Monday, April 28, 2008

An Internet Bake-Along

About a month ago as I was tooling around the internet, I came across the name Dorie Greenspan about a million times.

Okay, it wasn't a million times, but her name kept popping up on baking blogs which made me very curious about her--I went from not knowing there was a Dorie Greenspan to reading her name on several different blogs all on the same day. It was a little too serendipitous, you know?

A few days later her name popped up on Melinda's blog--bam. Apparently this Dorie Greenspan chick was quite a baker, with a huge following. I looked at her book on Amazon, and within the week I was at Powell's hoping to buy the book. Which I did not succeed at. At either Powell's. Even though their computers claimed they had a copy or two, there were no copies anywhere.

So I put it on hold at the library and waited.

In the meantime, Melinda and I got into a discussion about Dorie Greenspan, and Melinda offered to do a little bake-together with one of her recipes once I got the book.

So when the giant heavy book came, I wrote Melinda and told her the bake together (bake off? bake on?) was good to go.

the goal:
the goal

April 25, 2008
Name of Cake: Brownie Peanut Caramel Cake
Occasion: Bake off! And Dana's here! And Greg had a birthday!
Constituents: Brownie cake with caramel-salted peanut frosting, served with a side of french vanilla ice cream and champagne

drippy gooey caramel

The first thing I did to bake this cake was cancel my day at work. I'm pooped.

Then, I made my grocery list and headed off to the store. There, a nice worker lady was chopping up fresh PEACHES. You heard me, PEACHES. They were organically grown, imported from Baja California, fresh, summery, ripe peaches. She was putting them out for free samples, and that little sample of a juicy warm summer day was so nice. I think I thanked her at least three times.

But I digress. After coming home with my groceries, I sat down to convert Dorie's recipe into gram measurements, because I am just that way. RLB has ruined me for dipping and sweeping.

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The recipe for this cake is really simple; in fact I never pulled out the KitchenAid. Just a balloon whisk and a couple of bowls.

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In the true spirit of a brownie, this cake has only one cup of AP flour and a whole lot of chocolate and butter to make a fudgy, kind of dense cake. She says not to worry if the cake dips in the middle; which mine did, quite a bit. I think I actually overcooked the poor cake, which could account for why the cake seemed a little dry. But oh well.

melting butter and chocolate

Once the cake comes out of the oven and you get it cooling on a rack, the recipe says to wait until the cake has completely cooled before making the topping. Luckily this is about when Annmarie showed up, and then Joelf's brother Dana from Montana, and then Carlotta and her husband Greg. Joelf and his friend Wilman arrived a little bit later. But all these people arriving kept me nice and distracted from the unfinished cake so that I really could let it cool completely before moving on. Good timing, people!

After much catching up, sarcasm, teasing and laughter, I finally got back to the kitchen to make the topping. I measured out what I needed and began the process of making caramel. Ho hum. It can take awhile of standing and staring at a bubbling mass before caramel gets made. I was terrified of taking my eyes off of the pan, because last time that happened I burnt the caramel something serious and made a bitter pie.

a watched pot never caramelizes
so caramelize already!

I continued to stare at the stove while Annmarie kept me company. She was looking forward to having some of the extra caramel over some ice cream, as the cake I was making was gluten-full, not gluten free. Or as Babel Fish translates it, the cake was glow-full not glow-free.

I obsessively kept a little white dish on the stove near the pan, and as the caramel finally began to take on some color, I kept dipping my spatula in the mix and dripping caramel in the dish to check the color. When it looked pretty good in the dish (which looked pretty dark in the pan) I added in the cream and butter and--hooray!--caramel! I stirred in my roasted, salted valencia peanuts (that was all I could find) and smoothed it over the top of the cake. And I told everyone we'd have cake in 20 minutes, after the caramel has set.

waiting for the caramel to set

Annmarie enjoyed her caramel topped ice cream while everyone else waited. It was pretty good caramel. I was pleased.

When the cake was ready for us, Carlotta started singing Happy Birthday to Greg, as he turned a big 3-6 on Wednesday. We all joined in, and all of a sudden the cake became a birthday cake! Excellent!

Carlotta was kind enough to dish out the goods for everybody. I was getting really tired and had started wandering around aimlessly.

look!  cake!

The room fell unusually quiet, as people noshed on cake and ice cream. Considering the volume of the room a few minutes before, the silence was eerie. But not to worry, it didn't last long.

A few of us went back for more cake. The caramel topping was delightfully sticky and gooey, and a little bit burnt. I could taste a little bitterness at the end of each bite...that wasn't covered in ice cream. The peanuts provided a nice textural crunch, but I couldn't discern a nice salty contrast like I was hoping. My first piece of cake seemed a little dry, but I think that was probably the section of cake closest to the back left hand corner of the oven--the hot spot. My second piece of cake didn't seem to suffer from the dryness as much.

A good cake. Sweet, but not overpoweringly so. Gooey, fudgy, crunchy, yummy. And easy as all get up--well everything but the caramel part, but you can't have everything!

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Melinda was dedicated enough to type out the recipe for all of you interested--thanks Melinda!!

And check out Pinknest's version of the cake! Somehow she made a link between the cake and learning how to drive...very clever :)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cookie Gets Crustier

Around the time that Laurie sent me her awesome email, Cookie and I were driving around Portland and we began talking about her upcoming birthday. She wasn't too excited about turning a year older, but buoyed by all the hoopla on the blog about her previous cake she perked up considerably about this year's cake. I asked what she wanted, and she said all excited-like, "ALL white!"
"But what about the strawberries," I spluttered.
"Nope. That was for you. I want a white cake, with white frosting."
I sighed. Then Cookie added, "last year's frosting could have been crustier."

cookie's crusty frosting

April 20, 2008
Name of cake: Crusty, part two
Occasion: Cookie's Birthday!
Constituents: two layers white velvet cake filled and frosted with crusty American buttercream

Last Sunday, the stooges planned to celebrate Cookie's birthday with a luxurious Sunday at the spa. Unfortunately I got called off to a birth right after my massage (thank god I got the massage). I left the other 2 stooges and rushed off to work. The birth was short and sweet and I was able to meet up with the stooges later on that night at Cookie's house to watch What Not to Wear and eat Oreos.

Cookie got a little down and asked me where her cake was. I told her to relax, her real birthday wasn't until Tuesday.

Monday night, with another couple in early labor, I baked up the cakes.

This cake recipe is so easy and quick to put together, especially since I have a constant stash of egg whites in the freezer. I just pulled out a tub of egg whites, let them defrost on the counter all day, and when I was ready, measured out how much I needed and put the tub back in the freezer. I had the cakes in the oven in record time.

After cooling a bit, I noticed that one cake layer's top was a little sunken, which meant that it was probably undercooked. Dangit, this has been happening a lot lately--I really ought to go get the Magi-Cake strips. I was so worried that the cake layer would be a bit gummy and raw, but it actually tuned out just fine, with no raw spots. Go figure.

Tuesday morning, Cookie's birthday, the stooges met for a quick breakfast and as we were finishing, the early labor couple called to tell me that they were heading for the hospital and they were ready for me to join them. So off I went.

The little kiddo was born around 6 pm that night, and after staying around for an hour, I headed off to Cookie's house, without cake, to play Dance Dance Revolution, which she had received from her husband for her birthday. That game is so much fun--and good cardio!



Cookie's older sister and her three kids stopped by with a chocolate-chocolate cake, so I was kind of glad I didn't finish and bring the white-white cake. But...now what was I supposed to do? Scrap the cake altogether? How much cake does a birthday girl need?

I decided to save her white-white cake for Sunday, when we would be having book club. So I left the cake layers, all double-wrapped in lightly greased plastic wrap, sitting pretty on the counter while I tried to rejoin the real world, post births.

Today, Sunday, I pulled out a few boxes of butter and got ready to make some crusty frosting. I remembered what I had learned last year from baking911.com, that a frosting that is 100% butter and powdered sugar tends to get so crusty that it can crack. I thought that would be exactly what Cookie wanted.

So for 2 cups of butter I measured out 8 cups of powdered sugar. Take a minute to think about that, people. 8 cups of powdered sugar is almost ONE KILO. I am not kidding you.

how much sugar?
this bowl-full of sugar will soon be in your stomach

I would like to reiterate what I said last year about the crusty frosting. RLB makes a buttercream that has a ratio of ONE cup of sugar to TWO cups of butter. Classic American buttercream is FOUR cups of sugar to ONE cup of butter. Think about it. That's...well that's a big difference. No wonder people in this country get type II diabetes.

I added in an extra tablespoon of milk (5 total) to thin the frosting out. It was the consistency of a thick paste, which I am not used to as RLB's neoclassic buttercream has a silky and light texture. However, the paste smoothed on the cake fairly well, as long as I kept a good amount between my spatula and the cake. Otherwise, there was a little tearing.

I almost left the cake smoothed out, so that as it crusted and cracked it would look like a plaster column. But then I decided that was a little plain so I added a shallow little swirl all around the sides and up to the middle of the cake. (I got that idea from Julius. Thanks Julius!) And that was all.

cookie's crusty cake

Cookie loved her white-white cake with the crusty american frosting. She also loved that I had made too much frosting and gave her a sizeable tub of the extra. Joelf suggested she cut one piece of cake, frost the two cut sides, and let it sit up overnight to crust something serious. She seemed pretty excited by that, so she just might have done it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

A Cake for a Ten Year Old

Two posts ago this lady, I'm Kitty!, stopped by and left me a comment about a birthday cake contest. She saw a flyer downtown but couldn't remember any of the details besides the date it was happening. I googled birthday cake contest but to no avail. So I put it out of my mind.

Then Around the Sun posted about free first Thursday fun, and there at the top of the post, was a blurb about the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) celebrating their 10th birthday by having an open house and holding a birthday cake competition. And lo, there was a link to their website!

And luckily for me, First Thursday was on, well, a Thursday, which is my day off. I like my days off.

So I decided to bake a cake for the bake-off.

toasted!

April 3, 2008
Name of cake: S'mores Cake
Occasion: IPRC turns 10! And hosts a bake-off!
Constituents: two 9 inch layers of graham cracker cake, filled with milk chocolate buttercream, and frosted with seven minute frosting, toasted to look like a marshmallow

My friend Brains lives out in Troutdale in a tiny house on a nice plot of land within walking distance to the Sandy River. He invited me over last Friday night for a fire, s'mores, and wine. It was good times.

Ohhhh, those s'mores. That was the biggest sugar load I ingested after finishing my sugar fast and boy the after effects were crazy. Ever since then I have become sugar obsessed, and I decided I needed to figure out how to bake a s'mores cake in response.

I figured I needed to find cake versions of two graham crackers, a hershey bar, and two partially toasted, partially charred marshmallows. The hunt was on...

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Way back in '06, the lovely Zetta sent me a link to an NPR article about The Cake Lady. At the end of the article, there were several recipes including one for a graham cracker cake.

Graham cracker cake--that would work for a s'mores cake. Check.

Initially, I thought a nice dark ganache would be a good choice for a s'mores cake. Something seriously chocolaty, a little bitter to counteract all that sweet. Then I thought about it, and a s'more isn't made with dark, bitter chocolate. I decided that I ought to go whole hog and I settled on RLB's milk chocolate buttercream.

Chocolate--check.

I have read that seven-minute frosting, a meringue frosting, tastes a lot like marshmallows. Then I found a post on Julius's blog where he took a torch to Martha Stewart's seven-minute frosting and toasted it up.

Hey--a toasted marshmallow! Check.

The Graham Cracker Cake

graham cracker cake

This recipe is interesting--instead of using flour to bind the batter together, crushed graham crackers serve as the base. Since there's no gluten to form a structure, you gotta whip up the eggs. This is kind of like a sponge cake, because the egg whites are beaten up separately until they are at moist, stiff peaks. Then the rest of the batter, which has been mixed together in such a way to ensure maximum volume, is folded into the egg whites (or vice versa, can't remember) before being sent off into the oven.

The cakes made two nice layers that were about 1 1/2 inches in height. They had a really coarse crumb that was a little surprising to me, but it wasn't bad.

The Milk Chocolate Buttercream

milk chocolate buttercream

This buttercream is ridiculously easy. One pound of milk chocolate and a half pound of dark chocolate, melted in a double boiler, and mixed with about 3 sticks of butter. And, scene.

The problem with this buttercream is that it tends to harden up pretty quickly. The leftover frosting is sitting in the bowl on my table, and I know I'll have to soften it up a bit before I can scrape it into a tub for freezing. Sigh.

The Seven-Minute Frosting

seven minute frosting

I think my frosting would more aptly be called Twelve to Fifteen Minute Frosting, but who's counting. It took a while for the mixture to come up to the 160 degrees Martha specifies in her recipe, but once it did, the frosting came together really easily. And it really DID taste like marshmallows!

I was worried about how sweet this cake would be, especially since I split each layer in half and was going to have 3 layers of chocolate filling. So I decided to use 2/3 cup per layer of filling, instead of the usual 1 cup. I have a lot of leftover frosting.

Frosting the cake with the marshmallowy frosting was quite enjoyable. It is such a billowy, fluffy, glossy frosting that spreads nicely and sticks easily. The frosting itself has such a nice glow and look to it that I didn't really feel much need to embellish...

...except to dig out my piping tip and pipe a big "10" on the top of the cake. It looked a little funny, but considering I can't really pipe to save my life, I thought it looked great.

pre-toasted

Now came the fun part: I pulled out my brand spanking new butane torch, filled it with gas, and lit the puppy. I decided to evenly brown the sides of the cake, and sort of, kind of, toast the 10 on top. Like all toasted marshmallows, parts got a little burnt, but hey--it wouldn't be authentic without a little char!

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By this time I was running late and had to leave the house in a rush. I left a GIANT mess on the table which I haven't yet cleaned up. Too. Tired.

When I arrived at the IPRC, I was greeted by Justin, the nice guy who is the director of the center. He invited me in, showed me where to put the cake, and got me a glass of wine. Nice.

There were a few cakes and several cupcakes on the table, including a vegan spicy chocolate cake with an avocado-chocolate frosting. I could not wait to try that--I mean, how do you make avocados taste like chocolate frosting??

the spicy chocolate avocado vegan cake

The other big cake was a two tiered chocolate cake with tinted buttercream; this I found out was made by a nice lady who turned out to be I'm Kitty! That was pretty cool, to meet in person a fellow blogger. That hasn't happened to me yet.

I'm Kitty's cake

Alas dear readers, ECL didn't win the cake contest, but that's okay. All but a quarter of the cake was eaten, which I have here at home with me. I had a good time, met some cool new people, have plans to take a class or two at the IPRC, and got an excuse to buy a torch and bake a cake. What more could I ask for?

S'mores Cake

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Martha Stewart's Mexican Chocolate Shortbread

I was in the mood to bake a little something and decided to find a recipe in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. My sister gave me the book for Christmas and I've been looking forward to trying out some, if not all, of the recipes! I had to find something simple because I am running out of eggs, and I didn't want to go to the store to buy anything. So I settled on the chocolate shortbread--yum.

Chocolate Shortbread

April 1, 2008
Occasion: No reason
Name of cookie: Martha's Chocolate Shortbread
Constituents: Shortbread, with cocoa powder and cinnamon

Oh, I love shortbread. So buttery, so tender, so firm and sweet. Tasty with tea or coffee. Or anything else, really.

The recipe is pretty straightforward; I converted the main ingredients into grams and weighed out the dry stuff. The hardest part for me was waiting for the butter to thaw and come to room temperature. (I keep a butter stash in the freezer, 'cause you never know.) The recipe is based on the creaming method of baking: you assemble all the dry ingredients in one bowl, and cream the butter and sugar in the mixer.

butter, defrosting

I haven't creamed butter and sugar in a long time. I've become so enamored of the two-stage method that I've even re-worked other cake recipes so that I wouldn't have to cream butter and sugar. Not that there's anything wrong with creaming, but I love not having to worry about overmixing. It's the lazy in me--I can't help it.

The recipe says to cream the butter and sugar at medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. This was an a-ha moment for me, as I realised that in my youth when I creamed butter and sugar, I pretty much took about 45 seconds to make sure the butter and sugar were mixed together and called it good. As I watched the butter and sugar metamorphose into this lovely, light, fluffy, silky mass, I finally understood what creaming butter and sugar really is. A-ha!

These babies went into the oven for a lot longer than the 20 minutes the recipe suggests. They are done when the dough feels firm, and for me that took about 30-35 minutes. But oh--I couldn't wait until they were cool before trying a piece. As soon as I cut them up (you cut them pretty much right out of the oven) I tried to wrestle out a small piece. That turned into four pieces. And it was good.

Chocolate Shortbread

I will have to say the chocolate flavor was nice but it wasn't this big POW of chocolate like I had envisioned. But I'm not really complaining. They are oh so good.