Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake!

Today's project was birthday cake. I decided to bite the bullet and make it from scratch. I don't think I have ever done that before. I also used the opportunity to explore several techniques. In the end I broke my strictest engineering rule, change only one variable at a time, too many times to count starting with making the cake from scratch.

I chose chocolate-chocolate chip with chocolate frosting. Because it's my favorite. This morning I picked up a few ingredients for the adventure. I looked for superfine sugar at the grocery. I know what this is, pastry chefs use it. It dissolves very fast. It is not the same as powdered sugar or confectioners sugar as that has a tiny amount of corn starch to prevent caking. Every bag at the grocery said superfine or extra fine so I knew that couldn't be the stuff. But I have worked with this before. I just weighed out 12.25 ounces per the cookbook instructions, then rounded it to 350 grams because I like that number better. Dumped it into my food processor and spun it until it started dusting out the top.

Aside: If you don't have a food processor, get one. I have no idea how I ever lived without one. I never would have bought one myself but we received it as a wedding gift and I bet I use it on average three times per week. They are awesome!

I then creamed that sugar with the butter, salt, etc.

While at the grocery I picked up some organic pastry flour. My cookbook cautioned against using pastry flour for cakes saying it results in a tender smaller crumb but also a more crumbly cake. So I went 50/50 with all purpose flour. I weighed it out, 8.5 ounces per the recipe and then rounded it to 250 grams. Then I weighed up 2.25 ounces of cocoa powder per my recipe and then rounded that to 65 grams because that is a nicer number too. I dumped both the flour and cocoa powder into the food processor and sent them on a whirl. This was a new technique I wanted to try. Using the food processor on the flour and cocoa aerated them, sifted them and homogenized them. Something I picked up from watching Good Eats on TV.

For the milk portion I used part of the "buttermilk" I saved from yesterday's butter experiment. It tastes just like whole milk. Hopefully it will be extra tasty in the cake.

My cookbook strongly encourages you to grease and flour your pans. Dammit if I could find my round pans. So I pulled out a 9 x 13 and buttered it instead of using the suggested vegetable shortening. Another new variable, or two! Floured it and then I decided to spread a thin layer of cake batter on the bottom of the pan before I added the chocolate chips. My thought was that this would help prevent all of the chips from settling to the bottom while baking. Who knows? I did a blend of milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chips, maybe ten ounces worth. I tossed them in flour to try to prevent them from sticking together and clumping when I add them. I read about doing that with fruit once so I thought I'd try it. Probably gratuitous and unnecessary.

The cake seemed to bake well. Took maybe 45 minutes though. I'm not sure if the center ever really finished. I used a tooth pick of course but it is tough to tell the difference between cake batter sticking to the toothpick or melted chocolate chip. I tried to check with my temperature probe, looking for 209 degrees but it sucked for that purpose. I really need to get my fancy instant read thermometer. Unfortunately one corner broke off in the pan when I stripped it onto my cooling rack. I think I glued it back in place with a little frosting well enough. I was tempted to cut the cake in half and stack it to make a two layer cake, squaring off the edges. But the whole cake was fragile. I tried to put it on a plastic board and it started to crack and tear. I managed to invert it back onto a cutting board with minimal damage. Not the board I wanted to use.

I'm not convinced on using cocoa for chocolate flavor for cakes. I had the same reservation after making brownies. No surprise, this is the same recipe I modified for brownies. I find the cocoa is a little too bittersweet and little too unchocolatey for my tastes. I need to find another form, either real chocolate or perhaps Dutch cocoa.

I made a chocolate butter cream frosting using a four ounce bar of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate, chopping it up in my food processor and then melting it in a double boiler. Since the bulk of frosting is powdered sugar I opted for semi-sweet chocolate to balance the sweetness from the sugar. I spun the sugar in my food processor to sift it before adding it to the butter and vanilla creaming in my stand mixer. The recipe called for 1-1.5 pounds of powdered sugar added in two batches. I did two 225 gram batches. A nice pretty number. Again I used the buttermilk left over from yesterday, finishing it up. I used a trick from watching Ina Garten and placed strips of parchment paper under the edges of the cake before I started frosting it. After frosting you slide the strips out leaving a clean edge. It almost worked perfectly expect for the broken corner pulled out with the paper! I think I repaired it well enough.

I tried piping a fancy border around the top edge of the cake but I didn't have the correct tip so it didn't come out as nice as I had envisioned. I started to add a bead around the base but it really looked bad so I scraped it off. We had some left over red icing from Rose's cookie making and I used that for the script. I think it is the best handwriting I have ever had!

So here is my cake and my icing too:


Huff Daddy said...

Sadly though with all this cake baking, I never made it to the gym, didn't get anything fixed for dinner and I still have to clean the shower. :(

Brook said...

You totally crack me up with your rounding in metric thing! Niether of my kitchen scales has metric btw-checked yesterday. Ans hey, I didn't make it to the gym either-of course I don't have a membership or anything either and I think the shower can wait til tomorrow. And I had to take baby to ballet so no supper yet here either.

Brook said...

Soooo, was the cake any good?

Huff Daddy said...

Dinah says it is excellent. I haven't had a piece yet, just a crumb that fell off when I was moving it.

Huff Daddy said...

Ok. First a disclaimer.

I don't really like cake.

I know most people LOVE cake, crave cake, or go out of their way for cake. Not me. A small piece at a birthday or wedding is fine, that's it. Growing up, for my birthday, my Grandmother would bake me a cherry pie. That's how much I like cake.

I ate a piece last night and it was much better than I anticipated. It did have a fine crumb, finer than a box cake mix. It was moist but crumbly. Maybe not quite as moist as a box cake though. I didn't notice the cocoa issue in a full piece of cake. The frosting was perfect as were the chocolate chips. Too often the chips do not evenly distribute or seem to disappear.

It was really, really good. I'm pleasantly surprised.

I saved a piece this morning for Rose and sent the rest off to work with Dinah.

Brook said...

Are you my secret brother? I am not a big cake fan and always requested cherry pie for my birthday too. Of course I got a Mrs. Smiths frozen one not homemade. Lucky you! Again HILARIOUS!

Huff Daddy said...

Yes I am. Actually I have come to think of you as my new best drinking buddy.

Brook said...

Sweet! Party on dude!