Sunday, November 06, 2005

cake is complicated

Natasa and I had a birthday party last night, which was a great success. I made two cakes for the event, a chocolate-mocha cake and a vegan chocolate cake. Although they turned out well in the end, the process of baking them was full of angst and woe!
  1. Wrong chocolate. I picked up a pound of Callebaut baking chocolate from a gourmet grocery near work last week. This is a good deal if you're using a lot of chocolate (which I was), as it's better than the packaged Ghiradhelli baking chocolate, and is usually about 2/3s the price. The label said "dark bitter chocolate", and when I asked someone at the store, they assured me that it was unsweetened. No worries. So, of course, when I chipped off a chunk on Saturday morning, it was bittersweet, which was not going to work at all. Very very annoying! After walking around my neighborhood for a while trying to find anywhere with baking chocolate better than Bakers, I gave up and took the subway downtown to return the erroneous chocolate. Reading Julie & Julia (which I'll review in a later posting) on the train helped my mood a bit, as did the farmer's market at Union Square where I got a really good apple and a really good sourdough baguette. There are beautiful baby potatoes available now, perfect for roasting in butter and olive oil! Must get some next week! Anyway, the store was perfectly happy to take the chocolate back, and I got some expensive but convenient Ghiradhelli instead. (I really gotta find a good baking-supply place in the city, where I can get decent flour and chocolate and stuff like that...) So, that was the first catastrophe, averted at the cost of a couple of hours of time...
  2. Bad evaporated milk. I had a can of evaporated milk in the cupboard for one of the frostings. When I opened it, however, it was turned. I had no idea that canned milk could turn, but it was definitely Not Right. Isn't the whole point of canning to make stuff that lasts unto perpetuity? Replacing this did not require a trip to the city, fortunately...
  3. Flakey oven. We've got this great stove, with 5 burners and an extra-wide oven. However, the thermostat is, uh, eccentric. As in, 350 degrees could be anywhere from 340 to 380, and it'll change whenever it feels like it, thank you very much. So, the vegan cake was a little dry, as it spend most of its baking time at 375 before I caught it... Ah well.
  4. Cake flour substitution mistake. Baking is, of course, an exact science, where proportions are critically important. I, of course, fucked up the main cake by making an ill-advised substitution. The recipe says "all-purpose flour", so I, of course, said "Hey! All-purpose flour? That's for lightweights! I'm gonna get me some cake flour and use that instead!" So, cake flour instead of all-purpose flour, and when I finish the batter, it's more like batter soup. Cake batter's normally thin, but this was like the prison-camp gruel of cake batters. I baked it, and it rose and solidified, but was exceedingly moist. This caused the layers to crumble when I tried to cut and transport them. As a result, the cake was held together with frosting a little more than it should have been. The problem, as it turned out, and as would have known had I paid attention, is that cake flour can't be substituted one-for-one in cake recipes, but you need about 15% more by sifted volume. Perhaps next year I'll remember...
A couple of Natasa's friends did a completely brilliant job decorating the cakes for us, as you can see (with crappy color courtesy of my cell phone...):

The Sour-Cream Chocolate Layers, Fudge Frosting, and Mocha Buttercream from Rosie's.

The Vegan Chocolate Cake from New Joy with a vegan buttercream frosting off the net.


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