Thursday, April 23, 2015


For those following closely, I apologize, baking has been put on hold for a few days, while life intrudes....please bear with me, and this cake will get baked!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

They think I've lost my Marbles....

Well, it's been a bit of time since I last had a successful cake.  The last one was a flop really.  It didn't get finished.  But, as they say, when you fall off the horse, you get back on.  So, we drew another prospective cake tonight...and it's Marble Cake on page 138 from the book Close Up on Cakes.

The first thing I did was read through the recipe, and make sure I had the correct pan to use; and I do.

That said, let's move into the recipe, shall we.  Once again, text from the book will be in italics and my snarky comments will be in regular face type.

Cake batter:
3/4 Cup (6 oz/185g) butter 
1 1/2 Cups (12 oz/375g) sugar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract (side note here, with all the baking going on, I ran out of Vanilla Extract.  You see, I prefer to make my own.  It's quite simple; Bottle of Vodka, and a whole mess 'o Vanilla beans (10 actually) of the best you can afford.  Split the beans, and feed them into the Vodka.  Close it up, and let sit for 6 weeks in a cool dark spot.  Shake every week or so.  So, I have some made up, the problem, it won't be ready for 6 I broke down and bought some; darn!
3 eggs
2 Cups (8 oz/250g) self-rising flour See previous posts on how to make your own self-rising flour.
Pinch of salt
3/4 Cup (6floz/185ml) milk
1 drop Red food coloring
1 drop Red + 1 drop  Blue food coloring, combined
1 drop Green food coloring
1 drop Red + 1 drop Yellow food coloring, combined

Okay, that screeching sound was my brakes.  Sure this comes from the Fantasy section, but the only way I am using food coloring is in some delusional fantasy:  Some quick and dirty research tells us Food Dyes, or Colorings aren't really that good for us, and may, note my use of the word May be dangerous for us. Some may have heard that Red #40 as it is known in some industries is pretty bad, but the one that caught my attention was Green (my favorite color) food coloring has been banned in most European Countries.  If you have read my earlier posts, I try to stay as true to the recipe as possible.  In my Coconut cake, Red food coloring was called for, to color the coconut a pinkish color for topping.  I opted out of that with no real effects.

The quandary I'm in, is that this cake is supposed to be different colors.  The colorings, don't impart any real flavors to the cake, they are just visual.  So do I opt out, or try for natural colorings.  Red (Beets or Strawberry (don't be so quick to judge now, almost assuredly, the sugar used in this recipe came and comes from beets, not cane)); Blue (Blueberry), Yellow (Turmeric) and Green (spinach or chlorophyll)

This sounds like  a challenge....due to the visual nature of this cake (the marbling comes from the different colors, otherwise it would just be a play vanilla cake.  Decision made, I'm going to use the Natural methods of coloring. Now back to the recipe:

1/2 Cup (4oz/125g) Butter
2 1/2 Cups (14oz/440g) confectioners sugar
Ribbon for Decorating

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180C/Gas 4.)  Butter a 9x5 inch (23x12cm) loaf pan.
Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes.)
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Fold in the flour and salt in 3 batches alternately with the milk, starting and finishing with the flour.  I think they mean to combine the salt and flour, then alternate that mixture with the least that's the way I'll approach it.
Divide the batter into 5 equal portions.  Leaving 1 portion uncolored, tint the remaining 4 portions ping, mauve, pale green and apricot.
Drop alternating spoonfuls of each portion in the prepared pan until all the mixture is used.  Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Icing: Beat the butter until smooth, about 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the sugar 1/3 C (3oz/90g) at a time, mixing until smooth.  If the icing is too soft to use, refrigerate until firm, about 10 - 15 minutes.  When cake is cool, cover with the icing and tie decoratively with the ribbon.

Okay, I don't think I'll be tying any ribbon on my cake unless it's a Fondant ribbon. I like to keep my cakes edible, and it appears that the ribbon is not part of the flavor profile, so I feel justified in removing it.

So, after the last fiasco, I have read over this recipe 3 - 4 times, trying to find holes, and it looks pretty straight forward.  Lift will come from the self rising flour, and the batter will be sufficiently dry to allow for a nice moist texture.  We shall see, as the proof is in the baking.

Now, this might take some time, so I plan to work on this for two days. Tomorrow I will work on the natural food colorings, and will definitely report on that.   And Tuesday bake and ice the cake.

What, I almost went and published this without my music selection! Oh the horrors!

So going with the whole antithesis of stuff the government allows, but really isn't good for you; I'm choosing a group that many felt were a danger to a young persons morals, but in turn, put out ton's of great music.  Queen.  In 1978, We Are the Champions came out on 45, and the flip side Or B-Side was We Will Rock you, which for my money was the far better song.  I will probably be able to bake away both days, listening to nothing but Freddie Mercury and Queen.

Life should have it's fun moments, let baking be one of those for you.

Happy Baking all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lemon Layer Cake; and the verdict is...

A test kitchen is just that.  A place to test recipes until they are just right.  This blog, and my kitchen are not test kitchens.

I have to get that through my own head, own it.  Not all the cakes in this book are going to work out, not at least as they are presented.  On this Lemon Layer cake Pg 58 in the book Up Close on Cakes really doesn't work as portrayed.

Let me back up a bit here.  In my last post, I took blame for not using the proper pans, and not following the recipe to the letter.  I still own that error.  Now, the taste testers have weighed in.  The cake is dense, lemony, and the whip cream doesn't lend itself to layering. In fact, two of the taste testers suggested the cake reminded them of sponge cake a little. As I did some research the recipe for this Lemon Layer cake is very similar to some Bouche de Noel or Swiss Roll cake recipes.

Now this cake was a bit stiff for that, but the recipe itself I feel is doomed to be a layer cake at it's very core.

Wet ingredients in baking are:
Lemon Juice
This recipe calls for approximately 1 cup of wet ingredients.
Now the dry ingredients in this recipe are 1 Cup All Purpose Flour.  So we have approximately equal parts Wet and Dry, with only the Eggs as leavening agents.  This cake will not poof up at all.  There won't be the internal crumb structure for a layer cake such as I and most people I know of are used to.

Deep down I really didn't expect every cake to be a home run.  So it shouldn't come as a surprise that this cake struck out.

Across the board, the taste testers' agreed, this cake while tasty, and lemony, just didn't work.

While the recipe may have other applications in different forms, I can safely say I will not re-make this cake (yes, in my earlier post I stated I would try, and follow the recipe with regard to pan size, I simply at this point don't feel that will make a difference large enough to overcome what I see as flaws in the recipe.)

The new plan, is to draw a new cake in a few days and move on from the dust and ashes.

Happy Baking all!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Into every life little booboo's will occur...

So, in going through out cake pans, I couldn't find a 9" round pie pan, and to be honest I didn't want to use the springform pan, and cut it in half like the recipe said.  So I grabbed two 10" pans, and made a double batch....needless to say, it really didn't work out like I planned.

Oh don't get me wrong, it's tasty, just not what I thought it would look like.

Well here are the photos.

 Here is what the cake was supposed to look like...

Here is my double batch of batter, and the two 10" pans all buttered up.....

Notice how they don't fill up the pans...

Well, they didn't puff up much....well they didn't puff up at all.

Okay, so I went through the motions on this, though I must say the whip cream rocked!

At least it tastes good....

Tell you something here, I broke a cardinal rule I have.  Follow the recipe to the letter the first time you make it.  I didn't and this one's on me.

So I will be re-baking in the next day or so, following the recipe to the letter.  It also means, I will be going out and finding baking pans!  I figure I will need (2) 9" round pans, and (1) 8" round pan, that should allow me to make all the cakes in the book.  Perhaps it's the woodworker in me, but the right tools make the job easier.

No excuses, though: Remember to always follow the recipe.

I will update in a day or two when I follow the recipe :(

Keep baking all!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter Sugar high has worn off....finally

We survived.  Chocolate eggs, Pies, and cookies; not to mention the deviled eggs, and pirogi (something I only make on Easter, and Christmas Eve.)  So it's back to Cake.

And what a fitting cake we drew today!  Today being National Siblings Day, and I only have one Sibling, my little brother Richard absolutely adores Lemon.  And the cake we drew was from page 58 of the book Close Up on Cakes: Lemon Layer Cake.

This cake starts off the section Quick and Easy; and with only 7 ingredients it certainly lives up to it's name.  So let's lay this out:

4 eggs (thankfully, the chickens have been helpful in that regard)
1/2 cup (4oz/125g) Sugar
1 cup (4oz/125g) Flour, All Purpose, sifted; hmm another head scratcher when it comes to measurements.  Not quite sure how 4oz can be 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cup of AP Flour....Looks like I'll be going with standard measurements again this time.
4 Tbsp (2oz/60g) Butter, melted
1 Tbsp Lemon zest 
1 - 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Whipped Cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C/Gas 4.) Grease and line a 9-inch (23cm) round cake pan.
Beat together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale and the mixture forms a ribbon.  Fold in the sifted flour in 3 batches, adding the combined butter, lemon zest and lemon juice with the last batch. This is what I call installments.  By adding the flour in 3 batches or installments, it allows all the flour in the mix to become incorporated before the next installment is added; this makes for a softer interior (or crumb) to the cake.
Pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 25- 30 minus or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. This time seems reasonable, though I will still set my timer for 20 minutes and check, simply because my oven runs a bit hot.
Let the caked cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut the cake in half to form 2 semicircles.  Spread one half with whipped cream and top with the other.  Cut into wedges to serve. So, this will only make a half a cake then.  Confusing a bit....there is no photo of the whole cake in the book, just slices.  Though that does make a bit of sense, as by cutting the cake in half, we won't have a whole cake for a photo....

All in all, easy peasy. Now, sticking with the Sibling thing.  My brother was a huge fan of a few different groups while we were growing up, REM and Depeche Mode.  While REM had some great songs, I really didn't get into their b-sides much...while Depeche Mode had a cover of Route 66 that was clearly superior to the A-side "behind the wheel" (I think they were trying to be cute.) So, the baking music will be a mix of REM, and Depeche Mode...not my personal fav's, but at least this cake will bake quickly!

Happy baking all!

Monday, April 6, 2015

No Cake this week...

For all of you looking forward to a new cake being drawn this week, I hate to disappoint.  This week there will be no new cake drawn.  What with Easter Sunday occurring yesterday, and the household becoming inundated with Chocolate, pies, and various assorted goodies (such as a rare showing of Pierogi) I can not in good conscience bake a cake.

I will be holding off, until next Sunday for the drawing.  It is my sincere hope that we can make it through what we have here on hand, and be ready for something new.

Until then.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cake # 2 - Coconut Cake

So yesterday was baking day.  And what a day it was!  Not only was I busy most of the day, and had to find some time to fit in the baking....the weather was wild!  Sunny, then grey, light rain, then hail, Sunshine visited again, followed by Thunderstorms and lightning, and then a soft pitter patter of rain. A mixed bag so to speak.

Thankfully, the baking of this cake was not a mixed bag.  It was pretty simple.

I gathered my place mise en place (fancy cook/french term for get the ingredients ready and in place.) I find this helpful; to know yes, I have everything, and it's all measured out for me.

Nothing fancy, just the cake ingredients.

So, because I was working with Coconut, I had the Caribbean flair going.  Bob Marley was playing in the background, the weather was the weather (thankfully I was inside) and the Coconut smelled heavenly!

I started just as the book suggested, creaming the butter and sugar together.  One catch here; I forgot to put the butter out to come to room temp :( 

Just as 3 Little Birds began to play, telling me "don't worry, every little 'ting, gonna be alright" I remembered a trick with frozen butter and baking.

With frozen butter, use a cheese grater, and grate the butter into the bowl, this warms it and brings it to room temp in minutes, not hours!

So, I creamed the butter now room temp, and began to add my eggs.  Let me take a moment here to talk about ingredients.  You want the freshest best ingredients you can lay your hands on.  I'm not talking about throwing money away, buying the most expensive thing.  Just go for the best you can afford.  Your cake and taste buds will thank you.  

As for eggs, I prefer eggs that come from a known source.  I dislike the term Organic, or Free Range, as they are legal speak for bureaucracies.  I keep Chickens, for the eggs, as they are far superior to anything I can buy in the stores around here.
Of particular note, the yolk of an egg should be Orange, not yellow.  Yellow is the sign of grain fed only chickens.  Chickens that get greens, have Orange yolks.  Better nutrition so I am told, and better tasting (yep, my blog, my opinion.)

There are my girls.  
Ooh look, eggs!

Okay, off my soapbox.  Back to the cake.  So mixed in the eggs one at a time. Then came the strange part of the recipe.  Normally I bake cakes using the "Muffin Method."  This recipe held some of the wet back (Sour Cream, and Heavy Cream) and asked that the dry (Coconut and Self-Rising flour (see the first cake baking blog for how to make Self-Rising flour)) be put into the mix slowly (or over 2 -3 installments.

So in the photo, this is the last installment of Self-Rising flour (Left) Sour Cream (top), Coconut (bottom) and Heavy Cream (Right)

I wondered why do it this way.  My thought is that by adding the ingredients into the mix and thoroughly mixing each together before adding the next, makes for a softer cake.  How so? Well, if the flour gets liquid and fat and each flour particle is coated thus, they won't clump.  This allows for a moister, lighter, softer crumb (the interior of the cake.)  A note here, I didn't use a mixer at this point, you can just see the hand mixer in the background of the photo, that was used in the Butter, Sugar creaming.  Once I started the dry mix, I folded in the ingredients using a wide spatula. Folding is a technique where you slice through the middle of the mass with the spatula, then scoop and fold the half back over.  Turn the bowl, and repeat until all the ingredients are incorporated.  This is more time consuming, but doesn't beat the flour so much that gluten strands are formed.  This in turn also leads to a softer cake.

Oops, I forgot to mention I had pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees F and set the rack to the middle position of the oven.

As I stated a few days back, I have a 9" Springform pan.  So I used that.  Where I deviated from the recipe, was I didn't use any parchment on the bottom.  I just buttered it up as the recipe suggested, and scooped the batter into the pan.  Now a word on the batter.  This batter was thick.  I scooped it out, and smoothed it with a spatula.  Into the oven it went.

Now, the recipe says to bake for 1 hour.  After the first cake was done sooner rather than later; I set my timer for 30 minutes.  Did I expect it to be done; Nope.  It's just good practice to set your timer early and check on the cakes progress.  Why? Well, every oven is different.  It could be my oven runs hot.  It could be their test kitchen ovens ran cold.  No way to know.  I do know that a dirty oven runs cold.  So it takes longer to bake.  I do not want to insinuate that the test kitchen ovens were dirty, please don't read into that.  I just say this so anyone wanting to play along with this, and try making cakes from scratch... clean your ovens!

So the timer went off at 30 minutes, and top had just started to harden up, obviously not ready.  I set another 10 minutes on the timer.

Beep...Beep...Beep the timer sang; 40 minutes in.
Starting to see browning around the edges (and yep, that's a drip pan underneath, I like to keep the oven clean, so if it spilled out or over, the drip tray catches it.

Still not ready, so put another 5 minutes on the timer.  At this stage, I wanted to toothpick test every 5 minutes or so.

50 minutes.  Toothpicks inserted come out clean.  The first test at 45 minutes had some soft spots, that still needed baking.  50 minutes, 5 test sites all clean.  Pulled the cake for resting.

Allowed the cake to rest for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan.  The moment of truth:

Bingo! We have a winner!  sides came out Golden Brown and Delicious (here after known as GBD!)

So I set the timer for 2 hours.  To allow this cake to cool.  By this time, Bob Marley had faded away, and I was into some chill-axing Jimmy Cliff. Now this is an instance where the record labels got it right.  Many Rivers To Cross is a killer song, and it's the A-side.  The b-side to this was Food for Thought while not the song the A-side was, it is an intriguing title.

I have expounded some on food here.  If you have seen any of my other blogs; you will note that I take food seriously (I grow and raise much of what I eat.) This blog was my wife's challenge to me, to get back into writing.  Move out of my comfort zone, and try something new.  It's something we should all do.  And food is the easiest way to do it.  Think about what you like, then think about how you can make it yourself!  Plants want to grow, and don't need much.  If you like tomatoes, get some seed, put it in a pot with dirt, and give it sunlight and water.  It will do the rest.  Have patience, and sometime in July or August, you will have the tastiest tomato you have ever eaten.  

Now in my case, the food for thought comes from Coconut.  While my daughter doesn't like the smell, taste or texture.  I can take it or leave it.  This cake is all about the Coconut.

So in the frosting, I mixed the egg whites with the Coconut and then slowly added the confectioners (powdered) sugar into the mix.  I spread about 1/2 of the mixture onto the top of the cake, and spread it on with a spatula.  Then using my hands (yes I washed) I crumbled the remaining half the icing onto the top of the cake to give it depth.
Ah, isn't that pretty!

So Here is what we were shooting for:
Page 79 in the book Up Close on Cakes

My version:
As I stated in the pre-bake blog.  I don't use food coloring or dyes.  I don't like to add chemicals unnecessarily and as it was optional just to make pink coconut; I opted out.  I think the white coconut is more natural and still quite stunning.

So as for the taste testing.  This cake is moist and soft. It isn't crumbly, and holds it shape very well.  And as for taste, the name says it all; Coconut.  The icing isn't overly sweet, and you really get the taste of coconut throughout.  The cake by itself, also has the taste of coconut, and and the texture has a nice tooth-i-ness (or chewiness if you prefer) from the coconut in the cake.  Everyone greatly enjoyed it.  Well, my 8 year old nephew had some, more than one bite, as he experienced new tastes and textures.  His take on the cake "it could use a bit less coconut, but it's still really good)
His piece just before his report....gotta love the unvarnished truth you get from kids.

Two of the other taste testers said it was fantastic, and definitely a desert cake, and one they would've loved for Easter!  Not for this year, but I will keep it in mind for an Easter down the road.

All in all, this would rate as a keeper.  Easy to make. Wonderful coconut flavor.  Not overly sweet.  Something nice on a spring day.

Even I a bumbling rustic throw it together cook, can create something that resembles a photo from the book. No I can't stage around it.  My food is meant to be eaten nay devoured! While we toast each other (in this case with tea, but to each their own) and laugh.  That's what drives my world.

I urge each of you, step out of your comfort zone. Try something new, and you will see, much like the tomato plant, you too will grow.  Seek out new challenges, and try the b-side.  You never know, you just may like it.  That is my Food For Thought (thank you Jimmy Cliff.)

Happy Baking all.