Let Them Eat Cake!
Posted August 7, 2009on:
After working on chocolate and cookies we finally got to work on one of my favorite things: cake! We spent only two days on cakes, which is hardly enough time to really learn the different styles of cakes or how to decorate them. However, I think we managed to figure a few things out.
The first cake we made was a chocolate cake. This cake we made by table, which actually was confusing. My partner and & took a few minutes to realize that two other guys at the end of the table were already working on it. This was the one cake that did not require a mixer as they just had to combine the wet and the dry ingredients and combine to incorporate. Seems simple right?
Wrong! A few of us at the table started preparing pans and we got confused as to which pan was for what cake. The chocolate cake required pans and the two other cakes required 2. Then we also weren’t sure how to tell if they were ready. We kept opening and closing the ovens which delayed the cake’s cooking. And of course, after about an hour and a half into class, we ended up with no more oven space. None! We had used all the space in 4 conventional ovens and 2 convection ovens. Amazing! So we stopped to clean.
Once we had cleaned up a bit and took a peek to check on our cakes, we saw we were ready to come out. So now that we had some space, we proceeded to make our next cake, which was a lemon-scented-white cake. This is a fat based cake that was made by the creaming method. I have made cakes like this before, so it wasn’t too hard. Red velvet and pound cake are other examples of fat based cakes. It’s fat based since we started with beating the butter until it was softened. Then we added sugar and beat until it was light and fluffy. Next we added the flour and milk-egg mixture in alternating steps. Once everything was nicely incorporated, we put the batter into two pans and then into the oven. This method wasn’t very challenging and it resulted in a nicely colored cake. However, when I went to decorate it and I split the layers, I noticed little tunnels in the cake. I wasn’t sure what caused that but it still tasted lovely!
Our next cake was a pan di spagna. This is a traditional Italian sponge cake that is made with the foam method. Basically, we had to be sure to sift all our dry ingredients to incorporate air. Then we had to beat our egg whites to soft peak, basically forming a meringue. Once that was done, we gently fold our egg yolks into the whites. We sift our dry ingredients again and then fold it all into the egg mixture. Once this was ready we immediately got it into the oven as any time delay can just result in the meringue deflating. After everything was all baked and cooled, we packed everything up and made some butter cream!
I have tried to make buttercream before, but it was never quite this rich. Our procedure was fairly simple: we combined egg whites, salt and sugar and whisked them over simmering water until it felt like the hottest bath water ever. We then cooled the mixture down in a mixer and added a whopping 3 pounds of butter!! Of course, this is why it’s so delicious, right? We continued to blend until it was all smooth, rich and creamy and then, we saved it all for our next class.
As if the chaos wasn’t bad enough on day 1 of cakes, day 2 was even worse. According to our curriculum, we were supposed to decorate the pan di spagna in teams, and then do either the lemon or chocolate cakes individually. We all thought we were doing a team project first. We also all thought we were supposed to finish 3 cakes! And we also had to flavor our buttercreams and whipped creams and make any other toppings our cakes required. Once we realized that chef really just wanted us to focus on making one cake as nice as possible then things went a lot smoother. My primary cake was the lemon-scented white cake with lemon buttercream as filling and icing and toasted coconut on the sides.
Once I had everything ready, I placed my cake on a board that was no larger than 1/8″ – 1/4″ bigger than the cake. I hadn’t realized I was not supposed to cut the cakes into layers, but I did, so I had a 4 layer lemon cake. I then coated each layer of the cake with an even 1/4″ of the butter cream using my large palate knife. And I put the coconut along the sides. Then I piped shells along the edge and wrote “Happy Birthday Stacy” in chocolate on my cake. The test was when chef cut the cake to look at the layers of the cake and buttercream as well as our piping and chocolate writing. My writing was not as good as it should have been–it was not three dimensional enough and uneven on the cake. However, the good news was that my layers and butter cream was very good. If I had to do this on a test in the pastry program, chef said I would have gotten a 97! Definitely much better than my other attemtps at cake.
Now that I finished my primary cake, I had a little bit of fun playing with another cake. I decided to use up some of the leftover whipped cream, buttercream and cherries that were on my table to make a black forest cake. I piped rosettes and topped the cake with cherries and shaved chocolate. I didn’t write on it with chocolate since I didn’t have much time. I still think it came out rather pretty though.
While I did not get to do a pan di spagna, I did learn how to decorate it since chef used that cake for her demo. These were the only cakes that were supposed to be cut horizontally into layers. This cake is also VERY dry and crumby, so to help that, we brushed each layer with a syrup. Then we add the filling which could be jam with fruit or whipped cream. To keep the filling from coming out from in between the layers, we use a piping bag to create a dam which is basically a ring of the icing piped along the circumference of the cake layer. We then topped with the next layer. We continued in this fashion until we had a three layer cake and then we topped the cake with a lovely butter cream.
Overall, we tried to focus on the important points of finishing a cake:
- The decor should be even and proportionate to each serving.
- The decor should tell you something about what’s inside the cake.
- The layers of the cake should be evenly horizontal.
It was a whirlwind 2-days of cakes but I still feel like there’s so much more to learn! In the meantime, I savored my black forest cake and I froze my lemon cake for another day.