Monday, January 28, 2008

Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too

I am posting out of chronological order because I suspect this post will be looked for today...

My ex roomie Annmarie is having her birthday this week, and she decided to host a little shindig Sunday at her new place. She asked me earlier in the week if I could bake her a birthday cake. Of course I said yes--duh. She wanted chocolate and coffee flavors, maybe Kahlua in the cake or frosting or both or something.

We settled on a chocolate cake with Kahlua buttercream. Oh yes, Gluten Free of course!

January 27, 2008
Occasion: Annmarie's Birthday!
Name of cake: Annmarie's Better Than Professional Gluten Free Chocolate Cake
Constituents: Two layers GF chocolate cake filled and frosted with a caramel-Kahlua buttercream


On Saturday night, a few of us started Annmarie's birthday celebrations at a local Gluten Free restaurant. I was most interested to see what they offered for dessert. Which we were all thoroughly underwhelmed by. Dinner was great. Dessert was not. First off, like many restaurants, their GF desserts were not that creative or inspiring. All restuarants can offer GF creme brulee or panna cotta or ice cream or sorbet. Many restaurants offer GF cheesecake (that's a regular cheesecake without a crust), and the ever present flourless chocolate truffle cake.

unwhelming GF desserts

Ho hum. None of those desserts are ever glutinous, so offering them as a lovely GF treat at a GF restaurant? A cop-out, if you ask me. This is their chance to really treat GF eaters; this is their chance to really embrace and show off the exciting developments in the GF world. And they make panna cotta instead? All I have to say is, get a REAL pastry chef. Stop being LAME.

So for her cake, I knew I had to make something good and tasty. The pressure was on!

I made her frosting Friday night; however the cold kitchen problem was still in effect. That darn butter never got to the soft room temperature phase. It stayed cold and dense. Grr. Or should I say: Brr.

Also, I decided to use Lyle's Golden Syrup instead of the corn syrup called for in RLB's Neoclassic Buttercream recipe. (I like that recipe better than the Classic BC where you have to make a sugar syrup...I don't like making sugar syrups.) RLB says in her sugar dissertation that refiner's syrup can be used almost interchangeably with light corn syrup, and I do recall somewhere seeing her buttercream recipe using refiner's syrup and noticing that it wasn't much different than her Neoclassic BC. I tried to find it online, but I couldn't. So I just replaced the corn syrup with refiner's and off I went. I also used Golden Baker's Sugar instead of white sugar, which I am trying to phase out of most baking these days. The golden sugar tastes much better most of the time.

maybe it's the light

So when making RLB's Neoclassic BC, you first bring the syrup and the sugar to a roiling boil. Meanwhile, you are beating the crap out of a bunch of egg yolks in a stand mixer, preferably. Once the sugar boils you pull it off and start adding it a little at a time to the yolks. After the last addition, you let the mixture keep beating until it cools completely. At this stage it looks like you have pale yellow marshmallow fluff, or in my case, a light caramel marshmallow fluff.

I started throwing in the butter when the mix was still slightly warm, hoping it would soften up the butter a little. I don't know how well it worked, but oh well.

After all the butter was added and things were looking pretty good, I poured in the maximum amount of Kahlua the BC could hold (about 6 ounces). Then I packed it all into a big yogurt container, and packed myself in for the night.

Saturday night, after going out to dinner and getting all riled up about the underwhelming dessert, I went home and baked the cake.

I found another GF blog, GF Gobsmacked, and the author, Kate, has a GF mix that she likes to use. I mean, she claims to have figured out how to make GF croissant using this flour mix, so I thought it would be worth baking a cake with. I used her mix and RLB's chocolate butter cake recipe, and crossed my fingers.

As I was mixing up the batter, the distinctive aroma of ripe bananas wafted out of the bowl. I couldn't figure out why. Maybe it was the sweet rice flour? I never bake with it; so that was a new ingredient. Who knows.

The cakes came together well, but the batter didn't look as big and fluffy as it does when I make it glutinous. Was that the reason--no gluten? Or was it because my kitchen was so cold and the butter and eggs weren't warmed enough? It could be a little bit of both; who knows.

When they came out of the oven, they had the characteristic hard shiny crust that GF baked goods seem to have, and I knew that they were going to shrink down to about half of their size once cooled.

fresh from the oven

By this time, it was 3 am and I turned them out of their pans and went to bed.

Sure enough, Sunday morning I was faced with two little squat chocolate cakes. I also noticed the sides were higher than the middles, which means I pulled them out before the insides were fully done baking. This could mean that the insides were dense little mushy chocolate disappointments.

Also, the kitchen felt especially frigid, so I turned on the oven as high as it would go, and left the oven door ajar. I also chiseled the BC out of the yogurt tub and into the mixer in order to rebeat it and hopefully fluff it back up (once the kitchen warmed) as the BC was currently the same texture as slate.

Then I curled up under a blanket on the couch and grumbled. Champagne and Tanqueray don't really mix.

About 30 minutes before Annmarie's party started, I got up and started beating the frosting. It looked different, somehow. Weirder. And you couldn't really taste the Kahlua. But the texture was still awesome--silky and light. It tasted sweet but not cloying. It just looked weird.

After I frosted the cake, I decided to cover the sides of the cake in chocolate sprinkles, but I ran out before the sides could be well covered. Also, all the sprinkles seem to be in pieces, so to me it kind of looked like I had attached stubble to the cake. You be the judge:


I assembled the cake and carried it off in my awesome new cake carrier (one of my favorite Christmas presents ever).

awesome cake carrier

The cake was a hit. Annamarie made a point of announcing that I had arrived, not just the cake which was very nice of her. (I told her the story of a past birthday party I baked for, and when I got there the birthday girl announced, "the cake is here!" and "ooh the cake! The cake is here," echoed throughout the party. "I'm here too," I said, but nobody really heard me.)

Back to Annmarie's cake: it was a hit. It was moist, and very chocolaty. It was very fine and tender, even though it looked mushy as all get up. The silky BC was a nice contrast to the cake and it didn't compete or overpower the cake. Imagine that.

I am still disappointed it didn't have the same cake-like texture a glutinous cake would turn out, or even like the little GF Oscar cupcakes I baked a year ago. Those cupcakes were my greatest achievement in GF baking as they had pretty much the same darn texture as a regular cake. And unfortunately, the GF mix I used for that cake was so haphazard that the recipe cannot be replicated.


Don't get me wrong--this was an awesome cake with a texture and taste that far exceeds its looks, and is still 95% better than a lot of the GF cakes that are being made locally and sold for a lot of money.

We all agreed that I should beat up all the lame ass pastry chefs who can't make GF baked goods--all I did was follow RLB's technique and used Kate's Gobsmacked's GF Mix and I turned out a pretty decent cake. You think all those professionals would know better than to turn out grainy, dry, overly sweet baked BADS. Or that they would be wise enough to know they shouldn't make flourless chocolate torte seem like a grand GF gesture.

Annmarie really wanted me to post this recipe, so I will. But I must give props to the people who made this cake possible: Rose Levy Beranbaum for her flawless recipes, and the GF Gobsmacked blog for sharing her GF Flour Mix. Please, go buy RLB's Cake Bible, and read the Gobsmacked blog. Now.

The Recipe

Anmmarie's Better Than Professional Chocolate Birthday Cake

INGREDIENTS (weighing will be much more accurate)
  • unsweetened cocoa, Dutch processed: 0.5 cup + 3 tbsp or 63 grams
  • boiling water: 1 cup or 236 g
  • 3 large eggs, or as follows: yolks: 55.8 g, whites: 90 g
  • GF vanilla, 2.25 tsp, or 9 g
  • sifted GF Flour: 2.25 cups + 2 tbsp or 235 g
  • Golden Baker's Sugar: 1.5 cups, or 300 g
  • baking powder (non aluminum): 1 tbsp, or 15 g
  • salt: 0.75 tsp or 5 g
  • UNSALTED butter, softened: 1 cup, or 227 g

**Have all ingredients (except for cocoa and water) at ROOM TEMPERATURE before you start. (Room temp is between 65 and 75 degrees Farenheit.)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottoms two 9 inch pans, line bottoms with parchment, then grease and flour the pans. Set aside, and that doesn't mean put them on top of the stove (I've made that mistake before).

greased and ready
In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa powder and the boiling water until smooth; cover bowl tightly and let cool to room temperature. (May I suggest using a metal bowl--it won't retain the heat like ceramic or glass would.)

cocoa powder and water
Meanwhile, assemble all the rest of the ingredients. Place eggs in another medium bowl along with the vanilla; set aside. Measure or weigh out all the dry ingredients and place them in a large mixing bowl. Get your butter ready--it will mix in better if you cut the sticks into smaller pieces; this can also help the butter soften faster.

dry pile of powder looking for butter
Once the cocoa is cooled, add about 1/4 of it to the eggs and vanilla. Lightly combine and set aside.

eggs vanilla cocoa powder water
Mix the dry ingredients on low speed for about 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, then increase to medium speed on a stand mixer or high speed on a hand mixer and beat for 1.5 minutes. This will aerate and strengthen the cake's structure. No creaming the butter and sugar here folks. Calm down, it will be fine.

During these magical 90 seconds when a pile of powder and two sticks of butter combine to form the beginnings of a beautiful friendship, you can start cleaning up the mess you've made. Its amazing how much can get done in as little as 90 seconds. Go on, give it a try.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mix in 3 parts, beating at medium (or high, if you are using a hand mixer) for about 20 seconds in between. Scrape down the sides and scrape batter into your two pans. Use your beloved offset spatula to even out the tops.

GF chocolate cake batter
Bake for 25-35 minutes. The cakes should start the shrink from the sides of the pans ONLY AFTER REMOVAL from the oven. They will have a crusty, glossy exterior, but a cake tester should come out clean.

fresh from the oven
Let cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn out of the pans and reinvert so that the tops are up; let cool completely. Once cool, frost or store airtight.

Annmarie's Caramel-Kahlua Buttercream Frosting

This is RLB's Neoclassic Buttercream recipe, made with Lyle's Golden Syrup and Golden Baker's Sugar. Straight out of The Cake Bible, page 230.

The refiner's syrup and the golden baker's sugar are both partially refined cane sugars, so they retain some of their own molasses. This add a little depth to the sweet taste it brings; also in my opinion the sweet taste is tempered a bit as compared to white sugar and corn syrup--more round and full compared to jagged and one dimensional. However all this molasses colors the frosting a caramel color, and brings a little bit of that note to the party...or maybe I burned the sugar; hard to tell.

the humble beginnings of buttercream
  • egg yolks: 6 or 112 g
  • Golden Baker's Sugar: 0.75 cup or 150 g
  • Lyle's Golden Syrup: 0.5 liquid cup or 164 g
  • unsalted butter, softened: 2 cups or 454 g
  • Kahlua: 4 tbsp or 56 g

Have ready a greased 1-cup heatproof glass measuring cup near the stove.

In a bowl beat the yolks with an electric mixer until light in color. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and the syrup in a small saucepan (preferably nonstick) and heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup comes to a rolling boil. The entire surface will be covered in large bubbles. Immediately transfer syrup to the glass measuring cup to stop the cooking.

If using a hand held beater, beat the syrup into the yolks in a steady stream. Be careful not to cross the stream with the beaters, for that will cause problems almost as epic as crossing the streams did in Ghostbusters.

If you are using a stand mixer, pour a little bit of the syrup into the bowl and immediately beat on high for a few seconds. Stop the mixer, pour in a little more, and beat again for a few seconds. Lather, rise, repeat until all the syrup is scraped out of the glass measuring cup and in the bowl.

For both methods, continue beating after all the syrup has been added until the completely cool. (Keep feeling the outside of the bowl to check how warm the mixture is.)

Once cool, begin adding the butter a tablespoon or so at a time. Add the Kahlua and beat until a smooth consistency.

The Kahlua usually becomes more flavorful the day after it is made, so if you can make it ahead of time that would be advisable. Store in an airtight container on the counter if your kitchen is cool, or in the refrigerator. Be sure to allow time for the frosting to come back to room temperature; you'll also want to rebeat it to fluff it back up.

This is enough to frost a 2 layer, 9 inch cake.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chocolate Food Cake

So a couple of weeks ago I was at my first birth of 2008. It was long. It was a rollercoaster of happenings and emotions. But it was good.

At some point during the birth I promised the mom I would make her a chocolate angel food cake and bring it over when we did our postpartum. She thought that was a great idea, and then she sunk into another contraction.

I probably would have gotten away with not making her one and never mentioning it again, as this conversation took place when she was high on endorphins and hallucinating on oxytocin. But that's not my style.

So when she invited me over for dinner the other night, I pulled my egg white stash out of the freezer and got ready to bake a cake.

the stash

January 23, 2008
Occasion: Postpartum Promises
Name of Cake: Chocolate Food Cake
Constituents: RLB's chocolate angel food cake (angel food cake plus cocoa powder and water)

Portland is having one of those "arctic freeze" moments, when it is bright and sunny and COLD and bitingly windy. If there were any moisture in the air or on the roads, there would be ice.

This means that my apartment's original 1920's single paned windows rattle in the wind, and the whole place is cold like a refrigerator. This means that room temperature in my kitchen is about 40 degrees. This means that a stash of frozen egg whites takes more than 24 hours to thaw, and as for coming to actual room temperature? That will take until May.

Now egg whites beat up fluffier and higher when they are at room temperature, but mine were never going to get there. I was just lucky enough of the egg whites defrosted for the recipe!

I was also out of Cream of Tartar, and there was no way I was going to go outside more than I had to. I mean, Cream of Tartar is only really there to stabilize the egg whites so that they don't dry out by overbeating...I didn't think it would be a problem...but just to make sure I beat the egg whites at medium-high, instead of high speed.

Which made the egg whites take FOREVER to get to stiff peaks stage, and thinking about it, I don't really think they were truly stiff peaked. But oh well; the cake rose really well anyway.

kinda stiff peaks

This angel food cake is really super moist--surprisingly so. It is also nice and chocolatey without being rich or overbearing, nor is it super sweet like store bought angel food cake. I think all the cocoa powder helps temper the sweetness.

This is the kicker though: the cake didn't get into the oven until 15 minutes before I was supposed to arrive at their house, and they live as far away from me as they can and still be in the Portland city limits. Which meant it would take about 30 minutes to get there, and the cake had about a 30 minute bake. So I left the cake in the oven (my roommate took care of it) and I went off to their house without the chocolate angel food cake like I said I would.

look how tall this sucker rose

I bought some frosted brownies and vanilla ice cream instead, which was tasty but certainly no chocolate angel food cake. I promised them a cake next week, when her mom goes home and they are left to their own devices with their newborn. It will give me an excuse to check up on them.

Later the next day, I broke into the cake and paired it with a little vanilla ice cream and a 1/2 ounce of Kahlua. Excellent.

I left some cake at the home of some other doula clients that are due in April, and the rest at work for my clinic partners, two of which just had their second baby about a week ago.

chocolate angel food cake

You know, this seems to be a good cake to gift to people, because it is nice and chocoaltey as well as comparatively healthy. People were happy to eat it once they heard it was an angel food cake. In fact, since I am not tempting them with a cake that contains a pound and a half of butter, I am a little less the Evil Cake Lady and more a little bit of awesome.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Accidental Vegan

So, many moons ago Melinda over in England asked me to do her a birthday favor and go around to a few bakeries and review them. She used to live here a while fact, I think she might even be a native Oregonian...not sure.

Back then, I was camera deficient, so I couldn't give her her birthday wish. But now I can!

Welcome to the first installment of:

ECL's Opinionated Opinion
on Local Bakeries

Lately while driving around I've passed this cute little bakery I had never noticed before. It looks like the storefront space has been recently remodeled, and I've seen tons of bikes parked out front.

I thought it would be the perfect little bakery to check out for Melinda.

On Monday I persuaded the Stooges to hit the neat little bakery on our way to the 'burbs. This was after we experienced a very curious lunch at this little hole in the wall, so we were a little skeptical about trying another new place.

As we parked, we noticed a ton of bikes parked outside the bakery. That could mean a lot of SE hipsters hang out there--that could be good. Then we noticed that in the same block Food Fight had set up shop. Food Fight is a vegan grocery.

My head snapped between the vegan grocery and all the bikes locked up in front of the bakery. Synapses fired, and a cold fear of dread began to settle in my stomach. "Oh god," I mumbled, "This better not be a VEGAN BAKERY."

And, it is.

100% vegan

Sweetpea Bakery
has been open for about two weeks. They have a nice big airy seating spot in the front of the store and a big open bakery behind the counter. The counter had a ton of vegan baked goods all lined up nice and pretty. And on the counter by the register they had a couple plates of unmarked samples...something like a muffin or scone or quickbread...

I tried a sample niblet, and it was spicy and pumpkiny, and a little rubbery. I was worried. These were vegan treats. No butter. No honey. No eggs. NO BUTTER!!!

I anxiously scanned the counter as a nice little vegan kid waited patiently for me to put him to work. Vegan coffee cake? Vegan cupcake? Vegan scone? Vegan cake? Or vegan cookie? So many choices, so many potential rubbery soy disappointments.

so many treats, so little butter

I decided to go with one of their little cakey things: it looks like an oreo, but in snacky cake form. Two little half moon cakes with a nice gob of vanilla frosting sandwiched between.

vegan snacky cakes

I also ordered a small chai. With almond milk.

Joelf bought a snickerdoodle.


The chai with almond milk wasn't so bad. The kid actually got that almond milk to steam pretty well. Shocking!

And the cake. I was SO nervous. What if it was caca? What's wrong with butter, people? Butter!!!

I took one bite of the little cakey thing, and I was pleasantly pleased. The cake was cake-like, not rubbery. It had a nice mellow chocolately flavor, not too sweet or rich. The vanilla frosting was sweet and crunchy...and then I realised that shortening and powdered sugar are vegan!

the bite

All in all, I really enjoyed my vegan snacky cake. Joelf later on told me his cookie was really good, too.

So if you're ever in the mood for something sweet and you're in a vegan frame of mind, Sweetpea Bakery is your new favorite place.

**Breaking news: According to their website, Sweetpea Bakery will begin serving GF baked goods this week...GF, vegan baked goods? Might have to go back...hmmm.

Sweetpea Bakery
1205 SE Stark St
Portland OR 97214
503 477 5916