Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Blue & White Wedding Cake

I'm here to show you my newest cake project:

I spent this past weekend making a miniature wedding cake as a practice project for my portfolio (that's right, I am making a PORTFOLIO. First ever!). I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, except for a few minor things that probably aren't noticeable to anyone besides the decorator. If you're interested in my critique, scroll on toward the bottom - I'll add my notes there.)

This would have been done and eaten sooner, except that the weather was absolutely horrid yesterday which prevented me from taking any decent photographs with my little point-and-shoot camera. So, today was the big photo day. I even put up some wrapping paper behind the cake to hide messy background (talk about going pro).

My goals for this project were to practice several decorating techniques for my portfolio: hand-molded roses, scroll piping, stripes and dots, applique and detailed cut-outs, borders, doweling and working with multiple tiers. The roses were made with fondant, which I find easier to work with than gumpaste. The fondant doesn't dry as quickly and has this kind of pretty soft glow to them (that is, when they're still semi-damp. I don't know how they'll look in two days...)

I made the doily cut-outs using a scallop-edged cookie cutter, a small round tip and a petal tip; the whole thing is glued on with a bit of water.

Why, yes! That is real cake inside! That's a lemon blueberry cake (I think this my latest favourite combo) on top, and chocolate on the bottom.

The middle tier's real, too...

The cakes have been divided up and sent to good homes around Columbus.

Here are a few pictures of the process...I traced the stencil design onto parchment using food colouring, and then pressed the parchment onto the fondant, kind of like one of those temporary tattoos.

Making a lovely mess in the kitchen, much to D's dismay.

Minor problems with the cake:

1) Top square layer is too big for the circular base. I was thinking the sizing would work out just right at 8", 6" and 4", but I forgot that a circle is a lot smaller than a square...always measure is the lesson.

2) Top tier is slightly uneven at the top and some sides, which I tried to hide in the photos. This is a result of becoming tired and impatient during the most important part of the process...the layering and crumb coating. I guess I could have fixed it by applying another layer of buttercream to even it out, but I got lazy. Oh well.

3) The blue food colouring I used for stenciling isn't fully covered by the royal icing. I've never piped over-top of a design before, so it took a bit of getting used to.

4) The lines on the second tier aren't all straight or lined up along the centre of the cake. I free-handed it, when I should have marked it off first with a ruler.

5) I forgot to cover the bottom edge of the cake with a ribbon or piping to cover the board. Doh.

6) The fondant started cracking at the corners and edges, probably from being overworked during tinting. There you have it, my critique. Next time, I think I'm just going to cover a styrofoam form so that I don't have to worry about the cake going stale if I'm delayed by the weather.

My last day at the bakery is this coming Saturday, which seems crazy since it feels like I just started working there. But, it will be good to have a few days off before our move. I've been busy with some other things too...working on a new resume and putting together my portfolio. I've just sent off my internship application to a popular bakery in NYC, so I've got my fingers crossed about that.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lemon Meringue Tarts

Like I said, there has been lots of baking going on this past week, but finding time to blog about it is a different story! Do you like these little tarty guys? Yes, that is some culinary torch-action you see going on. D and I were going to the CAC 30th anniversary event and I wanted to bring some desserts for the spread. The components are borrowed from the Tartine cookbook (pate sablee for the shell, and Italian meringue for the top) and How to Bake (lemon curd), two books that you will probably see me reference quite a lot from now on.

This is a really good make-ahead recipe. You can make the shells ahead of time, even freeze the dough or the baked shells, and the lemon curd you can do a couple days beforehand. When you're ready for them, the only thing you have to do is the meringue, which assembles very quickly.

Use a large star-tip to pipe the swirls. I love the cute little curl it makes at the peak.

D contributed to the project by operating the little torch and toasting all the little meringue tops. We bought this butane-powered one from the Cookware Sorcerer. I'm guessing there will be creme brulees and more meringues in our future!

Too bad they're all gone! I've got a ton of meringue leftover, so you'll probably be seeing another meringue type dessert coming up soon.

An almost no-knead Bread!

Or, 'Best and Easiest Home-baked Bread' by Nick Malgieri in How to Bake. This is the most successful bread recipe I have made so far, which we enjoyed in the form of some yummy sandwiches last week. Doesn't it look good?! It was crusty, dense and really flavourful...so good! You know, it was better than some of the bread I have bought around here, if I do say so myself (tootoot!)

This bread involved a starter, a sponge, and then the making of the dough. Now, I don't really understand the difference between a starter and a sponge (I thought they were sort of the same thing) but you put one in the other, and then make the dough. This recipe requires some planning since there's lots of waiting, but very little labor overall. No tired arms!

In a nutshell, here's the basic recipe. If you want the full details, then I encourage you to buy the book or at least borrow it from the library. To make the starter, you mix warm water, 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 cup flour. Let all that sit overnight. Then you take a cup of that, put it in a new bowl with 3/4 cup water, 1/2 tsp yeast, and 2 cups of flour to form the sponge. Let it sit overnight again. Finally, you put all the sponge in your mixer along with 2 tsp salt and 1 1/2 cups of flour and set the dough hook on for 5 minutes. Let it rise once, deflate, shape it into a round loaf, place on a pan sprinkled with cornmeal, and allow a second rise. Slash the top. Bake for 45 minutes at 450 F. That's all there is to it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Great Canadian Butter Tart

Aside from poutine, I don't think there are very many 'Canadian' foods that we are known for. The butter tart, however, is definitely not to be missed. And hard to miss, in fact. You can pretty much find a butter tart anywhere - bakeries, coffee shops, vending machines, and even gas stations (including those in the middle of nowhere!)

So what exactly is it? It's more or less a tart made from a flaky pie dough, traditionally with raisins, pecans, or walnuts, and a brown sugar filling. It's a bit like a tiny pecan pie.

There are tons of recipes online and I randomly chose one from the Joy of Baking website, which I've cut and pasted below. The recipe said to make muffin-tin sized tarts, but I decided to make cute little 2-inch tarts - not bad, but they lacked the gooeyness of a bigger tart. Next time I will make them bigger.

Butter Tart Recipe (from Joy of Baking)

Pate Brisee (Short Crust Pastry):

1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.54 cm) pieces

1/8 to 1/4 cup (30 - 60 ml) ice water

Butter Tart Filling:

1/3 cup (70 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (215 grams) light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup (60 ml) light cream (half-and-half) (10% butterfat)

1/2 cup raisins or 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (toasted and chopped) (optional)

Pate Brisee: In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/8 cup (30 ml) water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. If necessary, add more water. Do not process more than 30 seconds.

Turn the dough onto your work surface and gather into a ball. Flatten into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about one hour before using. This will chill the butter and relax the gluten in the flour.

After the dough has chilled sufficiently, place on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough and cut into 12 - 4 inch (10 cm) rounds. (To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards).) Gently place the rounds into a 12-cup muffin tin. Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up the dough. Next, make the filling.

Butter Tart Filling: In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla extract. Stir in the cream. If using nuts and/or raisins, place a spoonful in the bottom of each tart shell and then fill the unbaked tart shells with the filling. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 15 - 20 minutes or until the pastry has nicely browned and the filling is set. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Here are the empty shells, pre-filling. I cut them with a scalloped 3" cutter and stuffed them into the tins.

Next, putting in the goodies - I made half of them with raisins, and half with pecans.

Spooning in the sugar filling. Mm. It smells delicious. Don't forget though, that the raisins and pecans will float, and the sugary goo will melt, so it's really important not to over fill the shell (like I did...):

My tarts all overflowed and oozed everywhere, so badly that I had to take the whole tray out and spoon out excess filling. Luckily they still baked well and didn't cement themselves to the tin like I was afraid they would!

These keep well for a few days at room temperature, so that you have lots to enjoy on a daily basis. D and I made a bad habit of breakfasting on them during this time, which contributed to the speed of their disappearance...I'll have to make more, very very soon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

We found a house!

I'm still here. It's been a crazy week. After we got back from a Bethlehem I've just been working non-stop. Anyhow, we had a successful home-hunting trip and found the cutest little house to rent in Historic Bethlehem. It is a lovely neighbourhood and we are thrilled that we'll be living there next year. It's even walking distance to work for D!

Without further ado, some pictures to share with you of our new place:

That's going to be our little house! It's got a yard, a basement, an upstairs, way too many bathrooms, and a nice red front door:

Best of all, there is a massive kitchen that is probably the size of our current living room. I plan to spend many, many hours baking and cooking in here. There is so much storage it is mind-boggling.

It was such a relief to get the home-hunting over with, which gave us lots of free time to explore the area. We wandered around Lehigh's campus...

Enjoyed the view from the public library, which is only a few minutes from our new place....

We even had time to drive into Philly for the day...we had some great pizza for lunch, took a tour of the Art Institute's baking program, and had dinner at the Good Dog. It was exciting being in a city again.

Whew! So that's our big news. I've done a ton of baking this week, so stay tuned for more!