Saturday, March 29, 2008

Birthday Cakes (in the lab of course!)

Last year, a few days before my wedding, I offered to make a birthday cake for a friend at work. "Pick whatever cake you want - anything!" He chose the Lemon Macadamia-Nut Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT), and I chose to adapt it to a layer cake. I frosted it with vegan lemon "butter"-cream frosting, lightly sprinkled it with chopped toasted macadamia nuts, and somehow got it safely to work the next morning, no thanks to the MBTA. I work in a room where I can't keep food, the cake needed to get to room temperature, and I wanted him to see it when he got in, so I put it in the lunchroom with a napkin on top saying "Name's Cake."

During my morning appointment (which mind you I can't just up and leave the room in the middle of my appointments!) he popped online. "You should go see what's waiting for you in the lunchroom!" "Yaay! But I'm going to the dentist - my appointment is at 11, but I'll be in around 1." "Alright, see you then! Happy Birthday!"

I figured the cake was still safe, right? A cake with a name on it? Sure, no worries. He'll be here in less'n an hour, I said. My lunchtime (12ish) arrives. I finish my stuff and go into the lunchroom. Where there are three people. Eating his cake.


"Oh well he came by and saw the cake and said we could eat it."

I looked the guy who lied to me in the eye and said, "He did not come by. He is at the dentist. You are lying to me. Don't lie to me about eating his cake." They gave stupid excuses. I stormed off, told them they get no more cake, they should be ashamed, and went off to my wedding. The end.

I tried to figure out who to make this month's daring bakers challenge for and kept coming up with fails. My parents and the boy's parents are all dieting and stuff, so their visit wasn't a good time. We had a wedding to go to the weekend after that. I was running out of ideas. But then I logged into Facebook (alright - I never log OUT, but I at least refreshed the page) and saw someone's birthday was coming up! Hurrah! I immediately checked the schedule and saw he'd scheduled a sort appointment... on his birthday. Whoohoo - Success!
I emailed him: "Do you like raspberries? and lemon?"
And he responded: "haha. I know what you gonna do :) I love both!"

I made the cake and frosting on a Tuesday night. I was completely paranoid about the cake recipe - people on the blogroll posted so many problems! The cake didn't rise. It was pale and soggy. I made certain I had the right flour (Swan's Down for the win - exactly what Dorie recommended!) and measured it by weight, not volume (which I'm starting to do more and more. Weighing flour is the way to go. Seriously - go to Linens and Things RIGHT NOW and buy a scale. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.). I followed the directions WORD FOR WORD. And I came out with the most beautiful, tight-crumb, light-gold, perfectly-cooked (except for the bits of chunk sugar which the kitchenaid didn't beat up, bad laura) cake EVAR.

The frosting wasn't that hard either - I threw it together and set it in the fridge. "I'll just frost the cake tomorrow night when I get home, no problem!" Except it didn't soften after I'd left it out of the fridge for an hour. "I'll just beat it up again in the KitchenAid - it'll be nice and fluffy, right?"

Three minutes later I have a pound of lemon-meringue-scented butter and NO MORE LEMONS.

"Sweetie?" I called into the living room.
"What do you need?" he replied. (I love my boy. :)
"Could you please run to the store and buy me two lemons? Pleeeeeeeeeeease???"
::Grumble grumble::
Ten minutes later he returns home with four of the most beautiful lemons ever. I AM SO SPOILED.

I made the second batch, frosted the cake (and the few cupcakes I made with extra batter!) and had it ready for work the next day!

Here's the birthday boy with his cake! Huzzah for Sorapop! Happy Birthday!

Recipe Customizations:
* I obviously made the frosting 2x, and can tell you lemon meringue butter scented scones are 'ait
* The cake was made in 8" pans, not 9", because I don't own 9". I had enough batter for about six cupcakes.
* The preserves were organic low-sugar raspbperry preserves from trader joe's.
* The frosting and jam didn't stay very separate when I frosted between the layers, but it tasted amazing even with the two blended together.
* I didn't have any sweetened coconut, so I instead covered it with unsweetened. The general consensus of everyone who tasted the cake was it was better unsweetened - sweetened would have been probably TOO sweet.

I had someone hide the cake near their desk all day, and only brought it out when the birthday boy came. The vultures saw the cake after and came begging. "Please? Can we have some? You're not letting (names of people who ate Jeff's cake) have any of it - is that why it was hiding?" "Yes, that's why it was hiding," I said. "And no, they get nothing. NOTHING. They have LOST ALL CAKE PRIVILEGES. FOREVER."

Don't mess with the flow-lab, or you will lose cake privileges. The end.

Thanks to Morven ( for her Daring Bakers' Challenge - Dorie's Perfect Party Cake. This cake recipe will definitely stick around! YUM! I also feel like I should look more into Dorie Greenspan (the original author of the cake recipe.) I love cake. :)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

February 2008 Daring Bakers - Julia Child's French Bread

My Jared and I were talking.
"So, what's this month's challenge?"
"Oh - Julia Child's 18 page french bread recipe from 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2'."
"EIGHTEEN PAGES?!? What the hell is she doing? How can you write 18 pages about bread?!?"

Easy - she spelled out every step so even I could figure out what was going on. :)

I made the recipe twice. Each time took nine hours of my life, even with the help of my trusty kitchen-aid mixer. It was so worth it. The flavor, the crumb, the smell that filled the house...

The first time the loaves weren't so pretty. I had the space heater keeping the dough at 70ยบ, or as close as I could get. I baked three batards - one on the pizza stone, two on the pan, and didn't steam but simply brushed with water - my pizza stone came with specific "DO NOT STEAM" instructions! They came out pale, but still amazingly delicious - crisp and chewy. I gave one away to a friend over visiting during the entire baking. The rest VANISHED before I could remember where I put my camera! Boom! Into bellies!

The second time I used a pan for baking, an old cast iron for steam, and lego-shaped ice cubes. Once again they VANISHED before I could take pictures. Wow! The smell made me dizzy with hunger and a craving for soup.

I gave one loaf to a friend (we traded arugula for bread) and she couldn't wait to get home and eat it, so she took out several bites. "Oh crap! I need to take pictures!" so she put it on the table and I grabbed my camera. So this is all the pictures y'all get, because the recipe was so amazing, so delicious, that the bread never made it to the camera stage.

Now to adapt things for whole wheat - the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book has an entire chapter on whole wheat french bread, though it's definitely less than 18 pages. I will admit I had it open as well during the entire baking procedure. Its pictures on shaping and slicing were invaluable.

Lessons learned and things to try:
* Get a real razor for slicing. My kitchen knives just aren't good enough.
* Steaming is INVALUABLE. (I'll try this "no-knead" style - baking in my corningware to help trap the steam in! It makes a beautiful crispy crust.)
* Keep the camera nearby.
* Turn the recipe to something whole wheat... it will be worth it. :)

Breachick, i love you and your challenge. Thank you for pushing my breadmaking further!