Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Piece Of Cake

Sorry about my disappearance over the past week. Law School has started up again, and I have both interviews and a cite check this week, which is making for a lot of work. Hopefully it won’t be this way for the whole semester (I don’t imagine it will be), but for the next week or so expect me to be a little scarce.

Believe it or not, I’ve never made a layer cake before. However, for the past month or so, I’ve really been having an itch to take that next step and make a layer cake. The arrival of my new cookbook Cakelove by Warren Brown seemed like a good excuse. I decided to make a chocolate-hazelnut cake. For some reason I had this imagine in my mind that the process was straightforward. That it was just a matter of making some layers, stacking them up with frosting in between, and then covering the whole thing with a nice coat. While the individual steps were pretty straightforward, baking the cake layers was simple, as were the filling and the frosting. But putting them together turned out to be a challenge. I baked two cakes, and decided to make a four layer cake (with each cake I had baked cut in half). The first layer was simple, put it down, brush it with sugar syrup, glop on some chocolate pastry cream and some candied hazelnuts, and put on the next layer. However, I quickly discovered that as the cake warmed up, the filling was prone to leak out of the sides. So I began refrigerating the cake between the application of layers. Finally I had all my layers on, but my cake looked lopsided. When I looked at it from the top, it looked like one of the layers was bigger than the others, something that ought to be impossible. Then I figured it out, one of my layers had broken! Some generous applications of filling helped a little, but the cake continued to be lopsided. I was convinced the cake was going to end up chopped into a trifle. But, I put it in the fridge to cool before applying the crumb layer.

Once the cake was cool enough, it came time to apply the outer frosting, a chocolate Italian meringue buttercream. A generous crumb coat helped to stabilize the cake, and make it more appealing. Eventually A complete, and totally uneven coating of frosting (to fill the holes), made the cake substantially more appealing, at least from the outside. At some places, the frosting was close to an inch thick, but in others less than a centimeter. The cake still didn’t look professional, but it looked passable. Then it came time to decorate the cake. It was my roommate’s birthday, so I decided to write happy birthday on top. Unfortunately, even my regular handwriting is not the prettiest, and while what I wrote on the cake was legible, it didn’t quite fit, and looked more like it had been written by a gorilla that had been taught to mime writing. I was impressed with how the border turned out. A really close evaluation would have shown that it was pretty irregular, but no one looked that closely.

As for taste, I really liked the cake part. I also thought the chocolate-hazelnut pastry cream filling as delicious. It was sort of like a thick, super chocolaty pudding. The only part of the cake I was disappointed with was the chocolate Italian meringue buttercream. I thought when it was cold it really tasted mostly like butter.

Warren Brown strongly recommends using a scale instead of the standard volume measurements, which I did. But I have provided (from Warren Brown) both weights and volumes of the relevant ingredients. He also strongly recommended using 22-24 cocoa powder (a higher cocoa fat percentage). I used it, but can’t say I did a comparison between the two different types, so I can’t say for sure.

This cake is also going to be my entry to the layers of cake event being hosted by QuirkyCupcake.

Chocolate Butter Cake

Makes 2 9 inch cake pans

7 oz (1 ¼ + 2 Tbs) AP flour
2 oz (1/2 cup) unsweetend cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup half-and-half
2 Tbs Frangelico
1 Tbs Vanilla Extract
6 oz (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
14 oz (1 ¾ cup) extra-fine granulated sugar
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, do not grease the sides of the pans.

2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

3. Whisk together the half and half, frangelico, and vanilla together.

4. On low speed, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and the sugar for 3 – 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporated after each addition.

6. Add about 1/5 of the dry ingredients, then 1/5 of the wet ingredients, and continue alternating, ending with the dry ingredients. Do this step quickly to prevent over-mixing of the batter. Don’t wait for full incorporation between additions.

7. Fill each of the cake pans up about 2/3 of the way. Bake for ~28 minutes, or until the cake is solid in the middle, a uniform color, and a tester comes out clean.

8. Allow each cake to cool completely on a cooling rack, before running a paring knife between the edge of the cake and the pan, and inverting onto a flat surface.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Pastry Cream

This recipe uses a lot of sugar, which Brown says is necessary to insulate the cocoa during the cooking. It really doesn’t make the filling overly sweet though.

2 cups whole milk
3 oz (2/3 cup) blanched hazelnuts
3 eggs
7 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla
25 oz (3 cups + 1 Tbs) sugar
2 oz (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbs AP flour
¼ cup potato starch
8 Tbs (1 stick) chilled, unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven Put the milk and hazelnuts in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan, over medium-high heat. Bring the milk to a boil. Remove from the heat, and let the hazelnuts steep in the milk for 10 minutes.

2. Strain the hazelnuts, reserve the milk. Toss the hazelnuts with 1 oz of sugar, put on a foil covered baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until just toasted. Reserve.

3. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, sugar and starch. Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.

4. Whisk together the egg and flour mixtures. It will thicken as you mix.

5. Return the milk to a simmer again. Once it reaches a simmer, pour it in a slow stream into the yolk mixture, whisking in small circles, ending in broader strokes until fully combined.

6. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Whisk the mixture constantly but slowly. Make sure to keep the pastry cream moving.

7. Cook the pastry cream for about 4 minutes (it took a lot longer than that for me). Large bubbles should begin to burst on the surface. Turn the heat down to low and begin whisking the mixture rapidly to pasteurize it. The mixture is ready when it has changed from a light brown color to a rich, dark chocolate color (it seems improbably, then all of a sudden it happens).

8. Remove the mixture from the heat, and pour it into a non-reactive bowl (preferably stainless steel). Whisk the butter into the pastry cream one Tablespoon at a time.

9. Press a plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming and immediately refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Chocolate Italian Meringue Buttercream

When making this, the goal is to have the egg whites reach stiff peaks at the same time the syrup comes to the right temperature.

5 large egg whites
10 oz (1 ¼ cups) extra fine granulated sugar
¼ cup cold water
1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup bittersweet chocolate.

1. Put the egg whites into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and set aside.

2. Measure one cup of sugar and the water into a 1 quart heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat. Mix them together. Place a candy thermometer in the pan, and partially cover with a lid.

3. Begin whipping the egg whites on high speed. When it reaches stiff peaks, add the remaining ¼ cup sugar.

4. If the egg whites reach stiff peaks before the sugar is up to 245 degrees turn up the heat. Once the sugar reaches 245 degrees, remove it from the heat and slowly pour it into the egg whites, with the mixer still on the highest speed.

5. Beat mixture at high speed for 1-2 minutes, then reduce the speed to medium and beat for 3-4 more minutes.

6. Begin adding the butter a tablespoon at a time. Once all the butter is in, increase the speed to high for 1-2 minutes to fully incorporate.

7. Reserve 1 cup of the frosting for decorating. Beat the melted chocolate into the remaining frosting.

8. Refrigerate if not using immediately, but rewhip for a minute before applying to the cake.

Sugar Syrup

16 oz (2 cups) sugar
1 ¼ cups sugar

1. Mix the water and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a light simmer, but not to a boil.

2. Put in the fridge until the mixture reaches room temperature.


1. Cut each cake in half, so that you have four layers. Place a dab of filling on your plate, and place the bottom layer on it.

2. Use a pastry brush to dab the cake with the sugar syrup, do not brush, or you risk pulling crumbs off the cake, cover all the surfaces of your cake with it.

3. Place some filling onto the bottom layer. Spread it out, leaving a border of at least an inch around the edge of the cake. Sprinkle some candied hazelnuts onto the filling.

4. Take the next layer, cut side up, and dab it with the sugar syrup. Spread a smaller amount of filling onto the layer. Flip it onto the bottom layer, sandwiching the hazelnuts in the filling,

5. Repeat this process until the top layer of the cake is on. You may need to refrigerate the cake at points to prevent the filling from leaking out. Once all the layers are on the cake, refrigerate for 10 minutes.

6. Spread ¼ cup of the Italian meringue buttercream over the whole outside of the cake. This is the crumb layer, it is meant to seal the cake. Refrigerate the cake for another 20 minutes.

7. Spread the remaining buttercream over the outside of the cake evenly, using an offset spatula.

8. Mix coloring gel into the decorating frosting, and decorate the cake as you please.

No comments: