Wednesday, 12 May 2010

American Layer Cake- not Swiss enough!

Acting on a tip-off from David Lebovitz, who said it was one of the best cookbooks this year (or last year), I purchased (from abebooks, I'm cheap), Baked: New Adventures in Baking.

A few days later, reminded that Peter's Annual Family Reunion was coming up, and having been volunteered to make a first course (not a difficult task- my faithful tabbouleh came to the rescue) and a dessert, I opened it up at the cakes section (real cakes, not French cakes!), and came up with The Whiteout Cake.

Which looked pretty nice. A long recipe, longer than what I'd usually make, but a challenge is always good. And I need to break out of my usual habits and recipes I've repeated so many times...

The problem was... I didn't start until just before 9 p.m.

Nor did I realise that I was going to end up using my blender (and wishing I had a second blender), four mixing bowls, two measuring cups, two measuring spoons, numerous other spoons and forks, several knives, both spatulas, and a heap of other tools.

Yeah. Well. A professional kitchen would have been nice too.

Ingredients (copyright Baked, as above; slightly tweaked by me as indicated):
- 2.5 cups farine fleur (cake flour)
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 tbs baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 115 g butter (my apologies, but although I have an American measuring cup, and am quite happy to measure things like flour and sugar in it, I'm not trying to cram butter into it! Hence, I convert, with a handy online tool)
- 1/2 cup vegetable fat for cooking (vegetable shortening- I had to figure this one out by cramming it into the cup, and very annoying it was too)
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 3 vanilla pods, seeded (my change- I couldn't find pure vanilla extract, so couldn't put it one tbs thereof)
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature (I then made mayonnaise with the yolks)
(- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar- in brackets because I didn't have any and have no idea what it is in French nor where to get it, so I didn't bother)

Preheat the oven to 325F/170C. Butter three (two, in my case) 8-inch (20 cm) round cake pans, flour them, tip out excess flour.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.

In the bowl of the blender, fitted with the paddle attachment (first time I've used that, and I've had the blender about 5 years!), beat the butter and vegetable fat together until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Scrape down the bowl repeatedly. Add the egg whites, beat until "just" combined, whatever that means. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the ice water, in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (read that twice- it means you add the water twice, and the flour three times). Scrape down the bowl, mix again.

In another bowl (!), whisk the egg whites (and cream of tartar) until soft peaks form. Just soft ones. Not firm ones. Not hard ones. Soft. OK?

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Which, in my case, meant using a fourth bowl, as the mixing bowl of my blender wasn't big enough for the egg whites to go in too, besides having the great big paddle thingy at the bottom.

Divide the batter into the pans, and smooth the top. I did this by weighing my bowl at the beginning, then weighing my batter, dividing it into three in my small but perfectly formed head (OK, I did it on the calculator), and spooning it into the tins one by one, as they sat on the weighing machine. And only doing two tins, as I'd only bought two, thinking that I'd just do the third one afterwards.

Bake the cakes for 40-45 mns (I did 45), rotating the pans half-way through, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove the molds, slide onto rack, allow to cool completely.

Aren't my cakes pretty? And the tops, when I cut them off, tasted really good too. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

White Chocolate Frosting:
- 175g white chocolate, broken up
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1/3 cup creme fraiche
- 340g (three. hundred. and. forty!!!) butter, soft but cool (erm, yeah, right, I just left it out for half an hour), cut into small pieces (torn into them, more like!)
(- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract- I didn't bother at all, thinking the cake had plenty of vanilla in it)

Melt the chocolate however you think best (I use the microwave), stir, and set aside to cool.

In a saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking quite attentively or you'll burn the bottom the way I almost did (OK, did in one little edge, as I paid attention to the book's instructions to "whisk occasionally"), until the mixture has come to a boil and thickened, which takes as long as it takes, no matter the book saying "about 20 minutes", because it was nowhere near that.

Now comes the really annoying part. As you'll have read ahead, you will have washed up your blender, since you only have one. Because you now pour the mixture into the blender, fitted-with-the-paddle-attachment, and, wait for it, you're supposed to "beat on high speed until cool".

Erm, yeah, right. How long is that supposed to take?

And, in my case, there was no way that it was going to cool like that. I kept on having to take the lid off to let steam out. I found the best way was to leave it with the lid off for a few minutes, then whisk the cool layer into the hotter layer, and repeat. It took... oh, quite a while. A good 40 minutes. In the meantime, I baked my other cake, and let that cool.

You then add the butter, mix until thoroughly amalgamated. Increase the speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made a stab at what I thought it meant- spreadable, without being concrete.

Add the (vanilla and) white chocolate, and continue mixing until combined. The book then says that if the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. Which is what I did. It also tells you that if it's too firm, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency. Me, I'd just turn the blender on again...

Assembling the cake: Refrigerate the frosting for only a few minutes, until it can hold its shape. Place one cake on a serving platter, and trim the top to create a flat surface. Um. Yeah. Sort of. Evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top. Add the next layer, having trimmed it first (the book says to do it second, no, bad idea), frost it, add the third layer.

The book then says to "crumb coat" the cake, i.e. to put a thin layer of frosting on it to catch the crumbs, then put the cake in the refrigerator for about 15 mns to firm up the frosting. I did, but my layer had no crumbs in it anyway, so I wasn't too bothered. Frost the top and the sides with the remaining frosting.

Now, I'd also bought white sprinkles, as the book called this "whiteout", and said to decorate with white sprinkles or nonpareils. Well, my cake wasn't white. If I'd have been being nice, I'd have said "cream-coloured", but it wasn't, it was butter-coloured. White sprinkles would have looked awful. So I didn't have anything to decorate it with. It would have looked OK with multi-coloured ones, but I didn't have any. So I left it as it was. And went to bed. Because it was gone 1 a.m.!

The verdict:
I'd use the cake base again. Definitely. It was delicate, it was moist, it tasted delicious.

The frosting I'd make again, if I had the sort of sweet tooth that would render me toothless by the age of 40, instead of being 35 and not having a single cavity. It was... rich, it was gooey, it was sweet, it was like eating butter and sugar together, and although some older members of the extremely extended family liked it, once they got over the way it looked (I heard two different people ask others "What on earth is that?!?" when the cloche was taken off), it was just far too sweet for most of them.

Besides the way it looked. It was... alien. Too alien for a good, Swiss family. Too much of everything, in fact.

But I will probably use the cake recipe, in two layers, sandwiched with some home-made strawberry jam, and a dusting of icing sugar over the top. Because that would give a much nicer fate to the cake- instead of what happened to this one.

Just under half of it got tipped into the garbage earlier this evening.

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