Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.
So, strangely, as of late, I sort of seem to have my shit together, and I actually had enough forethought to bring along my digital camera to document the construction of my latest cake project.
Since so many of you seem curious as to how one of these things comes together, I thought you all might enjoy the picture filled journey down the path of a sculpted cake.
How it started:
First a little history. I'm a semi-burned out pastry chef who transplanted herself from the "big city" (Seattle) scene to a tranquil and liberal, artistic, intellectual, granola chewing, Birkenstock wearing, marine and tourist trade Victorian Seaport......also known as Port Townsend, Washington. I love this place. I affectionately call it Tinytown. In Seattle I spent a lot of years doin' the PC thing in various bakeries and specialty shops, but mostly I was employed as a high-end cake artist. I loved the work I did (and do) as a cake artist over there, but the long hours and snotty brides took their toll, and I wanted to walk away from it for a while. After a couple of years living here in Port Townsend and establishing a life with my new husband and love of my life, I decided to get back into doing cakes just a little. I'm only doing the ones I want to do, and only the ones that make it worth my while. But sometimes I'm so inspired to do a cake, I do it for nothing just because I want to do it, and I love to see the look on people's faces when I present it to them. Usually, that's all the payment I need. Such is the case with this cake. A side note: I do have a regular job baking for a cute progressive little deli (Provisions) and a cookie wholesale outfit. I love that job.....it fulfills my need to bake. Not only that, the people I work for are so freaking nice as to let me use the kitchen for my cakes also. I only have to pay them 10% of whatever I'm charging for the cake.....but anything under $100 is free. I also get to order all my ingredients wholesale on their account. Sweet, huh?
Here's a picture of Provisions, Port Townsend's source for gourmet European ingredients, and the best take-out on the Peninsula!
Since this town is small enough that everyone seems to know everyone else, I heard that one of my boss' wife's friends was getting a baby shower on May 1st. Of course, the boss' wife, who is a chef in her own right and runs the deli, offered to do the food. So I chimed in and said I'd do the cake. The person giving the shower, Lily, showed me the invitation and told me that she was going to do a May Day theme with lots of flowers. When I offered to to the cake, I was just going to do a simple round cake....but when Lily told me the details I had this epiphany. Into my head immediately popped one of those Anne Geddes babies that is coming out of the flowerpot. I immediately started forming this vision of my cake, and this is what I sketched:
Now, I knew I would be putting in a lot of work for no monetary gain, but what the hell.....it would be fun. Once I get a bee in my bonnet, there's no stopping me.
A week before the day of the shower, I started all my prep work.....which included:
making the flowers, out of gumpaste making modeling chocolate and kneading in all the colors I would need making the umbrella out of gumpaste baking the cakes making the buttercream making simple syrup kneading all the fondant colors I'd need buying chocolate cookies and liquor cutting and covering my bottom board dying bamboo skewers green with vinegar and food color I did a little each day. I had to fit that in between my regular job and family-care duties.
On Saturday, the day before the shower, and one of the days I'm off from my regular job, I went into the kitchen to build the cake. I'd had a nutritious breakfast of Oreo Mint Creams thanks to my stepson who'd been eating them the night before as he was watching TV. Gulped down a little coffee, and packed up all my equipment in the back of my truck. Only 4 minutes to the kitchen......man, I don't miss commuting!!!
The night before, I had filled and stacked the cakes, so they would be ready for me to carve, first thing. The top cake is a lemon cake with raspberry buttercream, and the bottom cake is chocolate cake with mocha-toffee buttercream. All the cake layers are soaked with simple syrup; the lemon was soaked with lemon syrup and the chocolate, soaked with Kahlua syrup. I prefer to use buttercream as a filling in sculpted cakes....it sets up firm and makes carving a cinch. Mousses and jams and curds don't set up enough and are also very slippy-slidy. When you are carving out a cake, you don't want your layers sliding around on you. Here is my top cake.....I baked off two 8 inch rounds and 1 10 inch round. Cut them all in half and filled. Ready to carve!
Here is the rough cut:
I just used my long serrated knife to get a general pot shape. Now for the fine tuning:
Lookin' like a flowerpot! Mmmmmm......look at all those cake scraps on the table. Yep, a few went in my mouth (quality control you know) but the rest went into the garbage......Next it's time to put a layer of buttercream on there, for extra smoothy goodness:
I snapped the pic with one hand as I was holding the pastry bag in the other. Not easy. I like to use the giant pastry bag with the giant tip for applying icing....makes for less work later.
Ok, here's a pic for folks that wanted to see that "paint masker thingy" in action. Tried to snap a pic myself, but just couldn't muster up the co-ordination. Luckily, Amber, the front deli counter girl, took a pic for me. I hadn't meant for her to include ME in the pic (Gawd!) but I wanted more of a close up of Mr. Smoothing Tool. Oh well, you take what you can get. See that I have my sketch on the reach-in behind me....along with all my other wacky magnets. Hey, I like to decorate my workspace.....Notice I hold the "pint masker thingy" by the bottom when I am smoothing the sides. If I don't, and hold it by the handle, it tends to kind of bend. I hold it by the handle when I go across the top. See how nice and smooth?:
Now it's really starting to look like a flowerpot. But wait! It's upside down! Why is that, you ask? Because it's easier to carve and ice that way, and most importantly, much easier to apply the fondant. Into the walk-in it goes, to firm up. Now for the second pot:
This is going to be the bottom flowerpot. It's going to be larger, and a slightly different shape than the top flowerpot. I baked off 2 10 inch rounds and 1 8 inch round for this one. I only ended up using half the 8 inch round, as you can see. I have the saran wrap underneath the cake and on top of the board, so it will be easier to flip over later. Here it is all carved out.....mmm....more cake scraps.....into the garbage they go.....
Below, here it is, with a layer of buttercream. I didn't use the "paint masker thingy" on this one because of the curvature of the cake. I just piped the icing on and then smoothed it out with my offset spatula as best I could. After I refrigerate it, I will do the final smoothing.
So now I'm waiting for my pots to set up. Time to do some other stuff, like:
"Cuiz" my chocolate cookies to make the "dirt" for my pots. And......
start dusting my flowers and leaves with luster dust to add a little depth and realism to them. For this project I just made "whimsical flowers" in that they really aren't any particular flower....they're just cartoonish and colorful. Well, the roses are, well, roses.....gotta have a few roses. In the background there, you can see sort of how I did the gumpaste umbrella. I happened to have a dessert cup at home that was well suited for it. I filled out the top with gumpaste and added "ribs" with gumpaste, then put some saran on the top of that and put a gumpaste disk on it. I then cut out the rounded parts between the ribs.....and voila....umbrella! This was the first thing I made because I wanted it to have the maximum amount of drying time. Now if I were really smart, I would have made not one, but two or even three umbrellas because stuff always breaks. Always. No matter how careful you are. Especially in a commercial kitchen.....not only do you have to worry about yourself but everyone else too. I make more flowers than I need because I always manage to break quite a few. But, as it was, I only made one umbrella since I was so cocky and sure of myself. Turns out I was lucky......this time! Ok, time to roll out some terra cotta colored fondant!
Dust the table liberally with cornstarch and roll away. I've done this so much I can just eyeball how much fondant I'll need to cover a certain sized cake. When rolling out fondant, waste no time from the time you're done rolling til you get it on the cake, because it starts drying out right away. Drying out means yukky little cracks, and me no likey little cracks! So I race to walk-in, retrieve cake, and cover it quickly.
Then I take my trusty little pizza wheel and cut the excess away. This excess will get kneaded back into the remainder of my fondant so that I'll have enough to cover the other pot. So I take the rounded pot out of the walk-in, and, after washing my hands like a surgeon, I use the warmth of my hands to smooth the buttercream out so I have a perfect surface on which to cover with fondant. I tried using latex gloves for doing smoothing, but they are too much of a barrier to my body warmth. I need that warmth to lightly soften the buttercream for the proper smoothing. And here we have a nice smooth surface for the fondant:
Into the reach-in it goes to set up while I roll out my fondant.......and here it is covered, with the excess trimmed away. Notice that I trimmed off my plastic wrap quite a bit before I covered it. Otherwise I would have gotten into a wrestling match with it and the fondant.
So back into the walk-in they go to stay firm while I take me a little breaky:
This is the view out the back door of the kitchen. We look over the Kai-Tai Lagoon and the Olympic Mountains. Unfortunately you can't see the Olympics in this picture because it's cloudy. But man, on a clear day......it's outstanding. Off to the right, beyond the trellis thing, is a large garden full of culinary things....a la Chez Panisse. We've got rosemary, bay, basil, fennel, oregano, chervil,onions, squashes (in the fall), thyme, decorative flowers, arugula, and more. Whenever we need herbs....just go out back. We get most of our produce from local farmers who come to our back door. One of the things I LOVE about Tinytown. It really beats the in-city large mass produce vendors. As I look out the back door, I sip on a latte that I made myself from our aging and undependable espresso machine. Luckily, today, I managed to pull a pretty good shot. Ok, break time over! Back to work! My next step is to turn my pots over. I will turn the larger pot over first. I slip my offset spatula underneath the saran wrap and lift the cake off, and set it aside on the table. An important thing to note: If I'd used a mousse, curd, or jam filling, I wouldn't have been able to do this so easily. With a refrigerated buttercream filling, the cake doesn't flex at all as I lift it. I managed to nick a little of my polyfoil covering with my spat when I went to lift the cake. Nuts. Oh well, I'll cover that with a flower later. I melt some white chocolate and smear some in the center of my board. I need to anchor the bottom pot so it doesn't slip around.
I flip the bottom pot over, place it on top of my melted white chocolate, make sure it's centered, and peel the saran wrap off.
My next step is to mark where I'm going to place my top pot, then insert straws within that area to support the weight of it. I decided to place the top pot slightly off center, and traced a circle with my paring knife to mark it. For most cake supports I use straws. They're easy to cut to fit, cheap, and they work. The only time I use wooden dowels is when there is an UNGODLY amount of weight or a weird center of gravity involved. I used to use regular heavy duty bar straws, until I discovered.......bubble tea straws! They are super heavy duty and very large.....they have to be for people to suck up that lovely bubble tea. I don't really think that fad is going to catch on here much in the states, but as long as I can get the straws I'm happy. I get them from an asian novelty wholesaler in Seattle. I think it's Viet-Wah, but can't remember for sure.
Anyway, I insert the straw, mark it with my thumb where it's flush with the top of the cake, then pull the straw out and cut it. I use that straw as a measure to cut the rest of my straws. In this case I will use 5. One in the center and four around.
Now I'm all ready to place the top pot on......oh, wait, except for a swirl of buttercream on top of the straws to anchor it a bit. Next, I use my melted white chocolate to adhere an appropriately sized round cardboard on the bottom of my top pot.
Once that's set, I flip over the top pot, and place it on my bottom pot.
Voila! Now, I really have to make sure that the top pot won't slide around, so I stick a few bamboo skewers down through the middle and through the cardboard til it hits the bottom board. I use the side of my needlenose pliers to pound the skewer down through. Now starts my very favorite part of this whole thing.....details! I figured that using my silicone lace impression molds will make great detailing on the pots. Here's the one I'm going to use to detail the bottom pot:
I dust the inside of the mold with cornstarch........then roll out a quick piece of fondant, and roughly press it in:
Then I place the top piece of the silicone impression on top, and roll it like crazy with a rolling pin. With the top part of the impression still in place, I pull off as much of the excess as I can.
Then I remove the top piece, and pull all the ragged edges back in......
Then I brush a little water on the back of the piece, and adhere it to the pot. I keep making them until the pattern has gone all the way 'round.
I use a different lace mold to make a pattern on the top pot. Now it's time to do the rims. When I did the lace impressions around the pots, I used fondant, because I needed the stretchability of it to conform easily to the shape of the pot. A little stretchiness in this case is good. But when it's time to do the rims, I don't want ANY stretching going on whatsoever.....I want uniformly thick and perfectly straight strips, so for this I'm going to use modeling chocolate, which of course has been colored the same color as the fondant. See the neato embossing on my strip? I found that little embossing wheel at Seattle Pottery Supply, believe it or not, and it was cheap too. The embossers are interchangeable and it came with about 10 different patterns! I rolled out my strip, then embossed the pattern twice (one next to the other) then used my pizza wheel to cut nice straight even edges. I made two top strips and two bottom strips....the bottom strips are just plain.
And here are the pots with all their details.....
These guys are going into the walk-in for a while while I work on the other details. Gotta make the baby! First I start with a styrofoam core. The reason for this is for stability and less weight. There was a time in my career when I thought I shouldn't use ANYTHING that wasn't edible, but talk about making life hard. I've made things out of solid modeling chocolate, but they were very heavy and hard to support. Then over the years, I realized that people really don't eat the decorations anyway (except for a few overzealous kids), so I decided to reduce my chocolate expenses and weight by using styrofoam to bulk things out more and more. I pat out a disk of flesh colored modeling chocolate, and place my styrofoam ball in the middle.
Then I bring the edges up around the ball and squeeze the chocolate together so that no seams show. I stick a couple of skewers in it so that I can hold it in one hand and model it with the other. Then I manipulate it in my surgeon-scrubbed hands to model the face, add a little nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hair and of course, a dimple. The baby head needs to go somewhere while I work on other stuff.....oh, here's a good place.....right in the edge of my equipment box.
I've been so good about taking pictures at nearly every step! But here's where I fail you.......when I get "in the zone"......meaning that I'm so intent on my little details....I sort of forget about the camera! Here's what I did in between this picture and the next two:
*made the baby's shoulders and neck and arms out of modeling chocolate
*sprinkled my cookie dirt inside the pots
*dusted the centers of my flowers with luster and color, made the calyx's (sp?) and mounted *them on my green skewers
*rolled modeling chocolate onto a skewer to form the umbrella stem
*made the bottom banner and wrote on it
*made the baby's flower bonnet
I modeled the baby's neck and shoulders, then stuck that right on the top pot. Then I cut the skewers that are coming out of his head to the right length and pushed it down through the neck and shoulders.
I placed the arms and formed the hands. I stuck my umbrella stem through the arm and down into the cake so there would be adequate support......but darn, I wasn't watching carefully, and the skewer came out of the side of the pot because my angle was a bit off. Oh well, I'll cover that up with a leaf. At least you can see where the umbrella stem is on the skewer. On top of the umbrella stem is a little half dome of modeling chocolate, to support the gumpaste umbrella. I dab a bit of melted white chocolate on that, and stick the umbrella on top. Now all I have to do is place my flowers, mount the banner, and put his little bonnet on.
And here we have the finished product. It's sort of hard to read the banner....it says, "May Showers Bring Adorable Flowers". One thing I always seem to to do.....I'll shoot the picture of my finished cake and I'm always tired.....so I'm too lazy to find a good backdrop. Then I curse myself later when there's that yukky kitcheny background. God, in one picture I took, my cake had a dirty mop bucket behind it! All I can say is, thank god for Photoshop......I can always "fix" it later.
It took me 8 hours to put this together and that's not counting all the prep I did the whole week prior. I don't think a whole lot of people realize the time that goes into this stuff.....and it's also why you don't see it very often.
Anyway, the girl that's getting the baby shower has NO IDEA this is coming. Surprising her is going to be the best part!
Fast forward to the next day. My boss's wife and I are bringing the box inside the house, then removing the cake from the box. Kids are dancing around us....."is that a CAKE? Is that a CAKE?" People gather round, and the girl who's getting the shower sees it and starts crying. She gives me a big hug and says "I don't know how to thank you!" I told her she just did.
The shower went on, presents were opened, food was eaten, champagne was sipped.......and then.....it was time......the part that the kids almost couldn't wait for.....time to eat cake! Which of course, means, time to cut cake. And guess who gets to do it. Yep. Me. I don't have to cut my own cakes very often, and that's a good thing. Usually I'm nowhere in the vicinity when my cakes are cut and consumed.....I have only the memory of a photograph and my labor. This time I also do the deconstructing.....and I gotta say it was bittersweet. Especially since knowing it took me 8 hours to build it and only 15 minutes to take it apart. May I say.......wah? Yes. Wah. Luckily I'd had a couple glasses of Mumm's so my "pain" was numbed a bit.......
Hope you all have enjoyed this bit of cake sculpting. Now back to our regular programming.......
By Nn, M.D.
I'm very excited to share with you all a recipe that I developed for a double crust apple pie. I had been inspired a few weeks ago to come up with a series of 3-ingredient recipes that would focus on technique and flavor but still be simple enough for the unseasoned chef. I decided to make an apple pie as a challenge to myself--never having made one before--and as a way to show those who might find pastry intimidating how easy and adaptable it can be.
Basic Shortcrust Pastry
- 300g flour
- 227g salted butter, cold
- 2 lemons, zested with juice reserved
1. Cut butter into small chunks. Beat butter, zest of the 2 lemons, and flour together with an electric mixer OR combine with pastry blender OR rub together with fingers OR blitz in a food processor until it resembles sand.
2. Add just enough water to bring the mix together into a dough (about 20g for me). You'll know your pastry is ready when you can press it together and it stays in one piece.
3. Divide dough in two and wrap tightly with plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. When ready to use, roll out each portion to 13 inches in diameter. (I do this between two sheets of parchment paper. Don't worry too much if the parchment sticks to the pastry. I periodically placed mine in the freezer to help keep everything cold, and the butter will separate from the parchment when frozen.)
5. Take 1 portion of rolled dough and place it in a 9-inch tart tin with a removable bottom. Gently press into the sides to ensure even coverage. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Freeze the other portion of dough in-between the parchment pieces.
Apple Filling (and Assembly)
- 1 kg apples (I used about 7 apples for this recipe.)
- 220g dark brown sugar, divided
- 1 egg, separated
Making the apple butter:
1. Cut and core 500g of your apples, but do not peel. Add cut apples, juice of the one lemon, about 100g or so of water, and 170g of sugar to a large saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cover. Let the apples cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
3. Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
4. Return puree to saucepan and simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for an hour. Color should deepen and the mixture should thicken slightly, but do not allow it to scorch.
5. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool.
1. Peel, quarter, and core the remaining 500g of apples. Slice on a mandolin to about 1/8th inch thickness. Place sliced apples in a large bowl of cold water while slicing remaining apples.
2. Once apples are sliced, drain water and add the juice from the remaining lemon, as well as the remaining 50g of sugar, over the apples. Stir to coat.
1. Remove pie base from the freezer. Dock with a fork and brush on egg white. Place back in the freezer and allow to set for for about 5-10 minutes.
2. Pour the entire recipe of apple butter into the pie base and even out with an offset spatula.
3. Arrange apple slices over the apple butter.
4. Remove remaining pie dough from the freezer and cut designs in while still cold. Transfer to the surface of the pie and seal overhanging edges. Trim excess dough.
5. Brush top pastry with egg yolk (beaten with any remaining egg white) and bake in a 365˚F oven for 60-70 minutes. Crust should be shiny and golden brown.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin.
The reason for using salted butter is I think the flavor incorporates a little better into the mix than if I were to use unsalted butter and added salt. That being said, you could do that instead, though your recipe would then have 7 ingredients The addition of apple butter here takes the place of the normal apple pie filling, which is usually thickened with cornstarch and is typically quite sweet. By using the apple butter, I push the flavor of apple forward beyond what you would find in a typically apple pie. Also, the apple butter acts as a glue of sorts so that my slices are always clean, so no need to resort to adding thickeners or extra sweeteners. I'm always looking for a way around blind baking, and using an egg white seal has worked out very well for me. The egg white creates a water-tight layer between the crust and the filling, so no matter how wet my filling is, the crust will always bake crispy and won't get soggy for as long as the pie is around. Feel free to change this up as you see fit. Obviously you can spices to this (I recommend cinnamon, clove, and cardamom) but the beauty of this pie is that it's really not necessary. Although at first blush it may seem one-noted, the harmony between the flaky, almost savory crust and the bright and refreshing filling is one that doesn't need any help, in my honest opinion.
So there you have it! My 6-ingredient apple pie, sure to become a go-to for me, and hopefully for you as well!
Posted 6 hours ago Dear EGulleters,
ResearchBunny here. I've just found you today. I've been lolling in bed with a bad cold, lost voice, wads of tissues, pillows, bedding around me. I spent all of yesterday binge-watching Season 2 of Zumbo's Just Desserts on Netflix from beginning to grand finale. I have been a hardcore devotee of Rose Levy Beranbaum since the beginning of my baking passion -- after learning that she wrote her master's thesis comparing the textural differences in cake crumb when using bleached versus unbleached flour. I sit up and pay attention to that level of serious and precision! While Beranbaum did study for a short while at a French pastry school, she hasn't taken on the challenge of writing recipes for entremets style cakes. That is, multi-layer desserts with cake, mousse, gelatin, nougatine or dacquoise layers all embedded in one form embellished with ice cream, granita, chocolate, coulis. After watching hours of the Zumbo contest, I became curious about the experience of designing these cakes. Some of the offered desserts struck me as far too busy, others were delightful combinations. I was surprised that a few contestants were eliminated when their offerings were considered too simple or, too sophisticated. So I'd like to hear from you about your suggestions for learning more about how to make entremets. And also, what you think about the show. And/or Zumbo.
ps. The show sparked a fantasy entremet for my cold. Consider a fluffy matzo ball exterior, with interior layers of carrot, celery, a chicken mince, and a gelatin of dilled chicken broth at its heart!
After batting about .500 with my previous approach to macarons, I came across Pierre Herme's base recipe online. After two flawless batches of macarons, I've been re-energized to continue to work at mastering them. Specifically, I want to try more of his recipes. My conundrum is that he has, as far as I can tell, two macaron cookbooks and I don't know which one I should get. I can't tell if one is just an updated version of the other or a reissue or what the differences really are. I was hoping somebody had some insight. I have searched online and haven't seen both books referenced in the same context or contrasted at all.
This one appears to be older.
And this one appears to be the newer of the two.
Any insight would be helpful.
Anyone have a favorite recipe for chocolate cake using semisweet chocolate? My usual chocolate cake recipe uses cocoa, but I have some samples of chocolate I want to use up for a workplace party. Yes, I could make brownies or ganache frosting, or chocolate mousse or chocolate chunk cookies, just feeling like cake this weekend ...
Recently Browsing 0 members
No registered users viewing this page.