Monday, June 23, 2014

I can stop worrying now... I've been told at last that the Spider-Man cake I've been fretting about over the last two days survived a whole night in the office's makeshift fridge, a bumpy hour-long car trip to Arona, and the heat of a summer day in the delightful Piedmontese lakeside town. 

My colleague was kind enough to send me this pic she snapped with her smartphone...

Unfortunately she didn't take any photo of the cut cake, so once again I can't show you how it looked inside. But she did say the kids loved it, and she herself found it pretty good. 

Gotta love it when a plan comes together!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Just your friendly neighbourhood baker

I don't know about you, but these days I feel as if I'm constantly trying to breathe broth. Heat, humidity, and pleanty of sweat - yay summer! 
Just the ideal conditions for baking a cake, right(/sarcasm)

Anyway, a colleague - actually one of the attending physicians working with us on a rotation to pamper our beloved policy holders with medical advice whenever needed, or otherwise (Look, mama! More sarcasm!) - asked me for a Spider-Man cake for her adopted son Nhat, who just turned six. 
She wanted it to feed about 20 little ones, but other than that she wasn't particular. She showed me a model cake, covered with red fondant, with a blue web covering one wedge of it and a Spidey action figure plopped on top. Only she couldn't find that particular toy, but provided me with a Spider-Man candle instead.

I immediately thought of repeating my Red Velvet feat from a few days ago, since that cake was really delightful, and dramatic enough to satisfy a bunch of kids. 
Only with a bright red interior, I needed blue fondant for a nice bit of contrast, and a red web on top. The doctor was OK with me inverting the colour scheme, and pretty much left me free rein with it... 

...and so, here it goes. 

I thought it better to have the web cover the entire surface, so the kids won't need to fight about who gets to gain a spider sense by eating it. 
I piped it with royal icing btw; I really wanted to use Candy Melts, but I just can't tame the darn things (shame, 'cause they taste lovely and have such bright colours!)
The writing is, likewise, a royal icing transfer, and all in all it was surprisingly quick to do, thanks to this truly amazing Spider-Man font you can download for free OMG!

Since I needed a much larger cake this time, I hit the Internet for a recipe that was already adjusted for a 12'' round pan. (I know, I know... SO lazy of me! But, I was short on time as the party's tomorrow, so I really needed to take all of the guesswork out of the process to be on the safe side.)

In the end, I picked this one from Food & Wine
Unlike the Bake Happy recipe I used before, this one produces little to no dome, as it is actually meant to bake low, like a German Torte. I wanted a bit more height though, so I made two and stacked 'em - even so, I got zero waste from them, as they baked so amazingly flat I didn't need to cut anything from them. 
(This meant, unfortunately, I didn't get a taste of it - but, by the looks of it, I think I like Bake Happy's version better. It was extremely light and soft, whereas this one feels heavier and kind of oily. Granted, the added sturdiness is a bonus in this instance, but in my personal opinion, Aikko's recipe is closer to the real thing.)

I did none of the fancy ice cream and pecan praline thingie - even plain cream cheese icing was a no-no, what with it being for very young kids who might not like its sour-ish taste (which I love, btw!)
So, alas, a canned vanilla frosting it was, and plain American buttercream for crumbcoating. The very thought sickens me, but this way I'm sure the kiddos will not object... plus, I have to admit the hellish stuff is much stabler than anything dairy-based!

Right, now I only need to carry the darn thing to work. Ugh. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Poppin' my Red Velvet cherry

I don't know which one is weirder - my family wanting to give an American dessert a try, or a rabid foodie like me having somehow overlooked such a pearl as Red Velvet cake. 

This is how it went. 

I was having lunch with my parents last Sunday - something I have to do occasionally, although it never fails to put lots of strain on my nerves - and some baking-related reality was droning on in the background, like Cake Boss or something. And my family was all, "Americans eat shite, trash food and greasy hamburgers is all they can manage, they have no taste all, they just can't compare with our culinary tradition, and all those fancy designer cakes they're so fond of doing taste like crap anyway". (Do they know baking said cakes is my pride and joy? You bet.)
Then, out of the blue, my brother - who's something of a food snob as well, mind you - chimes in: "I wouldn't mind trying Red Velvet cake. I hear it's not super sweet, and more on the tangy side".
Woot, my chance! 

And now's when I spit out the ugly truth: I myself am not sure how Red Velvet cake is supposed to taste! Because yes, I've had a couple Red Velvet cupcakes in my town but, of course, there is now way I can ascertain how close they were to the real thing. 
In comes the Internet ofc... and, following some frantic browsing, I got a fairly precise idea of what Red Velvet should look, feel, and taste like. 

I rounded up the top Google search results, discarded right away those recipes that would have given me anything else than the Platonic idea I had by then formed in my mind, and finally went for one that not only looked spot on, but is from my fave food blogger ever: Aikko of Bake Happy... who is - please allow me to refresh your memory on this point - the very same gal who's responsible for the banana bread I've been making non-stop for more than two years OMG. I could think of no better references, really!

 So... go have a look at Aikko's Red VelvIet cake recipe, then hop back here. We have some baking to do!

The recipe lists quite a few easily found ingredients you could substitute buttermilk with, but since this is my very first attempt at Red Velvet (and its outcome will shape my view of said cake forever and ever), I went all gung-ho about getting the original stuff. Thus, actual buttermilk it was. 
One thing I did my own way, though: I swapped the red food colouring for an equal amount of LorAnn's Red Velvet Bakery Emulsion I had bought online on a whim ages ago, and that had been biding its time in my pantry ever since. It looks like thick, honey-like red gunk... but once whisked into your liquid ingredients, it not only imparts them a beautiful, vibrant red shade, but also acts as flavouring. Good stuff!

I got two 6 in. cakes out of the given doses, which was just the perfect size for this. 
Only as you hopefully can see from the (fuzzy, blurry, smartphone-made) pic above, both of them domed quite much, which meant I had to cut what amounted to more than 1/3 from each base. And yes, of course the scraps won't go to waste, still I think I'll try lowering the oven temperature one notch next time I bake this into silicone moulds. 

Right. Onward to the filling & frosting step!

Notwithstanding the heat, I opted for a traditional cream cheese frosting - because yay authenticity, remember? 
I know it's nowhere as stable as buttercream (or even cream cheese buttercream) but in the end, my brother wanted tangy, so he's in for the full experience!

By the way, I used Austrian Quark as my cream cheese, instead of the ubiquitous Philadelphia... which is creamy and fresh and absolutelt delightful in many ways, but no tangy at all. 
Again, I've never sampled real cream cheese in America, but judging from online descriptions of its texture and flavour, what I got here must be pretty darn close!  

Aikko covered her cake with crumbs all over, but I wasn't really sold on the idea. So I simply picked the biggest closed star tip in my collection and piped random rosette-like swirls all over the place. It looks impressive enough IMHO. 
(Plus, who am I kidding? My brother will scarf the whole thing down with barely a glance at my mad piping skillz...)

Waiting for him to come and collect his cake right now. Will it be enough to convert my family to the delights of American desserts? I wonder...


EDIT AT 20.14 - I just spoke with my mother, and she said the cake's almost gone already. They loved it! Woot! (/does Snoopy happy dance)