Thursday, December 18, 2008

Birthday Cake for the Birthday Boy

So we have a friend named Wilman from the Domincan Republic. He's here on a college exchange program and he is very studious. It is a little astounding. I have never studied like that in my whole life. Maybe that's my problem... Anyway, he turned the big 21 so we threw him a birthday party and he asked if I could bake him a cake!


Wilman's Birthday Cake

December 13 2008
Name of cake: Wilman's Birthday Cake
Occasion: Wilman's 21st Birthday
Constituents: Many layers Dorie's devil's food cake filled and frosted with vanilla swiss meringue buttercream

This cake was a lesson in patience, egg whites, and label reading.

Wilman requested a chocolate cake with white frosting. I decided to make Dorie's devil's food cake from the Devil's Food White Out Cake, but instead of filling and frosting with the billowy marshmallow frosting in the book, I decided to pair it with swiss meringue buttercream. I thought the marshmallow frosting might be too much for our Dominican friend. And I like that swiss meringue buttercream.

The party was Saturday night, so Thursday I made the frosting. Now, Dorie's recipe is in conjunction with her perfect party cake, and is enough to fill and frost a four layer (torted) cake. Since I was planning on torting the cake I figured the same amount of frosting would be perfect.

I decided to use the leftover egg whites I had sitting pretty in the freezer. I also decided to cut the sugar in half, like I did for Julie and Noah's wedding cake. For those of you who haven't made a SMBC, you take your sugar and your egg whites and beat them over a pot of simmering water until the temp of the meringue is 160 F. After the eggs come to temperature, you pull them off the heat and beat until cool. Then you add a ton of butter and a little vanilla extract and beat like crazy until the whole mess becomes a beautiful, velvety, lovely frosting.

So my leftover egg whites must have been past their prime, because they didn't make a very big meringue nor very much frosting. I looked at it for a long while, decided it must be enough because that's what the recipe called for, packed the frosting in a tub and went to bed.

Friday after work Annmarie came over to keep me company while I baked the cakes. Dorie's recipe makes two decadent 8 inch cakes. They came together easily and without mishap, but after letting them cool I looked at them with concern as they seemed shorter than I thought they ought to be. But like the frosting, I decided it should be right and so I went on to split the layers and start stacking the cake.

Wilman's Birthday Cake

I stacked the four cake layers with thin layers of buttercream, and had just enough frosting left to do a crumb coat around the outside of the cake. Hmm. That's not enough frosting. Also, the cake looked a little short. Hmm. That's not enough cake. But it was 3 in the morning so I went to bed.

The next morning, the day of the party, I took inventory of my pantry. I was out of bittersweet chocolate and I needed two whole ounces for another round of cake. I debated on substituting more cocoa powder and butter (I found in RLB's Cake Bible a conversion), but my roommate needed to hit the grocery store too so we shuffled out of the apartment together. And then we went to the liquor store for more rum (not for the cake), and then to another grocery store for a Christmas wreath and some lunch. And then, back home.

So I started in on the next round of cake. Again, everything came together fine and quickly. The cakes baked up and didn't seem like they were much higher than the previous night's batch. I made another round of frosting with the rest of the defrosted egg whites and proceeded to stack another three layers of cake (I saved the fourth layer for a snack later in the week...and because I was worried there wasn't enough frosting). (Math break: I stacked another two layers of cake. Two.)

Wilman's Birthday Cake

And rightly so--the second batch of frosting was only enough to fill the next two layers and frost the top. Those darn old egg whites! Also, with this batch of frosting I needed to dip into my roommate's butter stash, which I figured he wouldn't mind (although I don't think I asked him). This will become important in a few paragraphs...

So I accepted my fate--that I was going to have to make a third round of swiss meringue buttercream. I was miffed, to say the least. As I separated three fresh eggs and began to beat the sugar and whites over a pan of simmering water, I thought back to Julie and Noah's wedding cake. I needed two and a half batches of the same frosting to frost all three layers of cake. So why did I need the same amount to fill and frost this cake? As I looked at the marvelous volume these egg whites were achieving, I decided there really is a shelf life to frozen egg whites.

Lesson number one.

For this last batch of frosting, all of the butter came from my roommate's stash. The frosting came together pretty quickly, and I could almost do it from memory by this point! I felt pretty cool.

Until I tasted the frosting. The salty, salty frosting.


My roommate's butter stash was salted butter.


Lesson number two.

I bet it wouldn't have been so salty tasting if I hadn't halved the sugar. But oh well. My roommate actually liked the frosting--he said it was a good sweet/salty balance. To me, it just tasted like salty butter with a hint of vanilla. I couldn't taste any sweet at all.

And then, I realised that the second batch of frosting, which was already on the cake, was 1/3 salty butter.


My roommate pointed out that the vanilla ice cream we were going to serve the cake with would probably overpower all that salty frosting and nobody would notice. I agreed, and so I finished frosting the outside of the cake with the salty frosting and topped it with chocolate shavings from the left over bittersweet chocolate.

Wilman's Birthday Cake

Joelf and Annmarie both remarked that I was quite calm in the face of this cake trauma. They were right; I was calm. I was also a little disappointed but oh well. I figured it would be a good story for The Blog.

Everybody complimented me on the cake, which I couldn't take seriously. The frosting was salty, people! However Joelf was right--the ice cream totally overpowered the saltiness so maybe that's why they thought it tasted so good.

The funny thing is, the next day as I was cleaning up, I found an abandoned piece of cake where the only thing that was eaten was the salty frosting. What shenanigans were these? Did a deer get a piece of cake?

Wilman's Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday Wilman!!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Butterscotch Pecan Cake

The first year I lived in this apartment, my then-roommate and I decided to have people over for dinner about once a month. This way, we could save a little money by not going out, but we'd still get a chance to see our friends. We both decided it was a great idea, but it never really happened.

Fast forward three years, and two roommates later. I brought up the idea of monthly dinner parties with Joelf and he was 100% on board. We began to assess what it would take for us to host dinner parties: rearranging the apartment so that we could expand the table and have up to 10 people over at once, place settings for 10, serving platters and bowls (neither of us owned any), a few more wine glasses, low ball glasses for cocktails, candles, table linens, more utensils, appropriate dinner party music and centerpieces.

It was a major undertaking.

We made our list of all the people we know that we would want to have over for dinner, selected our first round of ten, and sent out invites.

We settled on a slightly traditional Sunday supper menu of a pork roast with roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage, and salad.

Everyone expected me to bake a cake, which I didn't. I had planned on making a pear-frangipane tart but the crust didn't work, so I baked little individual pear-frangipane things in little ramekins, but I didn't bake them in a ban-marie so they dried out and were not so great. But the pears! They were poached in rum and a vanilla bean and were SO YUMMY. Thanks, RLB (you can find the recipe in the Pie and Pastry Bible, under Pear and Almond Cream Tart).

So for November's dinner party, I felt obligated to bake a cake.

Butterscotch Pecan Cake

Nov 23, 2008
Name of Cake: Martha's Butterscotch Pecan Cake
Occasion: November Dinner Party
Constituents: 3 layers of brown sugar butter cake soaked with butterscotch sauce, filled and frosted with butterscotch cream cheese frosting, chopped toasted pecans for garnish

This cake is a little over the top.

But if you are a caramel fan, you will LOVE IT.

The first thing I did was make the frosting, as it benefits from an overnight in the refrigerator. This is because the frosting consists of a brown butter butterscotch that you cook first, then blend into an already nice and sweet cream cheese mixture. The overnight gives the butterscotch and the cream cheese time to sort out their differences and come to a harmonious agreement of sweet, tangy, caramel goodness.


The next day I baked the three cake layers, which are essentially yellow buttermilk cakes made with dark brown sugar. I used dark muscovado sugar for the dark brown sugar, which has a deeper, rounder, more full molassesy sugary flavor. I highly recommend substituting muscovado sugar in place of all your brown sugar needs. Especially in the butterscotch, mmmm. So much better.

Anyway, the cakes baked up without much mishap. They had that big, open crumb typical of an all-purpose cake and they were actually a bit dry and coarse. I guess that's why they needed a serious lathering of butterscotch sauce? Or did I do something wrong?

I made another round of butterscotch sauce, this time substituting Lyle's Golden Syrup for the corn syrup. This is the sauce that each cake layer soaks up before being filled and frosted. It all seemed like way too much to me--what was wrong with making a delicious and tasty butterscotch cake to go with the frosting, or making a simple brown sugar cake and going to town with a butterscotch buttercream, or covering the cake in butterscotch, skipping the frosting altogether and serving with whipped cream or ice cream on the side?

Anyhoots, I played along with the directions and basted each cake layer with butterscotch and stacked the cake. The middle layer threatened to slide right off the plate so I used a couple of straws to stake the cake, frosted the whole thing as much as I could bear, and covered the sides in pecans. Then the cake went back into the refrigerator for another overnight, in order for all that hoohah to sort themselves out, as well as to solidify everything so the cake didn't fall apart.

Butterscotch Pecan Cake

Dinner the next night went fairly smoothly; the conversation was good, if not unusual, and the roasted chicken and vegetable in a pumpkin thing turned out pretty darn good.

The cake was still a little chilled from the refrigerator and thus not as flavorful as it was later on at room temperature. It was very rich. And we all passed out from insulin shock. Just (barely) kidding about that last part.

Butterscotch Pecan Cake

At room temperature, the cake had a very pronounced caramel flavor, and was moist and very very sweet. Between all the sugar in the cake, butterscotch, and frosting we really did kill ourselves, just a little, with each slice we ate. I really enjoyed it, but I don't know if I will ever be making it again. Perhaps components of the cake--the extra butterscotch sauce warmed over vanilla ice cream is pretty damn good. Perhaps exploring other ways to celebrate butterscotch in cake form would be best.

November's Martha Stewart Living: Pecan Butterscotch Cake