Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cookie Gets Crusty

My best friend Cookie was born on tax day. I think she did it on purpose so that nobody could ever forget her birthday.

She asked if I was going to bake her a cake, and of course I am! Ask and you shall eat my cake, friend.

She requested a white cake with white frosting--the kind of white frosting that is a little crusty, like the crappy frosting one gets out of a tub. She loves that slightly crispy stuff.

I wasn't sure what to do about that, besides go buy a tub of crappy frosting, but that goes against my morals and I will not, WILL NOT do it. I just can't.

I found a couple of RLB recipes that I thought might make a white frosting that crusts, but I wasn't sure. I thought about doing a week long prototype tasting of the RLB options, but the thought of the time and resources needed to do that made me blanch.

So at the store, I decided to just buy a whole bunch of ingredients and see what kind of recipe I could find on the internet. I suspected that the crusty frostings were shortening based, which also means they are more sweet (they have to taste like something) and also against my morals. But I would use shortening for my favorite Cookie.

happy birthday, 1st

April 15, 2007
Name of cake: Have Your Cookie and Eat My Cake Too
Occasion: Cookie's Birthday! (aka Cookie gets a little more stale wiser)
Constituents: two layers white cake filled with strawberry jam, frosted with crusty classic american buttercream, fresh strawberries on top

This cake was fairly easy to make; it is a classic recipe right out of The Book called White Velvet Cake. What makes it white? Besides the bleached cake flour and bleached baker's sugar, you use egg whites only. The vanilla extract doesn't really affect the whiteness of the cake.

Once you have your mise-en-place and providing you have a good mixer (stand or hand held) you can have this cake cooling on your table in about 30 minutes. It is the mise-en-place that can take a while, especially when you forget to take the frozen egg whites out of the freezer beforehand. That slowed things down a bit.

I could have just separated a few eggs to get my egg whites, but once I decide to use up some of my egg white stash, I get all stubborn about it. There have been times when my freezer was inundated with frozen egg whites and ever since then I have tried to be vigilant about keeping the stash to a minimum.

By the way--egg whites freeze beautifully. Egg yolks--not so much.

When Cookie told me she wanted a white cake with crusty white frosting, I rolled my eyes in exasperation. You all know how I feel about white cake. Cookie caught my attitude, and added, "with strawberries on top." I begged and pleaded for something else interesting in there and she consented to strawberry jam as filling. I warned her that her crusty frosting would probably be (to my horror) shortening based, to which she replied, "as long as it's crusty."

I wasn't sure what I was going to do about that frosting, as I mentioned above.

On the Saturday before her birthday, I searched the internet for "crusty white buttercream" which led me to a mess of a site called www.baking911.com where I followed a few links that led me to the comparison of buttercreams page where I read the magic paragraph:
American Buttercream made with butter and powdered sugar tends to get crusty when set after about 15 to 20 minutes of applying it. This "crusting" is a natural part of this icing, and can be used to your advantage for texturizing the top and sides of a cake, or for sealing in freshness before the final coat of icing is applied. You can also smooth it with a paper towel after the icing crusted. Viva brand paper towels are perfect to use because they're smooth and won't leave a pattern. I've used parchment paper for those stubborn wrinkles that refuse to smooth out.
!!!!!aha!!!!!That's easy!!!!!

i aim to please

Since the website went on to explain that sometimes 100% butter and powdered sugar frostings can crack pretty seriously, I decided to use one of their posted recipes that called for 50% butter and 50% shortening. Shortening, apparently, will decrease the crust factor. I wanted crusting, not cracking.

I also wanted more frosting than the recipe called for, as it only makes 3 cups and I probably needed 4 cups to frost the top and sides of the cake. I decided to change the proportions of the fat to encourage the crusting, so I altered the recipe to 3/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup shortening.

I originally planned to double the recipe straight out but then I realised I would have a lot of leftover crusty shortening frosting. So I then decided to make 1.5 times the recipe, which is all fine and great, but I suck at math and I couldn't figure out what 1.5 times 3/4 would be. I tried to figure that one out for a comically long time. Did I mention this was now the morning of the party, and that I had awoken with a terrible headache? I felt like crap, was still really tired, moving slow, had a doula client in early labor, needed to pick up Joelf who was in the OC (Oregon City), and the party was starting in a couple of hours.

There's always cake trauma in the ECL baking experience.

I decided to get Joelf before making the frosting so that he could slice the strawberries while I whipped up some crusty frosting. It was a hard drive to the OC and back. Felt so crappy.

I had also diagnosed myself with food stagnation due to a late and kind of heavy dinner the night before, so I took a digestive aid that had HCL in it. Usually this helps me with the food stagnation, but in this case it just made me nauseous as well as headachey and slow moving.

When we got back to the house, I mixed up some baking soda with water and sipped that nasty crap slowly; it seemed to help almost right away. Hooray for sodium bicarbonate!

I also finally understood that the recipe needed 1.5 cups of fat total, so I decided to use 1 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of shortening. Duh. Why couldn't I have figured that out earlier?

I noticed that this recipe that I was using had 1 cup of fat and 4 cups of sugar. (geez!) I looked at RLB's buttercream recipe, which uses 2 cups of butter and one cup of sugar. Seeing as the former recipe is the classic american buttercream, it is no wonder why people who eat my cakes with RLB's frosting always marvel at how everything is not too sweet. Come on people! Four cups of sugar to one cup of butter? Gosh.

I started beating the crap out of my two fats when I realised that I didn't have enough powdered sugar to complete the task. Dang it.

Joelf is the best assistant ever, because he is fast and competent and capable and OCD enough to get the job done well--and in my case, probably better than I would have done it. God bless the Joelf. He went to task with the strawberries right away, and then I sent him to the store for more sugar.

In the meantime I sliced strawberries to feel productive. Joelf had two bowls and was organizing the slices by general size. I don't think I quite understood where the line was being drawn between small and large slices so after cutting several crooked and chunky slices (his were fairly thin) I decided the best use of my time would be to begin cleaning up.

Joelf returned with a brand new bag of powdered sugar and I finished the frosting.

After frosting the cake, and dirtying every bowl in the apartment (which is much less now that the roommate has shacked up), we began to arrange the strawberries on top.

When Cookie placed her order, so to speak, I had pictured halved strawberries set on the top of the cake, around the perimeter all prim and proper and boring. But the Friday before I remembered RLB's beautiful photo of her strawberry-rhubarb pie in The Pie and Pastry Bible. She has this habit, in her Pie Bible, to arrange her fruit in these beautiful petal-like concentric cirles giving the illusion of ripe, juicy flowers. I thought Cookie, of all people, would appreciate this more unusual, more beautiful presentation of a white cake with strawberries on top.

So that is what we did:

cookie's birthday cake, bird's eye view

And another view because I'm really proud of this cake:

cookie's birthday cake

Joelf then got the great idea of lining up strawberries along the bottom of the cake:

cookie's birthday cake, profile

We then hustled out the door armed with cake, the rest of the strawberries, and whatnot.

Her Sunday party was for her and her family, plus the stooges. Her two nephews and two nieces greeted Joelf and I at the door, and as per instructions, we were all wearing hats (Cookie, as the birthday girl, set this rule).

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday, and the company was fabulous and entertaining, and the food awesome. I almost didn't leave room for cake!

Good thing I did, because this turned out to be a really good cake, shortening in the frosting and white/white notwithstanding.

cake innards

Happy, happy birthday dearest Cookie! You are awesome and fabulous; the best friend an ECL could hope to have.

turning 34--a photoset on Flickr


  1. Now for my real comment. The icing was just crusty enough for my white on white cake lovin ways...and as for being the OCD (only slightly) assistant, that was fun times too! All in all good cake, good day, and the best friends! Joelf (of The Stooges)

  2. this (slightly) ADD stooge doesn't understand how she can be friends with two white/white lovers, but that's love for you--love makes you crazy.

  3. I didn't know the stooges were so white. Maybe I don't want them after all.
    I do want this beeeyooooteeefull cake!
    It is amazing, ECL

  4. thanks zetta! i can make you one, but you'll have to stop punching me at work.

  5. Anonymous21/4/07 00:48

    ARE YOU ONLINE??? I'm awake but I thought I was the only one...I won't tell you what i'm doing because you'll think it's gross..but you know...i know you know. Jerm is sleeping...as so should you