sheets. But gooey caramel sounds good, doesn’t it? Yum. Kind of a dulce de leche cheesecake. Yum. Excellent.

(5/24) so I went to the Decorette shop looking for cake pans today and discovered that a 6 in pan is teeny—too teeny for a cheesecake that more than one person will want to eat…so I decided to make the bottom tier 10 in and the top tier 7 in. This will truly be a mad cake: a 2 layer 10 in cake can feed about 50 people and I only need to feed about 15!!!! MAD, I tell you, MAD…

I’ve decided that if indeed the cake ends up looking like a volcano I’ll go back to the store and get some dancing teenagers to position on the cake to make it look like they are about to fall in the volcano. Not typically a mad hatter theme, more Polynesian, but its still mad. And dammit its MY birthday, I get to make the rules!! Off with your head!!

I made the mousseline buttercream tonight and something weird happened with the sugar syrup…you make this sugar syrup with ¼ cup water and ¾ cup sugar that you bring to a boil, take off the heat, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks, then you put the syrup back on the stove and let it boil until it gets to the soft ball stage…which I think I did, and I immediately transferred the syrup to the glass measuring cup and then I got distracted and gave the cats another round of food and put the pot in the sink and filled it up with cold water. By then the syrup had begun to harden and crystallize! So I went immediately to task with adding the “syrup” and beating the eggs furiously, etc. There were little crunchy sounds being made by the beaters…and there was a lot of “syrup” (now looking more like big sugar chunks—like rock candy kind of, or if the sugar came out of solution and chunked up) left in the cup. But after adding all the butter (which had oversoftened and I had to throw it back in the fridge to firm up—was beginning to separate) I tasted the buttercream and it was fine—very buttery and faintly sweet. The recipe said not to add more than ¾ cup lightly sweetened strawberry puree but I ended up using more like 1 ¾ cup puree. I guess that’s the advantage of using butter with a lower moisture content and not adding liquor to this buttercream—there’s plenty of leeway to dump in tons of puree. Which I did. And it is good. There isn’t this overpowering hit of strawberries when you taste it, but then the aftertaste is all strawberry goodness. Maybe four days in the fridge will encourage all of the flavors to come together.

I have to say it would be much easier to do these things with a nice little saucier and a good candy thermo and A DIGITAL SCALE.

I was reading up in The Book and she made her cheesecake layers 3 in high for a tiered wedding cake…plus she gives the instructions on how long to bake it…so I guess I’ll do the same thing…fill the pan close to the top and bake it for the prescribed time. I think I’ll make the regular recipe and bake the rest of the batter as little cheesecake cupcake thingys. We’ll see.

(5/28) Made the cheesecake yesterday. Note to self: 3 cups of sour cream means 24 oz! I had to go get more sour cream.

The cheesecake recipe is crazy easy; esp if everything is at room temp. The caramel recipe is the one from Julia Child that I got out of the FoodDay and it rocks. Really easy, totally yummy. So I poured about 1/3 of the cheesecake batter into the pan (I didn’t grease it) and then I poured half of the caramel and then 1/3 of the cheesecake batter then the rest of the caramel and then the rest of the cheesecake batter, right up to the top of the pan. Then I used a butter knife to swirl in the caramel; I hope it didn’t all sink to the bottom, but that wouldn’t be bad either. Then I baked the sucker in a water bath. I forgot to take it out in time (I really could use a timer!) and it baked for 10 minutes longer than it needed and it had already pulled away from the sides and cracked something serious across the top. But oh well. At least I hope this means its totally baked all the way through. I have fears of the bottom not releasing from the pan, but I don’t think that will happen…I hope. At least this time the cheesecake didn’t sink. Didn’t get the chopped toasted almonds on top. I was worried if I put them on at the beginning of the bake they would burn. Then by the end of the bake the cake was so set the nuts wouldn’t have set in the cake like I had wanted. Maybe I should have tried anyway. Oh well.

(What I’ve failed to mention so far is that I had MAJOR cheesecake trauma the last time I tried to bake a cheesecake. In my west-facing oven of a kitchen, in the middle of a serious heat wave. In the middle of the night. The stupid cheesecake looked super undercooked after its prescribed bake time and I stuck it out on the back stoop to hopefully cool it better…and a little bit later I open the back door to see my damn cat eating the freakin cheesecake—right from the center!! Which was still undercooked!! Fuckin!!)

I baked the cakes this am after premeasuring everything last night. That is a really good system. The butter and eggs come up to room temp and all the dry ingredients are all measured out and ready to go in the mixer; the chocolate was measured out and ready to go in another bowl; I just had to grease up the pans and preheat the oven and begin mixing. Way easy. I got those cakes mixed up and the first pan in the oven in minutes instead of an hour later.

And amazing—with the right pan and fresh baking powder the cake layers are actually 1 ½ inches high like they’re supposed to be! Miracle!

Again, if I had a digital scale, things would have been a little easier, and faster. A timer would be good, too. I think I just need a battery for the one that I have. The frosting is chilled solid; won’t be able to frost until this evening. I’ve got to get the chocolate today for the sheets.

(5/29) Almost forgot to buy chocolate. One thing I forgot about that damn frosting is that it is SO emulsified that the butter will fall out of suspension just by thinking about agitating it. Which means I had to pull out the mixer and beat the frosting back into submission and it never really was the same again. So next time I use mousseline buttercream, esp if I am going to add a shitload of fruit puree, frost the cake right away. Don’t save it up. Frosting the cake was kind of a trial. But, I have to say, even though one of the cake layers isn’t thoroughly baked and the other one got dry and fell apart, the cake looks good. It is the appropriate height. Each layer is 1.5 inches high, just like they are supposed to be. Between the proper pans and fresh baking powder, I am pleased.

The cheesecake came out of the pan easily enough. The almond crust is totally soggy. But that’s okay. I used the straw technique to stabilize the cake for the cheesecake and it seems to have worked fine. Even though I forgot to even the top layer of the cake so everything is a little crooked, I guess that’s fine since it’s a mad party. I should have made it even more crooked!

The chocolate sheets were easy enough to make, but I think I didn’t temper it that well at all. I wasn’t really being super diligent about the tempering. I used the big one to spread out the choc to make the sheets. I made them thinner than ¼ inch but I think that was a good decision. They melted and were pliable much quicker. I preheated the bathroom. But still the bathroom wasn’t warm enough and I had to crank up the heat. I think the buttercream took a beating being under all that heat. I think it began to melt under the chocolate. But the choc sheets undulated nicely. And I have to remember NOT TO TOUCH THE CHOC WITH MY FINGERS when coaxing the choc to bend nicely. I made all sorts of fingerprints and discolorations from playing with the choc. That’s why I think I didn’t temper it so well. I don’t remember that happening to such a degree last time.

And I left it on the counter last night and went to bed happy, and this morning as I get up to look at it there are little pools of amber colored liquid around the base of the cake. And I don’t know if the cheesecake is dripping, or if the buttercream started to separate and that’s strawberry juice or what, so I put the cake back in the fridge for now. I’ll take it out around noon. I am a little bummed. I guess I should have put it in the fridge last night after doing the sheets and exposing this heat sensitive cake to heat. Lesson learned.

So now that it’s “over” I would say
mousseline buttercream should be used right away
maybe stick to regular butter to come closer to the right proportions of fat to liquid
fresh baking powder and proper cake pans make a HUGE difference
for bigger cakes a scale would have been nice
prepping and premeasuring the ingredients the night before baking is WONDERFUL
cornstarch in the cheesecake might have helped the sogginess
pay attention when tempering the chocolate (do it properly)
stop touching the sheets with your fingers!!!
maybe choc sheets melting over buttercream and cheesecake isn’t such a great idea
tiered cakes are fun
don’t let butter cakes lay around in the air for long. Wrap them up as soon as they are cool!!!!!!!!
a timer is a good invention that I should take advantage of
when to put nuts on the top of a cheesecake?
organic strawberries look nicer, and let them defrost completely
I should put the cake in the fridge after exposing buttercream and cheesecake to heat so that it can firm up again

(5/30) Post Cake Notes To Self
1. the strawberry-chocolate sensation would have been more appreciated if I had split each layer in half—now to do that, would I need more buttercream? Probably. Maybe in that case I could do alternating layers of strawberry buttercream and whipped cream with fresh strawberry slices—just to not over buttercream the whole experience.
2. the caramel note to the cheesecake was a little understated, but on the whole the cake was really rich, and kind of too sweet. Maybe the caramel was a little underburnt?
3. when removing the top tier, the buttercream on the top of the bottom layer stuck to the bottom of the cake round and came off…how to prevent that?
4. a lot of cake is gone for a cake that was supposed to be enough for 50 people.
5. the chocolate factor was good. Still, the cakes seemed a little dry.
6. the one cake layer that seemed a little undercooked wasn’t too terribly undercooked. Barely noticeable.
7. the sheets are a fancy way to present a cake. Lots of oohs and ahhs and how did you do thats?
8. still don’t know what was oozing…but both cardboard rounds were totally soaked through…

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