Monday, September 29, 2008

Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake, Part Four: The Results Show

The day was beautiful, the sun was shining, and the wedding was full of love and sweetness. And the cake...the cake! It was a hit.

julie and noah's wedding cake: the remains
the remains of the day

September 27, 2008
Name of Cake: Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake
Occasion: Julie and Noah's wedding!
Constituents: chocolate cake with raspberry filling, sour cream banana cake with sour cream ganache, GF agave sweetened white cake with raspberry filling, frosted with ECL's swiss meringue buttercream

My list of thank yous:
  • RLB for the Cake Bible, which has the best chocolate and banana cake recipes that always surprise people because they taste like something other than sugar. If I had a dollar for every person who came up to me and said, "Great cake," and with wonder added, "and it wasn't too sweet," I would be rich.
    And especially to RLB for her entire chapter on wedding and event cakes, where she has figured out how much batter you need for almost any size cake, how much frosting you need to fill and frost any size cake, and for calculating the exact weight of certain things like one large egg white, one cup of sugar, etc.
    And also for telling me to freeze egg whites for future use, so that when I needed 20 egg whites for the frosting I already had them sitting pretty in my freezer.
  • Marion Cunningham who in the Fannie Farmer supplied the GF cake recipe that saved my ass from certain humiliation and despair.
  • Martha Stewart and Dorie Greenspan for their Swiss Meringue Buttercreams, which were pretty much exactly the same, and thus gave me the confidence to go ahead and make, despite never making or tasting it before. (But seriously, ladies, take the sugar down a notch!)
  • Deb at Smitten Kitchen for her beautiful blog that I secretly have been envious of. She did a four-post series on her first wedding cake that was VERY informative. I read all her wedding cake posts as well as ALL the 251 comments (if you click on this link, scroll down to see the comments)--and got lots of great advice. I learned how to use a towel to transport the cakes, to tape the flower stems, to bring the cakes in separate layers, to give myself plenty of time to assemble and decorate on site, and to bring a bunch of decorating tools--just in case.
  • Brains for rescuing tossed cakeboards for me when he worked out at Leach Botanical Garden, so that I already had an 18 inch cakeboard.
  • The Decorette Shop for carrying all the baking tools an amateur baker could want, and much, much more. Even if I have to drive to Tigard to get it.
  • Annmarie for being my gluten free taster. And for listening to me talk obsessively about the cake and my cake making experience on at least four different occasions.
  • My sister Michele who helped me to understand that a medium yellow is like a sunshine yellow, not a daffodil nor a butter yellow.
  • Cheryl and Amber who helped me unload all of my cake and cake supplies when I got to the wedding site 90 minutes behind schedule, and who spent time cutting flowers and wrapping stems. Their bubbly attitude and efficient help kept me positive and unconcerned about the time.
  • Erin and Cara for helping me cut and serve the cake, as the table was rushed by eager hands holding out empty plates yelling "I want chocolate" and "I want banana!" These girls kept me from waving my chef's knife at them and yelling "YOU PEOPLE NEED TO STEP OFF, I HAVE A KNIFE."
  • Julie and Noah for having the faith and trust in me to bust out a tasty and beautiful wedding cake for their special day, knowing that I had never done it before. And for falling in love and getting married, for these two have a love that is once mature and wise and yet so sweet and innocent, such that the love they share with each other spills out and blesses all of us in their wake.

Enough talk. Here's the finished and decorated cake:

julie and noah's wedding cake!

I was pleased the yellow ribbon I bought matched her yellow roses exactly. Hooray!

It took about 2 hours total to stack and decorate. Actually, stacking the cake took mere minutes--the rest was decorating. The ribbon served to hide the gap and cardboard between the layers and stuck to the frosting without pulling it away.

The drive down to the wedding was about 90 minutes, and I kept the air conditioning on full blast to keep the cake's frostings cold. I figured that it would be easier to handle and stack the cakes if the frosting was stiff. Which it was, but boy I was freezing by the time I arrived!

a wedding in the Oregon woods

I got nothing but compliments about the cake, and the entire thing was devoured pretty quickly. Cara and Erin shared one of the last pieces and I took the very last piece, a chocolate-raspberry slice. It was pretty good, and the fresh raspberries nestled in the raspberry jam was a nice touch. Good thinking, Julie and Noah!

julie and noah's wedding cake

Sorry I have no photos of the cake innards, for like I said, the cake was devoured as quickly as we could cut it. But I can tell you that each tier was two layers. Julie and Noah didn't want a ton of frosting because they don't like overpoweringly sweet things. So I decided against splitting the layers--which would have made 4 thin layers per tier, and a whole lot more work for me! But here's a shot of the chocolate cake filling:

julie and noah's wedding cake: the chocolate cake filling

The cosmos were a little droopy by the evening when we got around to cutting the cake, but no matter. It was still pretty.

julie and noah's wedding cake

Foliage I used included lemon verbena from my herb box, spearmint, solal, eucalyptus, spider mums, dahlias, cosmos, roses, and mums (I think that's what the yellow flowers were...).

julie and noah's wedding cake

As soon as the cake was cut and served, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. I also felt so, so tired.

Many people asked me why I don't bake for a living and I had to explain that there isn't one job I already do for a living that I would be willing to give up in order to make room for professional baking. I love baking, but I love doing it as a hobby. Plus, I don't think I would want to bake more than one wedding cake a year, and I would do it only for people that I love. Like Julie and Noah.

Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake: a photoset on flickr

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake, Part Three: Exhausted, and ECL's Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Well folks, the cakes are baked, filled, stacked and frosted. Each tier is sitting in its own cake box in my refrigerator, hopefully not taking on any weird odors or slowly going bad. (I cleaned out my refrigerator, I promise.)

julie and noah's wedding cake, in pieces

I looked yesterday at RLB's instructions for putting together one of these wedding cakes and she suggests baking the cakes no more than 1 day ahead of time.

!One day! Seriously? When do you make all the fillings and frostings and put the whole shebang together?

I guess my schedule for this wedding cake was pretty off; I baked the majority of the cakes on Monday and the rest yesterday (Thursday). I made the sour cream ganache and 5 batches of swiss meringue buttercream yesterday too. I really should have baked the cakes Thursday and filled and frosted Friday. I could have made the filling and frostings ahead of time on Monday. But oh well.

julie and noah's wedding cake, can't remember which layer this is

In my defense, I will say that I only hold office hours three days a week, one of which is Friday, and that I mistakenly didn't take today off and my whole day was booked. Good for my ability to feed myself and my cats, and to afford to buy all of these:

julie and noah's wedding cake: the possible decorations

I am decorating the cake with ribbon and flowers because I can't pipe icing to save my life. I figure, with the right amount of pretty things, no one will notice that the cake isn't bordered in dots or shells or what-have-yous.

I have no idea what the right amount will be, so I bought a lot. The bride informed me that her colors are a medium pink and a medium yellow, and if I had any foresight I would have asked for fabric swatches or at least more clarification on what she means by medium. I kept gravitating towards butter yellow, which really isn't a medium yellow, it is more of a pale yellow. But it looks like butter! That can't be bad, right? I hope she's happy with what I have chosen. Those dahlias are to die for.

inspiration for cake decorating from Black Sheep Bakery

I was up until three am last night making frosting, then frosting, then chilling, then boxing, then cleaning. This morning I felt like I had just come home from a birth. Tomorrow I have to get up and hit the road by 10 am. I am not a morning person, but I really want to give myself time to get to the wedding site (90 minutes away) and get the cake set up and touched up and decorated before the wedding begins at 3. Annmarie laughed when I told her how early I wanted to get there, but I reminded her of past cake events where I was 90 minutes late because I was finishing a cake that took longer than I expected. It always takes longer than I expected, so I am trying to give myself plenty of time.

By the way, that swiss meringue buttercream? I mistakenly used less than half of the sugar called for when I made the first double batch, and you know what? It was plenty sweet. I couldn't imagine what it would have tasted like if I used the correct amount!

Swiss Meringue Buttercream, Martha Stewart and Dorie Greenspan's version
(these ladies had pretty much the same recipe)
makes 4 cups
  • 4 egg whites, 120 grams
  • 1.25 cups of sugar, 250 grams (Martha) or 1 cup sugar, 200 grams (Dorie)
  • 3 sticks of butter, room temp
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Swiss Meringue Buttercream, ECL's version
makes 8 cups
  • 240 grams egg whites
  • 200 grams sugar
  • 6 sticks of butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Plenty sweet.

Just saying.

Off to bed; good night everybody!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake, Part Two: GF White Cake

Thanks for everybody's encouraging comments following Wedding Cake: Part One! It is nice to know you've all got my back, in a baking, internetty kind of way.

As I mentioned in Part One I was really only afraid of the top tier, the gluten free, agave sweetened white cake. And after my first baking attempt, the fear only intensified.

September 24, 2008
Name of Cake: Top Tier of Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake
Occasion: A Wedding!
Constituents: a 6-inch Gluten Free, agave sweetened White Cake

Oh people. At first I did what I usually do when I bake a GF cake. I take RLB's butter recipe and just use GF flours plus some Xanthan gum. I still use all the other ingredients: butter, granulated sugar, eggs, milk, etc and still put the cake together the same way.

However, this time I was not only replacing the gluten flour with non glutinous flours, I was also substituting water for milk and agave syrup for granulated sugar. As you may guess, my prototype cake was a sad, sad excuse for a cake.

The poor little thing fell down into a lumpy little heap as it cooled, and the inside was chewy and slightly rubbery, as well not really tasting much like a white cake. I looked at that sad little mass and thought, "oh HELL no."

(It was so bad, I have no photographic evidence of how bad it was.)

That is when I really started to worry.

I bought a book called Baking with Agave, which said that when replacing sugar with agave you need to decrease the amount of liquid by a third and you'll need 25% less agave than sugar (for example 3/4 cup agave instead of 1 cup sugar). However helpful this was, and despite having lots of good looking recipes in the book (including many GF ones) there was no white cake recipe.

I looked at Baking 911 and found online a Good Eats episode about cake (I love Alton Brown, even though he uses butter flavored shortening--WTF is that about, Alton?) and discovered from both sites that not only does gluten contribute to the structure of a cake, but sugar does too. So basically, I had taken away all the structure of my cake. This made me sad. It made the problem seem insurmountable.

I thought of other ways to create structure in a cake and knew my salvation lay in well beaten eggs. However, baking is chemistry, people, and how was I going to make sure that all that watery agave and butter and useless flour were going to harmonize??

I googled GF agave sweetened white cake and discovered many amazing GF bloggers out there. I learned about coconut flour, which I had to order online and ship 2 day air (hasn't arrived yet). Many people baked GF but still used sugar. Others baked with agave but still used wheat flour. Very few baked both GF and with agave, and the closest I got was a recipe for yellow cupcakes from Elana's Pantry and Sheltie Girl's GF Perfect Party Cake from a Daring Baker's Challenge. Not quite good enough, but good to know!

I realised more than finding a good GF recipe, I needed to find a good cake recipe that deals with liquidy sweeteners--honey, maple syurp, molasses, or agave. I needed somebody else to figure out how the heck to bake a cake when you can't rely on creaming butter and sugar to moisten, stabilise, sweeten, and aerate. I knew that my favorite GF carrot cake rises nice and has good texture and stability despite being made with honey and maple syrup, GF flours and NO EGGS. ???How the heck does that cake do it???

So to my baking books I did retreat, and lo and behold! There in Fannie Farmer's Baking Book that I often find useless, was a recipe for a RICE FLOUR, HONEY SWEETENED CAKE. SERIOUSLY. I couldn't believe it. Replacing honey with agave would require no thought. Awesome!

I made a test cake this afternoon, and I can breathe a sigh of relief. It was quick, easy, and would you look at that cake!

GF, agave sweetened white cake

It even tastes good!

Holy crap, that's awesome!!

And to celebrate, here's the recipe!!

GF, agave sweetened white cake

adapted from the White Lemon Cake in The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup light agave syrup
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup GF flour mix
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp GF, non aluminum baking powder
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp GF vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325. Grease and flour a 6 inch round cake pan.

Beat the eggs and agave in a mixing bowl on med speed (I assume you are using a stand mixer).

Meanwhile, melt the butter being careful not to brown it, and add it to the eggs slowly.

Let the mixer continue to beat the egg mixture while, in a medium bowl, you measure out and combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder). Turn down the mixer to the lowest speed and slowly add the dry ingredients. Turn the mixer back up to medium speed once the dry ingredients are moistened and continue to beat, while measuring and adding the water and vanilla extract. Beat until well combined; it will look like thinned out mayonnaise, kind of.

Pour the batter into your pan; pan should be about half full. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out of pan, and let cool completely. Do a little jig of happiness.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Julie and Noah's Wedding Cake, Part One: An Introduction

Two of my favorite people in the world are getting married this Saturday and I volunteered to bake their wedding cake.

Why not? I love them!

I am making a three tier cake:
  • 12 inch bottom: chocolate filled with raspberry jam and fresh raspberries
  • 9 inch middle: rose's sour cream banana filled with sour cream ganache
  • 6 inch top: GF, sugar free white cake filled with raspberry jam and raspberries
  • whole thing frosted with swiss meringue buttercream

I am only freaking out about the 6 inch cake.

Well, I am also freaking out about the whole thing.

So far, I have calculated that I need:
  • 953 grams cake flour
  • 1790 grams sugar
  • 147 grams cocoa powder
  • 16 sticks of butter, not including what i need for the 6 inch cake
  • one cup of sour cream
  • 4 bananas
  • 2 lemons
  • 24 eggs, not including the 6 inch cake
  • untold amounts of raspberry jam, sugar free
  • lots of fresh raspberries, this might be difficult
  • half recipe sour cream ganache, haven't even looked at it yet
  • unknown amounts of GF flour (don't know yet)
  • unknown amounts of agave syrup (don't know yet)

Stay tuned friends.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lazy Bakers, No Rules: Rum-Vanilla Cream Pie

The August project for the Lazy Bakers, No Rules Club was this creamy looking, whipped cream covered, rum infused pie from Martha Stewart. I am all about creamy goodness, especially when there's a little kick of liquor.

September 15, 2008
Name of pie: Martha's Rum-Vanilla Cream Pie
Occasion: The Englishman is Back, and I've Gotta Catch Up
Constituents: Rum-Vanilla Cream Pie in a Pate Brisee Crust with Rum Whipped Cream

rum-vanilla cream pie

You all know how I feel about making pie crust. I am terrified of it.

But after last week's peach pie and before this coming weekend's chocolate cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting (which I could eat all in its own) I decided to squeeze in the rum-vanilla pie.

Why you might ask? Joelf's friend The Englishman from Manchester, who stayed with us in July, has come back around for a couple of days. The Englishman was a lot of fun last July, and of course I am a little smitten with his cheeky English accent. (I am smitten with ANY KIND of accent. I can't help it.) He's staying with us in our little guest room/cave and what better way to welcome a guest then with a liquor-infused pie? (Plus this means there are more people around to help eat it!)

So despite my pie crust terror, Martha's recipe for pate brisee seemed pretty easy. All you do is food process flour, butter, a teeny bit of sugar and salt together with enough ice water to hold the dough together. Then you shape the dough into a couple of discs and refrigerate for a while. There seemed to be few places I could screw it up.

I made the dough last night and rolled it out this morning. That seemed to go okay, so after another rest in the refrigerator I blind baked the crust. Which also seemed to go okay.

rum-vanilla cream pie

Cooking the pie filling was fairly uneventful. I scraped as many vanilla seeds out of the pod with my fingernail as I could (which was pretty much all--I was a little obsessed) and cooked the milk, cornstarch and sugar in my favorite saucier. It took 5,000 years for the mixture to boil, but it finally did. I went ahead and heeded BBC's advice about not forgetting to put the filling back on the stove after whisking in the yolks. Another 5,000 years later the filling finally came back to a boil, so I pulled it off the heat, added the rum and butter, and let it sit for 10 minutes. After sitting for 10 minutes I poured the filling into the pie shell and stowed it in the refrigerator.

rum-vanilla cream pie

(the next day)

Holy crap, people, this pie is SO GOOD. I am a fan of all things creamy, and this certainly fills the bill. Several of us dug into the pie last night after an Indian dinner, and it was better than the Indian dinner.

Martha wanted me to pipe the rum whipped cream as stars onto the top of the pie, but she must not know me very well, because I am not a Piper. I basically frosted the top of the pie with the whipped cream and everybody was happy. Take that, Martha!

rum-vanilla cream pie

I will say however that the pie crust was a little like cardboard. I'm working on it, but damn if pie crust hasn't got me all in a twist. I WILL FIGURE THIS OUT. Dangit.

In the meantime, I will help myself to another piece of pie.

rum-vanilla cream pie

Read about BBC's misadventures with Martha's pie.
Read about Pinknest's beautful pie, and get the recipe!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rose's Perfect Peach Pie, ECL Style (which means less than perfect)

Oh kids. The pie is resting in the refrigerator before The Big Bake, so I can't tell you how this ends yet. But let me tell you how it began.

peach pie!

Sept 11, 2008
Name of Pie: "Perfect" Peach Pie
Occasion: Peaches!!
Constituents: Crazy Giant Fresh Peaches Between Cream Cheese Flaky Pie Crust (a two crust pie)

Last month Rose posted on her blog a beautiful peach galette that made many mouths salivate. Even I was motivated to try to make it. And you know how I feel about pie.

However, I thought that maybe a galette was a little too ambitious for me, seeing as I have pie crust issues. All that crust scared me. At least in a pie, there's a whole lot of fruit to distract from what could be a terrible pie crust. So I decided on Rose's peach pie.

(Aside: the peaches have been wild and bountiful in the last month. It has been driving me crazy. I can't eat stone fruit raw, so I have needed this pie. I might not share it.)

Last week Cookie and I dared a trip out to Sauvie Island to buy peaches. My original dream was to u-pick the peaches, but I had a mom in early labor and didn't know how much time I had to wander through a peach orchard. So I bought peaches from Kruger's Farm store. They were huge and fragrant. I wanted to buy all of them.

Last week is a big blur; at some point I went to and came home from the birth, and sometime after that I made the cream cheese crust. I decided to mix the crust the old fashioned way with my hands and a pastry cutter. This was a lot of fun for me. I am very tactile so getting my hands in the dough and feeling it transform into something soft and stretchy was exciting! I wrapped up the dough and gave it a little rest in the refrigerator. Which turned into a long rest in the freezer.

Today is Thursday, which is my day off, and so it was time to finish that pie. Last night I moved the dough from the freezer to the refrigerator to defrost. I rolled it out this evening and it was so easy! The dough even kinda felt a little silky and pillowy. Could I be getting a hang of this pasty thing? Dare I dream?

I put on The Black Keys and peeled and cut the peaches. Oh my. How sensual a ripe juicy peach can be, especially when accompanied by excellent blues rock. Good times, good times.

I decided to use golden baker's sugar for the pie instead of white sugar. White sugar has such a sharp, hard flavor. The sweetness is very direct and aggressive. Golden baker's sugar, which has some of the molasses left in it, has a strong sweetness like white sugar, but it is more round, full, and soft. The flavor, which has depth and breadth, fills the mouth. Since I had just enjoyed a multi-sensory experience slicing the peaches, I didn't want to ruin it with crappy white sugar.

So here comes the good part: after letting the peaches macerate for a while, I strained off the juices into a 4 cup pyrex measuring cup, popped it in the microwave and set it to boil on high for 12 minutes, as per Rose's instructions. The idea is to concentrate the juices before baking, so that the peach flavor is intensified but the crust doesn't get all soggy and ruined.

Apparently our microwave is a little more powerful than Rose's, because thick white smoke was billowing out of the appliance after 10 minutes, and when I yanked the door open in panic I could make out a lot of black stuff where the caramelized juices should have been.

After the smoke cleared, this is what I found in my pyrex cup:

peach charcoal

Hmm. I don't think that will be going into the pie.

Oh well.

At least the crust will stay crisp!

I went ahead and made the pie anyway. The peaches were still juicy. This is peaches, people! There will be no giving up!

Rolling out the top crust was even quicker then the bottom crust. And kind of fun! Could it be? Was I enjoying pie making?

I slipped the assembled pie in the refrigerator for one last rest, and cleaned up. And now we have come full circle, friends. During the writing of this post, the pie baked and is now cooling on the counter. Sadly, Rose says the pie is done when the juices are thickly bubbling through the slits in the top, which was barely happening. Not a lot of juices.

peach pie!

The pie needs to rest up for the next three hours, which means it will be ready to eat at 3:43 am. So we'll all just have to wait for tomorrow's breakfast.

Tomorrow's Breakfast:

Well, the pie is still amazingly juicy. I probably could have let the peaches macerate for longer, but considering I turned the peach juices into charcoal it is for the best. Just a note to myself for next time: macerate longer, microwave less. It also means that I probably could have baked the pie a little longer, until the juices thickly bubbled through the slits.

The crust? Well, the bottom crust is soggy and tasteless. Sigh. The top crust is nice and flaky, maybe not as tender as it could be. It is a little gummy, but the cream cheese tang is nice.

And the peaches--oh the peaches. Who cares about crust when you have a plateful of peaches waiting to be devoured? I actually am glad, in a way, that I burned all the juices and sugar, because that left pretty much only the peachy peachness to sing through. I think I like my pies far less sweet than Rose, so note to self for next time: less sugar, no burning.

peach pie!