Archive for October, 2009

Another month has come and gone, and the kitchen has not seen much action in October.  With training at work and a week’s vacation in France, I managed to barely scrape out this months Daring Baker’s challenge from the Daring Kitchen.

Macarons were the name of the game.  I was a little disappointed because I’ve made them a couple times before, and the point of this blog is to learn new things.  But in making them again, I’ve come to find that I could definitely spend more time perfecting these delicious french cookies.

Originally, I thought it would be a lot of fun to make the macarons during my visit to France.  My sister, whom I was visiting, didn’t think it sounded like a good idea.  And once there, I agreed with her because her kitchen is tiny (and, ahem, quite messy).

Therefore, I made the macarons the day after I got home from France.  I thought they would be a nice little gift for the coworkers who covered my shifts while I was away.  I had brought a couple bags of almond powder back with me and used them in addition to the few bags I already had.  And I made sure to study (consume) macarons while in France.

I’ve made vanilla macarons and pistachio macarons before.  I have numerous french patisserie cookbooks that I’ve brought back from my many trips to France and translated a few recipes.  It’s quite a bit of work.  And ironically enough, the best recipe I have for macarons is the one from Martha Stewart.  I used that recipe along with the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site to make a variety of macarons.

I basically just doubled the recipe and split the batter evenly to make pistachio, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and pumpkin macarons.  The vanilla ones turned out to have the truest consistency to a french macaron, probably because it involved the least amount of folding and mixing.  The other variations had additional ingredients added like pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice, instant espresso powder, pistachios, and cocoa powder.  I had to mix those batches more thoroughly to incorporate those flavors, therefore causing some of the egg whites that I had folded in to deflate.

I also had a lot of trouble with the baking.  Some of the vanilla shells didn’t harden up so I had to bake them longer, the pumpkin shells never got a hard outer texture, and I simply forgot the chocolate shells which burned terribly and were inedible.

None of my shells obtained “feet,” as they call it.  Maybe it was the tray I baked them on.  Maybe I over-beat the egg whites.  I don’t know.  But I definitely need to try making these again, when I’m not jetlagged and rushed.

I filled the macarons with frosting flavored appropriately to the shells.  At least they tasted good, except the burnt chocolate ones.

Grade: C


Read Full Post »

This is the exciting lesson I was talking about in Lesson 8; lots of firsts.

First of all, my fondant cherry, nicely colored red and made out of sugar paste, has been popped.  Secondly, there is a first and last time for everything, and fondant may be on the latter list.  I won’t discount it completely, but I’m not too fond of fondant.

To fill you in, my grandpa’s birthday (a big one, but I won’t reveal age) was approaching and my mom came to me to discuss how we would make it extra special.  My grandpa, I’m sure, would rather skip his birthday entirely, just delete the day from the calendar.  Though I sympathize, he is not old and therefore a birthday celebration cannot be bypassed.  My grandparents are probably more active and in shape than a lot of people my age are!

My aunt Kay suggested that I make a bull cake.  Hmm… an idea.  But I couldn’t just make the head, it would have to be the bull standing up.  Or upon further thinking, my grandpa watches the western channel all the time.  Maybe I could make a TV cake, complete with antenna and remote, with a sugar printed image of John Wayne.  But the winning idea, straight from the left side of my brain (or is it the right side that houses creativity?), was a golf bag cake with a stand so that it would lean.

This cake was to be special in two ways.  One:  I wanted my grandpa to really enjoy it, have it be something that he remembers and causes him to recall good times with family.  Because the best aftertaste of a cake is the memories of whom it was shared with.  Two:  I was going to attempt a cake in which I had never tried before.  In the words of Duff Goldman, I was going to “make it bigger, make it badder, make it awesome.”

After hours spent of studying, which means watching a lot of Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Challenge, and Ultimate Cake-Off, I was ready to put my idea into motion.  A sketch was drawn up and the pantry was stocked.  I decided to go with the good ol’ chocolate cake and yellow cake recipes that my mom and I use religiously.  They’re delicious and I didn’t want to compromise flavor.  Normally, big cakes are made with pound cake, or any other kind of cake that could, literally, take a beating.

The portion of the cake that I decided to trust the masters on was the icing and frosting.  This cake would be too large to store in the refrigerator the night before it was served, so I needed a frosting that would be okay in room temperature.  In addition to multiple hours glued to Food Network and TLC, I bought a couple books on cake decorating.  The Culinary Institute of America, one of the best culinary schools in the world, had a book of recipes and techniques.  I’ve self-studied one of their books on baking science (basically chemistry on ingredient reactions to eachother) and thought it was excellent, so I put my trust in them again and was not disappointed.  They provided me with the recipe for buttercream frosting and modeling chocolate.

The cakes were made Tuesday and Wednesday (3 1/2  batches) and frozen for a few days.  I did the other prep work on Friday, which involved cutting the cardboard rounds to size and cutting the cakes accordingly, and also making fondant from scratch, using Wilton‘s recipe.  Those who know me know that I NEVER use pre-made or boxed mixtures.

I put my blood, sweat, and tears into that fondant.  Not literally of course, but I sure was sweating and swearing profusely.  After spending about half an hour mixing up the ingredients (including disgusting things like glucose, glycerin, and powdered animal bones, AKA gelatin, which I think is one of the nastiest things ever), I kneaded that damn thing for over an hour and a half.  And because the cake was going to be so large, I doubled the recipe, making it even harder to knead due to its size.  Even after all that time spent on it, I couldn’t get all of the 4 pounds of powdered sugar incorporated in.  I just hoped it would be good enough and not too sticky.

Saturday morning, my day to sleep in, I got up at 7:30 am.  The night before was just like Christmas Eve.  I was restless with excitement about decorating the cake.  I whipped up the buttercream (1 1/2 recipes of vanilla and 1 recipe of chocolate, totaling 2 1/2 pounds of butter, which caused major drooling from my golden retriever) and split each cake in half, preparing them to be stacked.  All together, the cake had three tiers, same in diameter but separated so that they wouldn’t succumb to gravity and sink, which amounted to 14 layers, alternating between chocolate and yellow cake, chocolate and vanilla buttercream.  I cut dowels and placed them in the bottom two tiers for support.

Once all the tiers were stacked, the cake stood an impressive 13 inches tall.  I crumb coated it with vanilla buttercream and prepared the fondant by kneading it some more (I have a theory that Popeye didn’t get strong from spinach, but by kneading fondant) and colored it blue.  My hands were also colored blue in the process and I flashed back to that episode of Ramona, based on the books by Beverly Cleary, where she dyed her hands blue.  I thought it was with liquid detergent or something, but I can’t remember.  I’m sure my sister knows what I’m talking about.

Fondant was just as hard to roll out as it was to knead.  It was dry and cracked.  After two unsuccessful attempts to roll it out large enough to cover a 13-inch tall cake, I did the unthinkable and added some water to the fondant.  Yes, water dissolves sugar, but rubbing a little vegetable shortening into it wasn’t helping.  And you know what?  Water totally helped!  I rolled out a piece, deciding just to roll out the back and front separately in hopes that I could smooth them out without too much notice, and draped it over the cake.  I managed to cover it with two pieces but it wasn’t very pretty.  But after all the work, and money on ingredients, my fondant was going on the cake, dammit!  (Shhh… I also smoothed out the cracks and pieces with water, which again proved to be very helpful).

That concluded my Saturday.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but splitting the cakes, cutting the dowels, filling, refrigerating, stacking, and covering was very time consuming.  I had my work cut out for me on Sunday.

First thing I did the next morning was make the modeling chocolate.  They had to set up in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Then I looked at the cake and was not too pleased with the cracks and disfiguration of the fondant.  Everything is fixable, so my solution was to paint the fondant which would conceal some of those flaws.  I got out my new paint brushes and painted it with food coloring gel paste in an argyle design.  I also put my parents to work.  My mom was in charge of making the royal icing and washing dishes (I told her it was because I didn’t have time to wash them, but I just really dislike washing dishes).  My dad was in charge of making the bull headcover once I made the rice crispy treats.  That was a little trick that I learned from Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes.  The treats would be covered in modeling chocolate.  It’s not cheating since they’re still edible (and they were my brother’s favorite part to the cake).

Time out.  You may be wondering why one of the edible golf clubs would have a bull headcover.  My grandpa is nicknamed “Bull” because my sister couldn’t pronounce his real name, Bill.  Bull dislikes birthdays and getting older, and being called “Grandpa” definitely made him feel old.  I also put the name “Bull” on the cake.

After the cake was entirely painted and the golf clubs were molded out of rice crispy treats and covered in modeling chocolate, I realized that I had an hour and a half before party time.  I went into hyper mode, running around the kitchen and multitasking like crazy.  The cake stand wasn’t even constructed yet.  I tore my dad away from his computer games and brought out the power tools.  We made the cake stand out of some scrap wood that the employee at Lowes gave us for free and some wooden dowels.  I had my mom inside coloring the royal icing green.  I really felt like I was on Ultimate Cake-Off.

I got the cake on the stand and prayed that it was leaning enough to let gravity take over and hold it back in place.  Then I covered the “legs” of the bag with modeling chocolate.  And other visible wood on the stand was covered with royal icing.  I finished just as my grandparents car pulled in the driveway.

Bull walked in and looked at the cake, really examined it, and was speechless.  It was probably the best reaction I could have gotten.  He was so happy with it and it really set off the celebration.  Of course I’ll remember the cake, I’m really proud of what I accomplished, but what I’ll remember most is a wonderful day with family, laughing, joking, and being merry.  Too sweet for you?  Too bad!  This is a baking blog, it’s supposed to be sweet.

Golf bag cake grade:  A+

Read Full Post »