Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Dad!

Whew, this post just barely made it in before it's no longer even my dad's birth MONTH. As it is, it's 3 weeks since it passed and I made this cake, but better late than never, right?

One of my favorite things about baking is being able to create something special for the people I love - my friends and family. My parents are hands-down my biggest fans, and my dad lately has been known to start telling complete strangers about how his daughter is attending the French Culinary Institute. When it came time for his birthday, I was excited to make something extra special and new just for him. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of asking him what kind of cake he'd like, to which he replied he had been hoping for red velvet. I'm sort of sick of red velvet, and I had wanted to make something just for him.

Chef Cynthia had given our class the most awesome chocolate cake recipe that our class devoured the scraps of when they were set out. I knew I wanted to use this as my base, and decided to also use chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries as filling and chocolate Swiss buttercream to cover the cake. In short, this cake was awesome. My dad really liked it too, hopefully even more than the red velvet.

I haven't really shared a recipe in a while, but you MUST make this chocolate cake. I'm not a huge chocolate fan (although my classmates who have seen me eat pounds of chocolate might disagree), and this has become one of my absolute favorite cakes. It's so moist, so delicious, and so easy to make.

Chocolate Cake Recipe

2 1/4 c cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c butter (1 stick), room temperature
2 1/4 c light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 c sour cream
1/2 c hot brewed coffee
1/2 c hot water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8" cake pans and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
2. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add brown sugar, better well until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and mix well.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating at low speed until blended after each addition.
5. Pour hot coffee and water over chocolate. Stir until all chocolate is melted. Whisk in sour cream until smooth.
6. Alternate adding the dry ingredients (3 additions) with the wet (2 additions), starting and ending with the dry mixture.
7. Pour in prepared pans. Bake at 350 until cake tests done (Cake should start to come away from sides of the pan and a skewer inserted should come out dry).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Start of Level 2: Weeks 21-22 Chocolate

Chocolate fruit cake with chocolate leaves

Level 2 started with chocolate. I've never been much of a chocolate die-hard, and given the choice between chocolate and vanilla, I would choose vanilla any day. That fact didn't stop me from eating probably pounds of chocolate during the 2 weeks we spent on the first chocolate unit.

Somehow my ID got dipped in chocolate without me realizing

Before we could do anything, we needed to learn about chocolate. We got to try a bunch of different types of chocolate, including a 99% cacao chocolate. You can't even imagine how bitter that was. I used to be a strictly milk and white chocolate person, but in the past couple years, my tastes have changed and I've developed a real appreciation for dark chocolate.

Chocolate Orange Truffles

After learning about the history and manufacturing process of chocolate, it was time to move on to tempering chocolate. Tempering chocolate is the process of melting and cooling chocolate to a certain temperature then creating the proper structure required for chocolate to be hard and strong when it sets. It sounds easy, but it took a while for a lot of us to catch on to the process. And it was really, really messy.

The mess of working with chocolate was the primary reason I disliked it so much. After every class, I would leave totally covered in chocolate. We did get to make some pretty cool things with it though. Our first project was was a box that was entirely made of chocolate and held chocolate orange truffles we hand-dipped. We also made a bow on top, also out of chocolate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend

The first official day of summer isn't until next week, but to me, the start of summer is always Memorial Day Weekend. I went home to the Jersey Shore for MDW and did a lot of baking. I had a couple free days, a few barbeques, and a lot of new recipes I wanted to try out.

First on my agenda was a fondant-covered cake. I've struggled with fondant for a long time now and felt this was a good opportunity to practice being as I had a birthday party barbeque to go to. The cake was a yellow cake (not a good enough recipe to repeat, so I won't include it here) with a chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream (my new favorite type of icing). I used a new fondant sold at Michaels by Duff of Ace of Cakes fame. I LOVE how Michael's is really beefing up their cake decorating aisle. Every time I go in there, there's more and more stuff I want to buy. Anyway, this new fondant tastes a lot better than the usual brand I use, but it's so much more expensive. $20 for 2 lbs whereas I usually pay about $15 for 5 lbs.

I made the bow loops out of sugar paste on floral wire. I'm slowly getting better at working with fondant, but have a longgggg way to go still, and not enough time to practice.

The cheating/bonus tart

I also made a strawberry cream cheese tart. The dough for the tart was a shortbread, which made it very difficult to work with. The recipe makes it sound like you can just roll it out and move it to the tart ring, but as soon as you picked it up, it broke. I found it worked best by pressing it into the tart mold. Once the shell was blind baked and cooled, it was filled with a cream cheese custard. If I made this again, I'd add a little bit of gelatin to the custard to give it a bit more stability. The strawberry compote was pretty straight forward. The recipe makes way more than 1 tart's worth of custard and compote, so my mom had a pre made (store-bought) Oreo pie shell that I just threw the extra custard and compote in that. Not my preferred method, but better than wasting the extra ingredients.

Original Tart

I also made an orange glow chiffon cake. I love chiffon cakes. They sound so retro to me, but they're so moist and delicious. This one was a huge pain in the butt because it stuck in my bundt pan (lessons learned - I should have listened to my mom and sprayed the pan), but well-worth the effort being as I ate it for breakfast for the next 3 days. The recipe didn't have an icing, but I mixed up a really simple glaze with just orange juice and powdered sugar and poured it over the top of the cake. The glaze was pretty thin so you can't really see it in the picture.

I had planned on also making a key lime coconut cheesecake, but as usual, I didn't budget my time very well and being as I also wanted to sleep over that weekend, the cheesecake had to be nixed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wedding Cake!

Last month, one of my best friends got married. It was just a small civil-ceremony, and they're having a larger wedding reception next July, but I wanted to mark the occasion with a traditional wedding cake.

I frequently struggle with the distance between my ideas and my skill level. In my mind, I had a very specific idea of how I wanted this cake to look. I think that my first mistake was using an American-style cream cheese frosting, as opposed to a meringue buttercream. I've noticed in school that the Swiss or Italian meringue buttercreams provide a lot more stability than frostings made just by combining butter with powdered sugar. The cake was red velvet and I love cream cheese frosting with it, but next time I'm going to opt for a different buttercream. I also need a lot more work with fondant, and there were places it showed on this cake. Fortunately, I was able to cover a lot of the worst mistakes with the fondant cut outs.

Overall though, I was pleased with the way it came out though, and I was so happy to be part of this day. Congratulations guys!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Midterm Cakes: Level 1 Completed!

The midterm for the program involved a pretty in-depth written exam and a practical exam. For the practical exam, we picked a cake type out of a hat that told us what cake flavor, filling, and covering we had to use. On the creative side, we were tasked to make a celebration cake for any occasion.

I happened to know in advance that one of my best friends was getting engaged while away on a cruise with her boyfriend. They got back the day of my midterm, and I thought it would be nice to text them a picture of a "Congratulations Kate & Adam" engagement cake upon returning to the US, newly engaged.My cake selection was chocolate sponge cake with buttercream (I chose peanut butter) and chocolate glaze. Not really wanting to make a brown cake, I tested out a white chocolate version first, but it wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, so I decided to use the dark chocolate glaze for the exam. The second version came out MUCH better. I also spelled "Congratulations" wrong on the first cake. Ooopsss.

The cakes my classmates came up with were SO impressive. Enjoy the photos below!

My Midterm Cake

Side view - really tough to get those sides perfectly smooth

Canada Day Cake

Las Vegas Cake - Check out the detail on the sign!

One classmate does really beautiful Japanese lettering on a lot of projects

Day of the Dead Cake

A classmate is obsessed with Disney - her Disneyland anniversary cake came out really amazingly

21st Birthday Roulette Cake

Fleet Week was the week of our midterm

Cinco de Mayo Cake

Really adorable level of detail on this cake - check out the mini croissants on the side and tiny eggs on the top

Hello Kitty Birthday Cake

Friday, June 4, 2010

Weeks 19 & 20: Cakes 2

So Level 1 has come and gone, and I'm already 2 weeks into Level 2! It's been such a busy few weeks for me, and I've been unable to post much here. At the moment, it's no less than 80 degrees in my apartment and with my hotter laptop in lap, I'm going to try to keep this brief. A notoriously difficult thing for me to do.

The first item for Cakes 2 was a buche noel, the traditional Christmas cake. Funny story, this year for my company bake off, my cookie dough cupcakes were beat by a buche noel. Making this made me feel vindicated.

No buche noel is complete without marzipan robins and meringue mushrooms

A fraisier is a cake made in a ring mold with strawberries, a sponge cake, a chiboust (pastry cream-based buttercream), and a layer of green marzipan. It always says "Fraisier" on it, and the first time I wrote it on the cake, I spelled it wrong. Oops.

The next cake was a really awesome lemon chiffon with lemon curd (one of my favorite things) and buttercream. We practiced our basketweave technique, and I used the opportunity to practice my marzipan modeling skills. I think whales on cakes are about as cute as it gets.

The white cake was my favorite cake of the unit. It tastes exactly like it came from a box. And I mean that in the best way possible. I'm obviously all about baking from scratch, but boxed cakes are delicious. There's no denying that. This cake was filled and covered with a peach buttercream and covered in marzipan.

I had never had black forest cake before, but it had a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, cherries, and whipped cream. Not bad, but I found it kind of dry.

Carrying the next two cakes home on the subway one night, I have never felt more popular. I had a board with 2 cheesecakes and the pistachio roulade and entered the subway just as all the Yankees fans were coming home from the game. On a subway car with 50 hungry guys, I had numerous inquiries about the cakes. I think I'm just going to carry cheesecake wherever I go.

This cake was a chocolate roulade with pistachio cream in it and rolled up. The cake is then stood upright. We covered the whole thing with fondant, mine was blue and purple marbled fondant.

I'll be putting up the pictures from our midterm soon. The task was to create a special occasions cake, and my classmates did a really spectacular job with some of the cakes they made.

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