Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Its a cake walk

I promise, this blog is mostly about sustainable, self sufficient living.  I swear.  But until i get some dirt in those beds, my farm life is limited to daily chicken feeding, which doesn't make for interesting reading. Although the ladies ARE huge now.  you'll freak when you see them.

Anywho, in the meantime i was given the go-ahead from no less than two of my facebook friends to write a cake entry.

I wanted to shy away from too much non-daily living baking because there are plenty of cake blogs out there. I've always thought that for the most part, baking is just a mater of following directions.  But over the years, i've realized there might be more to it than that.  Don't get me wrong, i'm sure most anyone could make a cake and make it taste just fine.  In fact, probably would be very tasty!  The things i've learned are more subtle than that i guess.  So here is a recipe for basic chocolate cake.

First of all, I didnt write this recipe.  Ina Garten did.  She's one of those chefs where you can know nothing else about the dish except that she wrote the recipe and you can be sure its probably good. if its messed up, its probably your fault.

Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Chocolate Buttercream, recipe follows

So, preheat your oven to 350.  You NEED 2 8x2" rounds for this.  Im serious.  I tried it with 2 9x1's and it nearly over flowed. it was weirdly flat too.  I dont recommend it.  I'd say you could PROBABLY do it with 3 9x1's but then youd need more frosting.  This is another example of the recipe doesnt match the pan you can buy.  I swear this has to do with some sort of evil box cake conspiracy.  So do what i did, order them online.  Moving on, first step is buttering pans

Cake always sticks to pans. Always.  i dont care how well you buttered it.  you really have to trace the bottom of your pan on parchment paper, cut out the round, then butter the pan, put down the paper in the bottom and re-butter the top of the parchment.  Then flour the whole pan.  that round of parchment on the bottom will let your cake release from the pan.  its easy to pull a cake off of parchment, its not easy to take cake out of a plain pan.

Next sift your dry ingredients together.  I use a wire sieve to do this.  Also, always remember to fluff your flour before you measure or your food will taste like flour. That's important.

In a separate container mix all of your wet ingredients except for the coffee.  Turn your mixer on low and gradually add your wet to your dry.  Mix until barely combined.  maybe even not all the way combined.  Then add the coffee slowly until just barely mixed.

Why do i keep saying barely?

Because cake is the polar opposite of bread.  Cake flour is low gluten, bread flour is high gluten.  So, gluten is not just some evil thing (on par to high fructose corn syrup if you ask some people) that suddenly every 8th person you meet can't eat.  Its a protein that results from wheat and other types of grains.  In baked goods, its a binding thing.  it holds your stuff together.  So in bread you want more gluten.  You form the gluten by kneading.  the more you knead the more gluten binds together and the more stable your bread is.  cake however, you want as little gluten bond as possible.  So you BARELY mix it.  as soon as you dont see flour anymore, youre done.  Or in this case (cause you lost most of the flour before you added the coffee) as soon as the mixture has a good consistency. you are done.

Pour this batter into the prepared pans and put them into the oven.  It will bake for 30-40 minutes and when its done you can stab a tooth pick through the center and it will come out with moist crumbs, not goo. (whoever said it should come out clean probably makes some really dry cake).

When it comes out, if you didnt over mix it, it will look like this:

Ok this is where i geek out for a few minutes.  Just like with bread i LOVE to look at the bonds in baked things.  See those bubbles in there? see how loosely it holds together? I dont mean to be a jerk who is like "look how awesome my cake is" but the science of the whole thing just blows my mind.  That cake is moist and fluffy.  The fluffy comes from the understanding of gluten.  respect for gluten will really make or break your baking.  AHHH look at it!! is so crazy! when you look really close it almost looks like fabric, how it knits together.  In bread its really tight and almost looks like its melted together. In cake though its this fragile light fluffy bond.  Come over, i'll bake you a cake just to break apart and stare at.  I just love that.

Moving on!!!  Make sure your cake is COMPLETELY cool before you try to frost it.  Your frosting will slide clean off if you dont.  In this case, cool in the pans for about 30 min then turn it out onto a cooling rack.  I like to turn it out then flip it so the parchment is on the bottom and the weird rounded side is up. makes leveling it out later easier.

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder

Two things i've learned about frosting: Powdered sugar is SWEET. seriously. really really sweet.  Fluff it!  you don't want to compact it an essentially have 1.5 x the amount of sugar you wanted. Second, unsalted butter is pretty essential.  Many frostings call for salt so if you have salted butter you'll have salty frosting.  Now sometimes this is tasty (to me, frostings with nut tastes or caramel are good salty) but most of the time you want to control the salt content in your baked goods.

So first you need to put a pot of water on to simmer and put your chocolate in a bowl over it.  This is how you melt chocolate without burning it and having it get all chalky.  after its melted set it aside to cool.

Next, put your butter in your mixer bowl and beat on med speed until its fluffy (2ish minutes).  then put in your egg yolk and vanilla and beat for about another 3 minutes.  Put your mixer on low and add in your powdered sugar 1/4 c at a time.

Dissolve your instant coffee powder in 2 tbs of hot water.  Let that hang out for a few minutes while you mix your chocolate into your butter.  Then go get your instant coffee and mix that in too.

There! Frosting! Done! Now time to frost your cake.  Use a serrated knife to even out the top of your cake so its flat.  This is easier to do if your cake is frozen, so if you have some spare time, freeze your cake first.  but that will also make your cake less tasty.  So weigh your options.  Personally i'll just be really careful when i cut it rather than risk weird freezer taste.  Put your first layer on the bottom of a cake stand (or carrier case base) and put about 1/3 of your frosting on top.  Spread it out to even it.

Quick commercial break: you might think you dont need an offset spatula and that you are fine with a rubber spatula or a regular flat knife but you are wrong.  you really really are.  its SO much easier to spread with an offset spatula.  I got mine from my husband for mother's day (along with my kitchenaid *swoon*) and he got it from my sister in law.  If you dont have one and you really wanna start making more cake, follow the link up there and get one.  its important.

ok so after you have that layer down you put the next layer on top of it.  Make sure you trimmed that one too.

 Now, i'm a HORRIBLE cake decorator.  Seriously, very bad.  But i know one thing about frosting cakes, and that is that you need a crumb layer.  This is a thin first layer of frosting to catch all your crumbs form the sides in. then you let it sit for a second to firm up and you frost the pretty outside layer on top of that.  That way the part that is visible to the public is not full of crumbs.

Ok so once you have the whole thing frosted you are done.  But it will be a very boring looking cake.  For this reason i usually put some weird ring of something around the outside top edge.  Just because i think it hides how bad i am at cake presentation.
I dont know which is worse, the presentation or my photography...

That's just shaved white chocolate on the edge there.  Incidentally, if you ever wondered if your white chocolate is "good" (which literally gets specified in recipes now) you will know by its color. if its white, its good. if its yellow its mostly wax.  look:

Those white discs are "good" white chocolate (so is that little block in the corner there. thats what i shaved my shavings off of.) those white chocolate chips=bad.  Those wont work well when you try to bake with them.  Fun fact.

And just to head off the questions in advance: Yep, i did this tonight.  yes i did feed my kids dinner (see below).  How do i find time?  Well what did you do between 7:30 and 10:30 tonight?  Just take whatever you said and replace it with "baked a cake" and that's how i find time.  Its not like you have to baby sit the thing while its in the oven.  there are big long stretches of time where you can just go do something else.  it bakes for like 40 minutes, thats when the kids took baths, read bedtime stories and went to sleep.

Maggie eats salad

Happy baking.  I swear more farming in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the lesson on gluten. I used to see my mother punching down the risen dough that she had sitting in front of the fireplace fire and while I understood, as a kid, that it was part of the bread baking process, I didn't know why it was necessary. Very interesting.