Monday, June 30, 2014

Recipe: Lemon Chiffon Strawberry Short Cake

This past weekend, a friend of ours requested a strawberry shortcake for his granddaughter. I hadn't done one in quite a while, and as a result I spent basically every moment I made the thing drooling and weeping about the lack of strawberry shortcake in my life. So, once the cake was delivered, I asked my husband if I should bake a second one just for us. I may be paraphrasing, but the gist of his response was this:

Like Tom Haverford, I did not need to be told twice.

Lemon Chiffon Strawberry Short Cake

4 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp water
1/4 cup canola oil
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3-1/2 cup powdered sugar (depending on taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water

1 lb. fresh strawberries

Powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees Farenheit and line a 6" square or 8" round cake pan with parchment around both the sides and bottom. You can use shortening or butter to make the parchment stick, but do not grease the parchment.
2. Combine egg yolks, canola oil, water, vanilla, and lemon zest in a large bowl, whisking until foamy and well-beaten. In a separate bowl, sift together the sugar, baking powder and cake flour. Fold the flour mixture into the egg yolk mixture until just combined.
3. Using clean beaters, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold gently into the egg yolk mixture. Pour into cake pan and knock pan sharply on counter 3 times to remove any large air bubbles. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake onto a piece of parchment and allow to cool upside-down. Once completely cool, remove the parchment.
4. In a small bowl, mix the gelatin and cold water and allow to sit for five minutes. In the meantime, whip cream with sugar in a large mixing bowl until the mix reaches soft peaks. Gently warm the gelatin (either over a double boiler or by microwaving for 5-second intervals until just melted). Pour in the gelatin while whipping the cream on medium speed, and finish whipping cream to stiff peaks. Set aside.
5. Level the top of the cake using a large serrated knife (a turntable is a big help here!). Then split the cake into two even layers.
6. Cut the leaves from your strawberries. Set aside 4 large strawberries and one medium berry for the top. Sort the remaining berries by size, and cut some of similar size in half to line the outside (I used 8 medium-sized berries to line my 6" square, but this may be different for you. Play jigsaw!). Keep the rest whole.
7. Place the top layer of your cake onto your cake board, and pipe a line of whipped cream about 3/4" away from the edge. Arrange your berries around the line of whipped cream, aligning them as much as possible with the rim of the cake. You may have to trim the sides of the berries that meet at the corners.
8. Fill the inside of the whipped cream rim with berries, standing up the whole berries and arranging them evenly.

9. Pipe a bulb of whipped cream between each of the half-strawberries on the rim, and then fill in all the spaces between your middle berries. Try to make the whipped cream level with the outside berry rim.
10. Place the second layer of cake on top, bottom side facing upward. Arrange the four large garnish berries in the center and pipe a large bulb of whipped cream in the center. Place the medium berry you reserved on top of the bulb. Pipe whipped cream around the sides in your desired pattern. Garnish with more berries if desired, and dust generously with powdered sugar.

Yields: 6-10 servings depending on how you cut it. We got six, because we're shameless hogs.

What's it look like sliced? Why, a little something like this:

Go forth, readers. You know what to do.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Recent Project/Recipe/Tutorial: Guiness Chocolate Game of Thrones Cake.

Today I'm giving a mini-tutorial on how to make the Game of Thrones inspired below, as well as reviewing a Chocolate Stout Cake recipe. It's gonna be a longish one, so settle in!

This cake was inspired by a fan favorite scene in the first episode of Game of Thrones's fourth season, where Sandor Clegane ("The Hound") threatens to eat every chicken in a tavern. The line really caught on and inspired a lot of fanart. Some of my favorite fanart was of Sandor as Colonel Sanders, which I found just hilarious enough to want to bring to life. (Side note: If anyone knows the original artist of the Colonel Sandor portrait, please e-mail so I can give them credit!)

The cake served about 10 people and was decorated mostly in Italian meringue buttercream. I used a Chocolate Stout Cake recipe and paired it with white chocolate mousse (the recipe for which can be found in my Black Forest Mousse Cake entry). The only fondant present was for the painting of Sandor, and the chickens were made of white chocolate and corn flakes. I've seen fried chicken cakes before, but most of them seemed to have chicken made mostly of fondant. That seems like both an expensive and unlikely-to-be-eaten option, so I came up with the method you'll see in a moment.

Without further ado, let's get to the progress photos! I began with 2 6" layers and one 5" layer, and I sculpted them into a more tapered bucket shape.

Next up, I started filling. I used the same process for each layer. First, a healthy brush of triple sec syrup.

Next up, a buttercream dam (Italian meringue, as always!) to hold in the filling. This is essential anytime a cake is being filled with mousse, jams, curd, fresh fruit, or basically anything that isn't buttercream or a firm ganache.

And finally, piping in a layer of white chocolate mousse. Rinse and repeat for all remaining layers.

Next up is a buttercream crumb coat, followed by a rest in the fridge to get the whole situation firmed up.

I transferred the cake to its final board and added the outer coat of buttercream.

At this point I whipped out my airbrush machine and gave the cake a nice red fade. Turntables are your best friend for this sort of thing.

That board looks crazy. Time to clean it!

Next up, I scooped some of the frosting from the top. This helps the chicken settle in and look more like it's inside the cake. I also piped a rim in buttercream and put down a cornflake bed.

Now, it's time for the chicken! My original idea was to make the chicken pieces out of white modeling chocolate and roll them in cornflakes. I quickly realized what an absurd amount of chocolate I'd need for this task. Realizing I also had an absurd surplus of cornflakes (we don't eat cereal at my house and I had purchased a whole box just for this project), I had the idea of combining the two. It was perfect. The mixture resulted in a pretty spot-on dupe of white chocolate Nestle crunch bars, but in chicken form. Delicious, and kind of hilarious. I rolled the shapes in some extra corn flakes after sculpting, for good measure.

I airbrushed them with ivory airbrush color to give them a browned look.

Last but not least, the Sandor Clegane portrait. This was just painted on very thin fondant using a mix of airbrush and powdered food colors. I drew a guide to lay the fondant on as an aid, primarily to keep me from drawing Sandor too large or too small. Since fondant isn't exactly translucent, these guides really aren't helpful for any level of detail.

And finally, I put it all together!

The next order of business is my recipe review. I've been meaning to try out Guinness Chocolate cake for a while now, and the Game of Thrones season finale seemed like an appropriate time to try it. I got the recipe from Epicurious. I'll post it as it's written there, followed by few thoughts!

Chocolate Stout Cake

2 cups stout (such as Guinness)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.


Epicurious included a recipe for icing, which I didn't use. Some quick thoughts:

1) This cake is definitely good! I'm not a major chocolate fan, but I liked it a lot. It's slightly less moist than my usual chocolate cake recipe, but it's also firmer and easier to sculpt. Party goers were big fans.

2) This recipe makes a HUGE batch of cake. It made five 2" tall and 6" diameter cakes, and one 2" tall and 5" diameter cake. I could easily have halved it and had enough for this cake.

3) You can't taste the Guinness in any obvious way, but it serves to cut the sweetness. The sour cream does this as well. It makes the cake a lot more balanced than many other recipes.

I'd give it a solid 4/5.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Recipe: Warm Apricot Heart Tartlettes

This is probably one of my all-time favorite desserts: tart, sweet, crisp, and creamy simultaneously. I can't take credit for it, though, as the following is a version of this excellent Jacque Torres recipe altered to suit my needs.

I definitely suggest fresh apricots for this, though you can use canned ones patted dry in a pinch. The little tart pans are pretty easy to find in stores, but I love this set from Fat Daddio's. They're a perfect tiny size and hold up well to lots of use.

Warm Apricot Tarts

Pate Sablee, recipe follows
Almond Cream, recipe follows

12 Fresh Apricots
Confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Pate Sablee:
1/3 cup almond flour
2 cups cake flour
2 sticks (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
Pinch salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
l large egg

Almond Cream:

1 cup slivered almonds, ground finely
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly spray your mini tart pans with baking spray. 

Make your Pate Sablee: Place the almond flour, cake flour and cold butter in the mixing bowl and mix until combined. Add the salt and powdered sugar. Mix until combined. Add the egg and mix until combined. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour to chill dough.

Roll the chilled dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8" thickness. Using a round cookie cutter about a half inch larger than your mini tart pans, cut out 24 circles. Line tart pans with the dough. Pat it in lightly and trim the excess.

Make the almond cream: Beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add in the egg and beat until thoroughly incorporated, then add in the almonds and flour and mix until smooth. Do not over mix after adding the flour, or else the cream will lose its delicate texture. Fill the cream into a large piping bag and pipe a dollop into each tart shell. Do not fill the cream all the way to the top, as it will puff up while baking. 

Halve your apricots. Trim the halves down so that they lay flat, and use a small heart cookie cutter to cut a heart out of each half. Place an apricot heart on top of the almond cream in each tart and push it down gently. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust and almond cream are lightly browned. Once the tarts are slightly cooled, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve warm.

Yields: 24 adorable baby tarts.

You'll be left with lots of apricot scraps once you're done with this recipe, which isn't a bad problem to have. I just throw the scraps in the freezer and use them to make awesome smoothies later. Or, you could prevent having scraps to begin with by making a full-sized tart and just halving the apricots, like so (old photo, ahoy!):

As long as you have almond cream and apricot in your tummy, there's really no such thing as a bad option.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Recent Projects: A Mario Kart Cake.

It's time to state the obvious: Things don't always go perfectly for me when I'm doing cakes. Sometimes, they go REALLY not-perfectly.

I have two friends that jointly celebrate their birthdays each year. The theme for these celebrations is Mario Kart pretty much by default, and this year I decided to contribute a sculpted cake. This cake was originally supposed to look like the blue Spiny Shell, with spikes and big adorable wings. I made the wings from pastillage ahead of time, gloating about how well-prepared I was. The day before the cake was set to be done, I attached the wings to my little fondant-covered blue shell and began airbrushing some detail. This is where things go downhill. My airbrush gun developed a mind of its own, and before I knew it, I had a big mess of black and brown all over my shell and--most infuriatingly--the pastillage wings.

My initial thought was to try to just make it very... shaded. When I was done it just looked melancholy, like the kind of shell Morrissey would throw. Not to mention airbrush gun malfunctions look more like splattered messes than anything else. The only thing I could try to do was remove the color with water, but I knew going in that was likely to fail. The black stuck in every tiny crack, and as I tried to clean them, the wings crumbled. Goodbye, Spiny Shell, we hardly knew ye.

I won't lie and say that I am happy when things go wrong this way. I'm always always pretty frustrated, but I also tend to know that pouting won't do me a whole lot of good. Since this was a gift, it was nothing to stress over anyway... the recipients would never know how it was meant to look unless I told them (which I did, because they're chill and it was funny in retrospect). And since I was running low on fondant and still wanted to feel proud of what I'd made, I decided to issue myself a challenge: remake that sucker without a single scrap of fondant.

So, I did. I had a blast doing it, too. It was a turntable spinnin', acetate strip holdin' good time. And the resulting buttercream job was pretty darned smooth, too, if I may take a moment to pat myself on the back.

The banana and stars went on as planned. I did decide to pipe the banana's features instead of painting them. With the new look of the shell, the banana would have looked too different in style with painted details. I also knocked out some cupcakes heaped high with passionfruit buttercream... you know, in case the cake was too small. It wasn't, but everyone had a cupcake or two anyway.

Please enjoy the technical details of this cake, along with the remaining photos:

The cake was filled with passionfruit buttercream and fresh mango. The banana was made out of 3 stacked and carved jumbo cupcakes. The shell was made from a carved 6" sphere (2 demispheres with a supported cake board in the middle). I used bubble tea straws for support since this cake was so very tiny. The shell was decorated entirely in colored Italian meringue buttercream, and the bottom of the banana was coated with a thin layer of black buttercream before applying the 3 sections of the peel in fondant. This allowed the black to peek out and made it look a bit more like in the game. The top of the banana was airbrushed green, and all the features are were piped in Italian buttercream. The wooden board was decorated with flooded royal icing in a rainbow road pattern and airbrushed with luster dust. I hot glued a ribbon around the side, but it's only in half of the photos or so.

The birthday boy and girl liked it, and celebrated that fact by re-enacting American Gothic with it.