28 Mar

The ultimate in cake…

Eat Your Heart Out

So here is details of The Tasting House project I have been curating for Tate & Lyle as part of my proper job as a freelance PR creative – of course Nathan Pask did the honours with his amazing photography:

Tate & Lyle Sugars – Britain’s largest cane sugar brand – has created the world’s first hotel made entirely from cake to launch their new Taste Experience range of golden and brown cane sugars. The Soho-based cake hotel, has taken a team of 14 cake makers more than 2,000 hours to bake and 900 hours to decorate, and has been created using more than 600 kilos of Taste Experience sugar.

For one night only, overnight guests will be able to eat their way through vanilla sponge cushions, windows and walls clad with 2,000 macaroons, a rug made from 1,081 meringues, marshmallow garlands, windowsills built entirely from cake and a bath…

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Reality Check

26 Mar

http://www.scribd.com/doc/112033847/50-things-they-never-told-you-about-being-a-chef

An interesting list from a chef about the realities of cooking professionally. My hubby can attest to a lot of these from working restaurants for a decade. I find that some of these are pretty accurate for being a graphic artist, too. Except for the rash. Eww.

And Sometimes Pie

24 Mar

The hubby was feeling a little pooky for this birthday, and he requested pie. Specifically, an apple pie. Now Mom had made an apple cobbler and given us some, but…. bless her… her apple pie is sort of bland, much like a lot of her cooking after Dad had to go on his no salt, no sugar, no fat diet. They always come out looking amazing and tasting okay, but the Wow Factor has been absent for quite a while.

So I spent a few hours perusing cookbooks, recipe sites, etc., and by the end, I was pretty much overwhelmed by the sheer volume of pie recipes and the complete lack of actual variety in any of them. It struck me that there are literally thousands of types of cakes, and only few dozen types of pies. Any yet, somehow, *everyone* has a version of it. I have to admit, I was actually starting to get mad about the ridiculous number of recipes for the exact same thing. I think maybe someone needs to make a website dedicated to the tiny differences between recipes and make some sort of comparison/rating system. It would have made my choice a lot easier.

When I finally settled on one, it was because it was the only one that was significantly different from all the others. I chose the Dulce de Leche Apple Pie from Recipe Girl.

It was a good choice. Even made with pre-made pie crust, it was delicious! My first “real” pie, with a double-crust, it all turned out nicely golden brown, pretty, and sooo tasty. I’m definitely tagging the Recipe Girl site as a favorite, and one of my “go to” sites from now on.

Dulce de Leche Apple Pie

Aside

Professional Cupcakes and a Dose of Pie

22 Oct

It’s been a couple of weeks since I made cake. Two weeks ago we had a health crisis with the hubby, which fortunately turned out to be just an infection. But the long vacation I’d hoped to use to make my next masterpiece (masterpiece + me = delusional) didn’t pan out. No pun intended, I promise. I did manage to make it to the mall with the Spud while we were waiting on yet another doctor’s checkup. We browsed the shops, had some candy and lots of tea at this wonderful little tea shop…and then I discovered the cupcake store.

I thought I was going to be in heaven when I found the little store nearly hidden away in the corner of the mall. In the 20 seconds it took to walk to it, I concocted all these plans for buying one of each to try, so I could find out what the pros’ stuff really tasted like. But then I found out that they were out of all but 3 flavors of their cupcakes, a big sign out front with the day’s varieties listed and a big “Sold Out” note across almost all of them. Disappointment crept in, moreso when they didn’t have anything chocolate left (blasphemy!).

But, I was determined to try a real, professionally made cupcake. The two twenty-something girls manning the store looked excited that someone else had come in to buy their remaining cakes. So, I ordered one of each: a berry pecan, an apple crisp, and a banana chocolate chip (as close to chocolate as we were going to get that day). The girls were very sweet, and were apparently trying to get rid of their remaining inventory, because they gave me two of each for the same price. 3 free cupcakes! Although I have to admit, for the price they were charging per cake, I’d hate to have paid full price for all six. They were beautiful cupcakes, though. All of them had different swirls of icing on top and little garnishes. The pecan berry had a candied pecan on top, the apple was sprinkled with decorative sugar, and the banana had sprinkles of chocolate chips on top.

I was excited about the prospect of the cakes, and wanted a taste out of each one just to see what they were like. I knew I’d end up eating both of the berry pecan cakes, just because I’m the only one in the house that seems to like pecans in any form, or any kind of nuts in a cake, really.

That night, we all had milk and cupcakes…but I was admittedly disappointed. They were insanely sweet. Overly sweet. Cloyingly sweet. Wash every mouthful down with a huge gulp of milk sweet. I was afraid the spud was going to start bouncing off the walls…far too close to bedtime to be on that kind of sugar rush. Plus the cakes themselves were too moist. I’m not crazy about my cupcakes being sticky and gooey. Hmm.

So it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. The berry cupcake was nothing more than strawberry cake mix with pecans added in. The apple was tasty, but I could have done without the extra sugar rush of the decorative sugar chunks on top. And the banana had so much banana extract in the mix and in the icing that it was almost all I could taste. And fake banana just isn’t all that fantastic. Banana flavoring is always so overbearing anyway. The chocolate chips helped offset it, but not by much.

So I was disappointed by my first foray into “pro” cupcakes. But I learned that I could probably do it, given a big enough oven and prep kitchen so I wouldn’t be limited to baking a mere dozen at a time. Especially if it’s just cake mix with some garnishes and a little extra flavoring… I think I can manage that.

Unfortunately, it also ruined me for cake for a couple of weeks. Everyone ate one cupcake that first night, but no one else wanted them after that…so it was either throw them in the garbage or eat them myself…and I hate to let cake go to waste. Especially when I had to fork out money for it.

This past weekend, I was still sick of cake (gasp!), because I could still taste that horrifying sweetness. So I made pie (sacrilege!!).

Still, it’s a form of baking! Maybe not so much the way I made it though.

I made a graham cracker crust, pressed it into the pan, baked it for about 10 minutes, and used a jar of store-bought key lime pie filling. I know, I know. I cheated on all kinds of levels this time. But I was tired and lazy and just wanted dessert.

The topping this time was my triumph. I FINALLY got the whipped cream just perfect. At the point where you really think you’re about to mix it too much, it’s just right. And so, my fake pie actually tasted good. It was even better the second day, after it sat in the fridge and chilled all the way though. And key lime is one of my favorites anyway (right after French Silk and right before Pecan).

BUT… I’ve had two requests for cake since then. Both by family. This weekend, I’ll put something Halloween-ish together. I have this great little skeleton mold that I’m dying to use. I swear I’ll post photos this time.

In the meantime:
Hubby and key lime pie

The Lump o’ Frosting

2 Oct

Once again, I failed to document the process. I really should have, because I screwed this one up big time.

I tried a different recipe book, just to make sure it wasn’t just the book itself or the instructions. I made cupcakes last week from a “Wild About Cupcakes” book. Bananas in Pajamas cupcakes, sweetened with honey and agave syrup, with a wonderful, light and not too sweet cinnamon whipped cream topping. They were delicious, and were especially good as breakfast muffins.

So it wasn’t entirely me. My thoughts about some of my recipe books are not entirely off the mark. I’d made another batch of cupcakes a few weeks before from a different book, and they were dry as a bone. Followed the recipe precisely and didn’t overcook them, so yet again, the recipe was flawed. (I’m starting to think this is a theme, here…)

This time, I made a cake from Joy of Cooking. Talk about detail! Loved the way it’s set up and the way it gives the descriptions. It was, however, a bit difficult to have to flip to three different sections to make the thing, but I suppose it saves space and makes sense to reference other recipies rather than repeating the same steps over and over.

This was a Devil’s Food Cockaigne. Fancy, huh? I chose it because it was about time to make something chocolate again, and it presented a challenge. I mean, come on…how hard is it to make a cake from a mix, right? If I’m going to test my limits, really make something wonderful, then I have to be a little daring and try more challenging recipes.

This was totally from scratch, right down to the cake flour and hand-blending.

And thus, the troubles began. I apparently need to do some reading on some of the basics. Like just how I’m supposed to get egg whites whipped to a stiff peak without actually adding sugar or anything else to it. I ended up with froth, and it’s probably why my cake ended up a little on the heavy side.

Other than the egg white fiasco, the cake itself was delicious. Moist, very chocolatey, and very rich. Just a little, well… dense.

The frosting is what really gave me fits. It’s always the frosting!! The cake usually turns out great, but the finishing is the problem here.

This was a Fudge Cockaigne frosting. The idea was to make fudge, then add milk at the end to get it to a spreadable consistency. Ha!

I’ve never made fudge from scratch before. I knew it was going to be a process, but hoooo boy, was I in for a surprise. I remember when I was little, mom made fudge every year for the holidays. I remember her boiling it with the gigantic candy thermometer stuck in it, pouring it out in a pan and letting it cool until it was that solid, chocolately bit of heaven.

So, I followed the recipe. Added everything in order, and still nearly boiled over my milk at the beginning. Did not bode well for the rest of the recipe. Then I nearly boiled it over again once I added everything else it needed. The directions said boil the mixture 2-3 minutes, covered. I set the timer for 3 minutes, and at 2 1/2, it started boiling so much that the lid lifted off. Ugh…

So, a few minutes of clean-up later, I set it to boil again, this time with the candy thermometer. 237 degrees, or “soft ball” stage, according to the book (and the marking on the thermometer). It took way too long to get to that, and I was tired of standing in the kitchen watching the temperature rise by one degree. After that, it was supposed to cool back down to 110 degrees, then add butter and the milk and a little vanilla.

Once it actually cooled, it was a rock. Or close enough to a rock that I thought I was going to have to chisel it out of the bottom of the pan. I added the butter anyway, figuring some of the moisture and oil might loosen it up a bit. Nope. Now it was just a gummy, caramelly lump. So, back on the stove, hoping a little low heat would make it liquid-ish again, along with a phone call to the fudge expert (aka. Mom). The heat seemed to be working a bit, so I added the milk to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan (too late!).

While having the discussion with Mom, it started to become more liquid again, the big caramel-like chunks finally melting down. Her suggestion was that it took too long to get to the right temperature, and that she’d done it before too. She said just add a tiny bit of milk (done!), but not too much, because that would make it too thin, just like any other kind of frosting. A little dab will do ya. And there was another whoops. Despite following the recipe, a cup was way too much milk. It was definitely liquid now, but that meant it wasn’t going to be spreading on the cake. Pooling around the bottom, maybe, but not decorating it.

So, I stuck the pan in the fridge to try to get it back to a thicker state, and we put off having cake for another night. I’d used up all the baking chocolate in the house on the cake and the frosting, so I couldn’t just toss it out and start a new batch, and it was way too late to go to the store and spend all that time cooking it down again anyway.

Day two, I checked on the consistency of the “frosting.” Still dripping off the spoon, and not in a good way. New plan! Cake with sauce! Instead of a nice, frosted layer cake, I sliced off a cornbread-sized chunk and poured the “frosting” over it. It was still delicious, and would have been even better with a bit of fresh whipped cream and some fresh raspberries on top. One of those decadent restaurant-type desserts. Yes, it was a disaster, but I made something out of it anyway, and it tasted wonderful. The cake sauce tasted just like fudge, and it was a calorie-filled, rich, delightful thing anyway. I took half of it to work, and it was halfway devoured before lunchtime had even arrived, so apparently, it was still edible to other people, too.

I guess I’m at least learning to take the disasters in stride, change plans to make it work, and quite literally go with the flow.

Goop

27 Sep

Okay, so I tried it again. The Cake Doctor cake. Have I mentioned my first disaster with it yet? If it wasn’t for a little bit of quick action, it would have been a horrible, fire-hazard disaster and not just the grand mess it turned out to be.

The first disaster of epic proportions was the Banana’s Foster cake. I had all the ingredients and it seemed like it would be delicious. It was simple enough: Golden cake mix (mix as per the directions on the box), and a prepped 10″ cast iron skillet with a layer of butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and sliced bananas. Pour the cake mix in, pop it in the oven, and 40 minutes later, voila!

Or so it should have been. The “Pour the cake mix into the 10 inch pan” was the first serious…and I mean serious…error. They really, really must have meant a 15 inch pan or a freaking dutch oven, because there was no way in hell that much cake batter will ever EVER fit in a 10″ pan. They don’t tell you this, though. I had to throw half of it away, and it still threatened to overflow the skillet. I popped it in the oven, and soon after started smelling something. It wasn’t the wonderful, fresh smell of cake baking, it was something burning horribly. I open the oven, and it’s completely overflowed the skillet already, so I tossed down a couple of cookie sheets to catch the runoff.

The second problem was that it didn’t take 40 minutes to bake. It took more like an hour and 40 minutes (mostly likely because of the overflow), which meant it was burned on the edges and still mostly raw in the middle. I finally had to take it out or risk the whole house smelling like charcoal for a week.

I was ready to just shovel the whole mess down the garbage disposal, but the hubby insisted that we had to at least take a bite of the few inches of cake that wasn’t completely ruined…and pronounced it the best thing he’d ever tasted. So we cut out the pieces that were actually cooked well, threw out the rest and ate cake anyway.

Of course, it HAD to end up being my husband’s all-time favorite cake ever, otherwise, I would have ripped the page out and burned it. I suppose it’s a good thing I had to make it again, but that recipe has all kinds of margin notes so it will actually cook properly. We end up with a cake and a dozen cupcakes out of the batch…none of which is mentioned in the book.

My trust for the book has not improved since then. This weekend, I made the Tennessee Jam Cake, another delicious-sounding concoction, and again, you’d think it was simple. But no…

It’s a regular Spice cake mix with the addition of applesauce and an extra dash of cinnamon. Once it’s baked and cooled, the layers are joined with blackberry jam (one of my absolute favorites). Then the whole thing is frosted with a homemade caramel icing that sets up in a “crust”. So it’s not thick and not a heavy buttercream that can hold back the tide of pretty much any filling you put in a cake.

Now, granted, we’re in Texas, and you have to account some for the heat and humidity. But this is a “southern” recipe, so you should be taking that into account in the recipe already, right?? Wrong! What the recipe should have said is “Spread on the jam and stick it in the freezer to set it up for a few minutes. Then pour on the first layer of frosting and stick it back in the freezer to let *that* set up. Then seal the sides and repeat the freezer thing. THEN finish icing the rest of it and put it in the fridge till you’re ready to eat it.” Nope…had to find that out the hard way. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if it’s Texas or Alaska. That should be the explanation of the way to do it, regardless. Not the “Hurry up and frost it, otherwise it will set up and OMG!! you’ll have to put the icing on the stove again!!!” panic-mode warning that was written instead. You know, god forbid that anyone should have to reheat a little bit of icing. It’s the end of the world! Run for your life because Mom had to reheat something!!

I had a friend of mine mention the other day that too many recipe books went WAY overboard on their instructions. “Microwave the stick of butter for 45 seconds or until it’s melted.” Yeah, that’s a little extreme when “melted butter” will usually do. But if it’s the difference between ruining your recipe by leaving off some sort of vital instruction, or going overboard with the detail, I vote for the ridiculous amount of detail. I’d rather err on the side of too much info, than be pissed off that my dessert was ruined because the writer made assumptions or has made a recipe so often they forgot to write something down.

So this Jam cake? It tasted good, but it was ugly and messy and needlessly frustrating. Next time, I’m going back to photgraphing the whole process. I didn’t this time because I thought it would be simple and boring. Silly me.

Non-qualifications

6 Sep

So I have to quantify this just a bit, so there are no illusions or misunderstandings by anyone. I am not a trained chef (not by ANY stretch of the imagination). I did not go to culinary school or pastry school or anything else except plain ol’ normal, everyday college. I studied Visual Communications, and I have to admit that I’m not especially fond of cooking. My husband, however, is a genius in the kitchen (also with no formal training except years of hands-on experience and a copy of “How to Cook Everything”). He usually does the main meals, and I make the desserts. This division of labor works well (although mostly, he cooks and I only do the dishes, and that works well, too).

So whatever advice is in here, I advise you to take with the same grain of salt that I take most of my lessons with. Mostly, it’s just opinion and my own experiences. But if that little bit helps someone else, then all the better. If it just ends up making me feel like I’ve accomplished something by writing it down, then I haven’t lost anything by that either.

I am a beginning baker. I know I still have a LOT to learn, and when I decide I know it all, it’s time to quit. I buy books and decorating guides and magazines and cool decorating tips and doodads, and every time we go to Hobby Lobby, I have to peruse the cake aisle for the latest and greatest in stock. BUT, I only buy it if it helps me.

I don’t like the “cheats” like the Cricut stencilers or the new edible paper from Wilton. And that’s just a personal preference. I can see where they’d save time (although certainly not money!! The Cricut is $$$pricy$$$ for no more than it does). But I don’t want to get an “ooh, ahh!!” reaction about a cake because I stuck a sheet of paper to it. I want it because I *made* something.

Plus, I don’t want to be limited by what someone else decides I need. If I buy a star-shaped decorating tip, I can use it for a dozen different methods and decorations. If I buy a star-shaped stencil maker, I can make.…a star. Or maybe a triangle or a diamond if I cut up what I already cut out. Not many options. I (through the hubby’s preferences, too) subscribe to the Alton Brown school of utensils. If it’s a uni-tasker, it’s not worth the investment, because it sits in the drawer and collects dust except for that one occasion when you use it…and guaranteed, there’s something else in your arsenal that will probbly do the same thing just as well.

Okay, so you’ve probably come to realize by now that I’m also a grumpy, opinionated beginning baker. I’ve also personally realized that I’ve become a cake snob. There’s something about a homemade cake, even if it’s not all that visually attractive, that it just plain tastes better than a processed cake that sits on the shelf or in the bakery refrigerator for weeks. I seriously dislike the light whipped cream “frosting” they put on the cake instead of real buttercream, especially when it adds a really horrible texture and zero flavor. If you’re going to cheat your diet with cake, at least enjoy it while you do!! Scrape that nastiness off! Plus, there’s simply no joy in those pre-packaged, half-stale, grocery offerings. No one put any love into making it, and it usually both looks and tastes like it.

Now, before you accuse me of generalizing, I never said ALL. There are always exceptions, even at the grocer, and there are those little locally-owned bakeries that can do amazing things with cake and desserts. But is it worth it to have to hunt those down when you have a craving? We’ve been out many a time to grab a late-night snack of a cake slice at the store, and it’s usually just disappointing.

But then again, maybe it’s just me.

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