WOW – it’s been a L O N G time since my last blog post! Time certainly flies when you’re having fun!! Apologies for the unintentional hiatus: I’m in the midst of work that requires a lot of my attention and energy. But I do think all the time about blogging… and I have begun many topics that I’ve saved in my drafts folder!
Enough of that for now. Let’s get started, shall we?
Cake or Death? Cake, please.
Do you like cake? So do I! Cake makes everything better. It can transform any casual social gathering into a happy little party. Cake is magic. Cake spreads happiness and good vibes. Cake smells good, tastes good, looks beautiful, conjures up sweet memories and spreads smiles all around. I am sad that I don’t get to make as much cake as I used to… In the last couple of years, I only get to bake for special occasions. When I first started baking (years and years ago), I took any excuse possible to bake a cake. I guess I had more time on my hands back then.
For some casual occasions and lighter holidays (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc), I like to make cupcakes. They are cute, sweet and the perfect portion size. For larger birthday parties and bigger events, I make full-sized cakes. But the piece de resistance, the tip top of the cake hierarchy, the crown jewel of all cakes is the wedding cake!
Making a wedding cake is like running a marathon in the Olympics for me. I make them about once every few years for close friends and family. It’s strenuous, physically and emotionally. I’ve learned a lot over the years about making a wedding cake… which would be the topic of another blog post soon.
For today, I wanted to tell you about the cake tasting, which is the run-up to the wedding cake. My training session, if you will. Ok, I’ll admit, it’s purely a selfish thing for me: I get to have a small private party with the happy couple, ostensibly to discuss plans for their wedding cake; but really it’s all about sitting around, sipping champagne, talking about the wedding plans and of course, eating cake! Actually, it’s a great idea to figure out the best type of cake to make for the wedding. We learn what their likes and dislikes are, what their preferences are for frostings, the look and design of the cake, etc…
Last weekend, my husband and I hosted a cake tasting party for my brother and his lovely bride. All of the cake tastings we’ve had over the years have been special and fun; and this one was no exception! The bride and groom invited their parents to join in and the bride’s brother also came to sample cakes – it was such a relaxed and easy-going afternoon filled with champagne, coffee, tea, and CAKE!
I made four tasting cakes on Saturday for the tasting on Sunday. I tried to keep in mind that I wanted to post a blog about the process of baking 4 separate cakes, but it was hard to remember as I got into full production mode, sorry; but as you read on, you’ll see why.
Part of the plan was to make cakes that were significant to the couple. The other part of the plan was to make cakes that I could do relatively easily. I chose cakes I had made countless times over the years. These are my “Greatest Hits:”
1) My Signature Wedding Cake: almond genoise filled with apricot puree, frosted with amaretto buttercream (I wanted to use Grand Marnier for the buttercream, but at the last second, I changed my mind). This is my signature. It’s the “ringer” I make for all cake tastings. Surprisingly, a good number of people choose this cake (for different reasons) — I like it because it’s unusual, light and flavorful.
2) The Royal Hawaiian Cake: pineapple cake filled with guava puree, frosted with vanilla buttercream and garnished with lightly toasted coconut flakes. Since they got engaged in Hawaii last September, I wanted to make something that was significant to them. This is a fun cake for a party, and this combination makes excellent cupcakes as well.
3) The Strawberry Dream: Italian cream cake filled with vanilla mousseline cream and fresh strawberries from the Farmer’s Market (thanks, Abby!), frosted with limoncello buttercream. I knew I was going to make this, and that it might very well become the wedding cake because it’s my brother’s favorite. I have to admit it’s my favorite as well.
4) Chocolate-Hazelnut (Gianduja ):with bittersweeet ganache, hazelnut dacquoise and frosted with frangelico buttercream. I knew the bride liked chocolate and that she liked Nutella so I wanted to make something that hinted at the flavors of Nutella, making sure it came across as a bit more upscale.
The following content describes my personal journey in three acts as I prepared for the cake tasting party. The irony is, it’s not my first time doing this. I’ve done this so many times before I should be a pro at this by now. But for some strange reason, things go wrong at the worst possible time, and then events spiral out of control for me. Every. Single. Dingle. Time. My best-laid plans to be organized and efficient all seem to go pear-shaped when I least expect it. Just when I can’t seem to overcome my problems, I somehow pull it together and in the end, the party goes off well and everyone lives happily ever after. But for your reading pleasure, I’ll recount for you the ordeal (but don’t worry, there’s a happy ending at the end!)
Act 1: The Best Laid Plans…
On Saturday, I began pretty early with the baking. I made two of the cakes from what I already had in my pantry (almond genoise and chocolate), fully intending to go shop for the rest of the ingredients later on in the afternoon. Mind you, when I say I’m baking 4 cakes, I should state that they are all 6-inch cakes and not full-sized ones. These smaller cakes are easier to make because they use less batter and take less time to bake in the oven. They take less time to cool as well. So these two cakes I made right away were easy and fast. My confidence was building. I took a break to have some lunch and went out to shop for the rest of the ingredients I needed for the rest of the day.
When I returned from the shops with the rest of the items I needed, I noticed that the chocolate cake turned into a hockey puck. I was confused: this is a cake I can practically make in my sleep. I know the ratios by heart. Why did it fail? No idea. I threw out the failed cake and started another batch. Again, it wasn’t a big deal; it was still relatively early in the day and I was confident I had enough time for the other 2 cakes (pineapple and Italian cream), 2 full batches of buttercream, pastry cream, chocolate ganache and a hazelnut dacquoise. Every endeavor starts out this way… until….
Top: almond genoise left, pineapple cake right. Bottom: Italian Cream left, chocolate right
As the afternoon wore on, the other 2 cakes were made relatively quickly and all four cakes were set to cool. I was feeling pretty good by now. I made the chocolate ganache and set that aside to cool to room temperature so it would become a spreadable consistency (like peanut butter). On to the pastry cream… which ruined itself immediately when I went to answer the phone. Pastry cream is another recipe I can make in my sleep. The mistake I made was trying to rush it along. I had turned the heat up higher than I normally would so that it would cook faster. If I had been diligent and just whisked and whisked quickly until it set up, I’d have been fine. But, I was a moron and answered a phone call. The pastry cream curdled and seized as soon as I turned my back to get the phone. Nasty. I had to make that over again, too. What’s that saying about haste making waste? Yes, I’m an expert at that, too.
Pastry cream 2.0, chocolate ganache and simple syrup. Ready and waiting!
The ruined pastry cream threw a wrench into everything. By then, most of Saturday was gone. I had only 4 cakes and ganache to show for it. After I cleaned up the pastry cream mess and prepared for another batch, I realized that I hadn’t gotten the dacquoise started yet. Damn. Dacquoise is a crunchy disk of meringue and ground nuts baked until it is dry, crunchy and light. Layered in a cake, it gives a sweet, crunchy texture to a soft, moist cake. It also takes SEVEN F*CKING HOURS to bake. I think I finally got it into the oven around 9pm. Crap.
So, ok, dacquoise in the oven. Pastry cream 2.0 made and cooling… it was time to make the buttercream. I decided to make 2 full batches of unflavored buttercream and then divide the whole lot into quarters to flavor individually for each cake. By that time, it was nearing 11pm. I made the buttercreams as quickly as I could (only 1 Kitchenaid machine) and decided that I’d assemble the 2 easier cakes before going to bed.
Buttercream in the making!
I put the almond cake together with no problem. Feeling better. Feeling like I was gaining ground again. Next, I tried the Strawberry cake… and failure #3 occurred. The entire cake was under baked in the center. W.T.F. Glancing at the clock, it was already near midnight. I was getting tired, cranky. Stressing out. Crying. Time to give Terri a 10-minute time-out.
10 minutes later, I’m re-purposed. I decided a new plan of action: assess the situation, see what can be done tonight, wake up super-early tomorrow morning and carry on. I took stock of the situation: the Italian cream cake had to be thrown away, the pineapple cake also looked slightly underbaked too (damn), buttercreams were done and flavored, ganache was cooled to the right consistency, dacquoise still had 3 more hours to go. Damn. I checked my ingredients. Double Damn: I had run out of eggs, sugar and pineapple. Even though a 24-hour Safeway is down the street from me, I waved the White Flag. I cleaned up the kitchen as well as I could, set the timer for when the dacquoise would be ready and crawled into bed. Defeated. All day I worked thinking it was going to be a slam dunk. I do this to myself every time. It was 2am and I had only 1 finished cake. Loser.
~~~~~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~~~~~~~