Where have I been? No, I didn’t fall into a ricotta-induced coma…
A few of you might have seen a Tweet or Facebook update a few weeks ago about my plans to bake some cakes. Well, bake I did… many. That’s them up there, as well as a couple of trifles and some bread puddings. (The cakes were for a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast here in Boston… a favor for some friends.)
To be honest, the friends asked for desserts. Why I honed in on cakes, I’m not exactly sure. I think it’s because there’s something so satisfying about making them: all that work and in the end you have this gorgeous frosting-clad structure. Truth be told, I’m not one to brag about my baking skills. That’s actually one of the reasons I decided to take on this challenge: I wanted to improve the consistency of my cake baking skills, to really understand what goes on when you bake cakes. Too many times I’ve committed to making cakes for birthdays or parties and then had to bake two of them because I messed the first one up. I messed up a few this this time, which is why I made the trifles… no one can see the mistakes!
In the end I had eight cakes:
– Chocolate grasshopper (chocolate with mint frosting)
– Orange creamsicle (vanilla with creamy orange frosting)
– Chocolate with cream cheese frosting
– Vanilla with caramel frosting
– Chocolate with caramel frosting
– And two Boston cream pies
I dug deep into the family archives for a few of these: namely the Boston cream pie and the caramel frosting. The cream in the Boston cream pie recipe is a custard that’s been handed down by AT LEAST five generations of women in my family (interestingly, all along the matrilineal line). And the caramel frosting recipe came straight from my grandma’s kitchen in North Carolina. (Sorry, I don’t think I can share those, but if you really want them let me know. I might make an exception.)
Perhaps the most useful resource was The Grit cookbook. I’ve had this baby for several years: a friend turned me onto it for their killer salad dressing recipe back when I was living in Orlando. I honestly never thought that a vegetarian cookbook would become one of my staples, but when I was thinking that I wasn’t thinking about cakes being vegetarian. And they do have some absolutely fantastic layer cake ideas.
However, I didn’t have as much luck with putting The Grit’s cakes into practice as I would have liked. They seemed too light and delicate; they broke too easily. So while I used their frosting ideas, I turned to other resources for the cakes, namely The America’s Test Kitchen Baking book (much thanks to @cavecibum for pointing me to it in my recent cookbook buying binge!) and (I’m almost embarrassed to admit) Martha Stewart.
I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for my chocolate cake, which entailed making a kind of chocolate pudding and then combining that with the egg/sugar mixture and the flour/baking powder one. I got turned onto the Martha Stewart recipe that I used for my vanilla cakes while searching for a red velvet cake recipe. I ultimately decided against that and went for a coconut layer cake instead. I liked the way that the yellow cake layers came out that I decided to use them for all my “vanilla” cakes. (Oh and seriously, try that coconut cake recipe. It’s KILLER. Like crack.)
I tried to break up the baking: one afternoon for vanilla cakes, one afternoon for chocolate ones, one day of making frosting and assembling the cakes and one morning of making bread puddings and trifles. It went pretty well, my kitchen looked only moderately disastrous and I was just marginally covered in flour, eggs and custards. Most importantly though, the cakes were a hit and I’m fairly certain that the next time I commit to baking a cake I’ll only have to do it once.