Thursday, July 16, 2009

Joelf's Peanut Buttercream Cake

Joelf finally caught up to Cookie and I and now we're all the same age. So we had to celebrate!

joelf and his birthday cake

July 11, 2009
Name of Cake: Peanut Butter Karaoke Cake!
Occasion: Joelf's 36th Birthday
Constituents: two 9 in rounds of RLB's chocolate butter cake filled and frosted with RLB's Peanut Buttercream

This is the third cream-cheese peanut butter cream I have made. The first one, for Joelf's 31st birthday, was too peanut buttery and not cream cheesy enough. The second time was for Jeremy's birthday last year and it wasn't peanut buttery enough. This time it was just right.

This recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum's new cookbook, Rose's Heavenly Cakes. It doesn't come out until September but breadbasketcase has an advanced copy and has been baking (and blogging) her way through the book. She posted this recipe when she used it to frost a spice cake. Reading BBC's Heavenly Cake Place blog has me chomping at the bit for this new book of Rose's!

joelf's birthday cake

Especially because this frosting is so good. It is rich, which I think is unavoidable with peanut buttery desserts, but it is also light, fluffy, and wonderfully creamy. Curiously, there are a few teaspoons of sour cream in the frosting. It seemed so little. I'm not sure how it contributed. This frosting is blended in a food processor which was so easy and took so little time I got all three batches made before the cakes were even halfway through baking. Nice! (I tripled the recipe to have enough to fill and frost the cake with about 2-2.5 cups leftover.)

Joelf, who has eaten all three frostings, proclaimed this version to be the winner. Hooray!

There isn't anything new to say about the cakes, as I have been baking this exact recipe for four years now and can practically do it in my sleep. I will say that as much as I experiment with other chocolate cake recipes I always come back to RLB's. There just isn't anything like it!

joelf's birthday cake

Joelf arranged a karaoke birthday party, which was unbelievably fun. There is a place in town called Voicebox, which has several private rooms for karaoke parties. Apparently this is how karaoke in done in Japan, and I find it much better than going to a bar and having to sing in front of total strangers who expect you to be able to actually sing. In a private room, the only people who have to listen to you are the people who already know that you can't sing. Plus, everybody picked such great songs that we all ended up singing and dancing along.

Excellent cake. Amazingly awesome party. Best friend and roommate ever!

joelf's birthday party!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Happy Engraduation Party

My roommate and his partner decided to get engaged, then his partner graduated from college, then he went back to the Dominican Republic. All in about one month. So before the Dominican left, we threw them a Graduation/Engagement party. We tried many graduation/engagement word mash-ups like Engagiation and Graduagement, but the one that stuck was Engraduation.

Of course, the party was also about saying goodbye to the Dominican, who has to remain in his home country for the next two years as per the agreement of the scholarship he was awarded. But we didn't want to emphasize that aspect.

My roommate commissioned me to bake a couple of cakes: one to celebrate the graduation and one to celebrate the engagement.

the boys with their cakes

June 13, 2009
Name of Cakes: Happy Engraduation!
Occasion: A Graduation, and an Engagement
Constituents: A 10 inch, 2 layer, round white cake filled and frosted with swiss meringue buttercream, and a 10 inch, 2 layer, square chocolate cake filled and frosted with swiss meringue buttercream

These were the fourth and fifth cakes I had baked in three weeks, so after these were done I also said, DONE!

The first step was to calculate all my ingredients. For the round cake this wasn't a problem, but the square cake? How do I figure out how much batter fills a square cake?

Thank god for that Cake Bible. Rose has EVERYTHING in there!


I decided that since the square cake volume wasn't much less than a 12x2 round, I decided to use the recipe for that. The extra batter could make a nice little snack for the baker and roommate later on.

Somehow, I was able to mix up the batter for a two 12x2 rounds when I made the bottom tier of Julie and Noah's wedding cake. Since I didn't make any mention of the shenanigans that went on when I did that, I assumed that I was able to mix up the batter in my KitchenAid. So I did just that.

cool chocolaty spiral

Do you guys see a problem here? There's a cool chocolaty spiral from trying to mix in the chocolate/egg mix, but trying is the key word. Apparently the batter for two 12x2 round cakes is a bit much for a 4 quart KitchenAid. I wonder how the heck I mixed up that wedding cake tier last fall.

The leftover batter got baked up in this little 3-tier wedding cake mold my roommate gave me many years ago. I hastily leveled the cooled layers and glazed them in the last of Brains's chocolate frosting, which incidentally makes a better glaze than a fudgy frosting.

goofy little tiered cake

The title of this photo is "goofy little tiered cake." That pretty much sums it up.

The white cake sailed along smoothly, mainly because the batter fit nicely in the mixing bowl and the cake rounds in my oven. The 10 inch square pans, by the way, just barely fit in the oven, but fit they did.

Next up was the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. Martha's recipe makes 4 cups of frosting and I calculated that I would need about 12 cups. Luckily I did remember that a double recipe fits in my KitchenAid, and that I liked the frosting with 25% less sugar than called for. For some stupid reason I decided to make the single batch first and it was already close to midnight the night before the party. After filling and almost having enough to frost the white cake, I debated with my roommate's brother on whether or not I should make the second batch now (at 1 am) or the next day (the day of the party). He was polite enough to ask me decision-making questions but the look of concern on his face convinced me to forge ahead and make the double batch of frosting. Luckily, it seemed to come together faster than the single batch and I completed both cakes, boxed them up and went to bed.

My roommate and I had talked previously about how he would like the cakes decorated. We decided that the engagement cake would have flowers. He had bought this life-sized cardboard mortar board to use, and it turned out to be the perfect size for the graduation cake. Saturday I ran around town buying flowers, a giant particle board to hold both cakes, and a ton of decorative foil. The day was hot and I was sweaty; I knew the buttercream would hold but I worried about how long it would hold. When I returned home I grabbed some more things, some leftover yellow ribbon from Julie and Noah's wedding, and headed to the party site. (The cakes were already there.)

The cakes were intact yet the frosting was VERY soft. As I attached the ribbon to the circular cake, it got greasy and didn't lay flat and pretty much looked terrible. However there wasn't much I could do at that point. I used tarragon to line the cake plates, and a bunch of bright flowers as a cake topper. My favorite find were the monkey tails. Look how awesome they were (they are the curly looking things):

cake, flowered

The mortar board on the graduation cake turned out pretty awesome too.

When it came time to cut and serve the cake, Joelf's brother brought it out to where the men were sitting. Cookie's sister got a little video of it:

Everybody made sweet speeches toasting the two men and their success, their love, and their future. Many tears were shed, and we drowned them in cake.

the boys with their cakes

I am going to use this moment to point out how ridiculous and unacceptable it is that this upcoming wedding that we are celebrating isn't legally possible in this country. That these two men who love each other very much and have chosen to be in a committed, monogamous relationship to each other might still be something to hide. I certainly hope that by the time this couple returns to the US in two years this country will have its shit sorted out, and the only problems these two might face as they get married is the issue of the Dominican's foreign status, not his gender.

Regardless, we will be there, probably making more sweet toasts that cause us to drown our tears in wedding cake. Congratulations to my lovely men, for all that they have created and for all the adventures to come!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Strawberry Tarts

This is to keep you all busy until I finish the blog post about the cakes I baked on June 13.

Sour Cream Ganache-Cooked Strawberry Puree Tart

Late June, 2009
Name of Tarts: Ode to the Strawberry, two variations
Occasion: Strawberry Season!
Constituents: Jamie Oliver's short crust, whipped vanilla mascarpone and cream, fresh strawberries, dark chocolate, leftover sour cream ganache, cooked strawberry puree (not quite jam)

Version One: 11 inch tart, short crust, whipped vanilla mascarpone and cream, dark chocolate, and fresh strawberries.

Annmarie gave me a copy of Jamie's Italy for my birthday and one Saturday I sat down and read the book from cover to cover. There are lots of super yummy foods to try, but of course, what really got my attention were the few desserts Jamie had at the end. One of them was for a blackberry tart.

trip to sauvie island

I didn't have blackberries, but I did have ruby-red, succulent and juicy strawberries just waiting to be loved. It is, to me, such a sad thing that strawberry season is so short, for this berry is such a understated beauty. A strawberry speaks of simplicity, of the bright possibilities that the beginning of summer holds. It is homey, tart, and unassuming. The last of the strawberries are being nabbed at the local farmer's markets while the raspberries--always a little louder and demanding of attention, in my opinion--have already taken the stage in raucous little seedy numbers.

Jamie's short crust looked really easy and contained curious little extras, like vanilla seeds and lemon zest. The liquid was either water or cream, your choice. Such mellow directions.

Despite my terrible habit of playing with my pastry dough too much, this crust came out all right. It was still what Jamie likes to call "short" which I assume he means "like shortbread." I am not a supertaster, so I really couldn't detect the vanilla in the crust at all, but the little black speckles are always neat to see.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart

After blind baking, I grated some dark chocolate over the crust and smoothed it out to create a waterproof seal, hoping to keep the crust from getting soggy and giving the tart a nice little chocolate pow. I mean, who doesn't love chocolate and strawberries?

The mascarpone gets beaten up with a cup of cream, more vanilla seeds, and sugar. Jamie calls for light cream, but I had an excess of heavy whipping cream so I used that instead. And made butter, again. It's this brand of heavy cream! It is two seconds away from being butter all on its own, I swear!

So the mascarpone cream was really tasty but had a slightly chunky texture. Oh well.

After smoothing the cream in the cooled tart shell, I sliced up my beautiful little strawberries and placed them over the top.

Fairly easy peasy! And fairly tasty!

Next time I would like a thicker layer of chocolate--I never got that chocolate pow I was hoping for. And I wouldn't make butter. When the blackberries come around, I am planning on adding orange zest to the cream. I love the combination of blackberries, vanilla, and orange. Yum.

Version Two: Two-person Tart with Sour Cream Ganache and Cooked Strawberry Puree

I have some of the short crust leftover and decided to make a little tart. I also had Sour Cream Ganache leftover from Noah's birthday cake. And, I had two pints of strawberries that were beginning to turn. So I put them all together.

Sour Cream Ganache-Cooked Strawberry Puree Tart

I sorted out the strawberries and cooked down the non-moldy ones with a little vanilla sugar (the pod was leftover from Tart, Version One), lemon juice and water. After all the berries had basically softened into pulp and the liquid in the pan was thick, I pushed the jammy stuff through a fine mesh sieve to smooth it out. Then I stuck it in the refrigerator to cool and thicken.

I prebaked the tart shell, this time in a little ramekin in my toaster oven. It worked out pretty well!

One the shell had cooled down a bit but was still warm, I scraped the leftover sour cream ganache into the shell. I wanted the warmth of the shell to soften the ganache, which had been living in my refrigerator since Noah's party. I had enough to fill the tart about 3/4 full. Then I topped it off with as much of the strawberry puree as that tart could hold, and refrigerated it for a couple of days. (I was aiming for just a couple of hours, but it took me awhile to get back to it.)

By the time I pulled the tart out to sample, the jammy stuff had thickened nicely and was shiny and deep red. I realised that there was no way I was going to get that tart shell out of the ramekin without creating a disaster, so I took a spoon to it and dug in. Straight out of the refrigerator the crust was quite hard and the flavors a bit muted, so I waited about 20 minutes for everything to warm up and soften.

I tell you, it was pretty darn good. The strawberry jammy stuff was bright and rich with flavor, and it contrasted nicely with the tangy sour cream ganache. I think in some ways, I liked this tart much better. I sure finished it on my own, instead of bringing it to Cookie's house to share with her and her husband. What can I say? It was good!

Sour Cream Ganache-Cooked Strawberry Puree Tart

I still have enough crust leftover for one more little tart...not sure what I will try this time!