Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cake 2: Almond Chocolate

Or almond cake with dark chocolate ganache and vanilla "buttercream". #2 is just a baby, a single layer that I sliced into two. More details to come.

What I learned about cake: Reflections on #1

Yesterday I finished my second cake! In comparing the process of making my first and second, I realized I learned a lot.
Here are a few notes on my first cake.
It was a lemon cake, made from scratch using a recipe I found on epicurious here. The batter was pretty time intensive, and I followed the recipe exactly, except I made one layer with cake flour, as the recipe suggested, and the second with all-purpose flour, just to see. (In the picture above, the right side is cake flour, left side is all-purpose) I filled the layers with homemade strawberry curd instead of using lemon curd and raspberries, made the lemon syrup to help keep the layers moist, and whipped up lemon meringue buttercream frosting. From curd-making to frosting, the entire process took about 6 hours.
And now, onto the the mistakes I made and the most important lessons learned:
  • Use enough batter in the pan. This recipe was supposed to fill a 10" round cake pan. I didn't change a thing and poured it into a 12" round. Too little batter meant skinny layers. They were hard to slice evenly, broke as I tried to stack them, and the cake wasn't as tall as I hoped it would be. Next time I'd alter the recipe using my 6th grade math teacher skills.
  • Concave layers are no good. I used 2" deep pans, but because I didn't use enough batter, the cake layers only rose up 1" around the edge of the pans. They were taller in the middle, and I didn't totally trim off the curved top to get perfectly even, cylindrical layers. I wish I had. As I was assembling the layers, the strawberry curd ran out the edges, the cake was difficult to frost, and the sliced pieces just weren't as pretty.
  • Create a dam along the circumference before filling. Like I said above, the curd spilled out the edges of the layers. I wish I'd piped a thin ring of frosting around the edge to prevent that.
  • Have all the ingredients you need before you bake. This is an embarrassing and silly one, but I ran out of butter, eggs, and flour. It just didn't register that I would be making two batches of batter and need SO MUCH BUTTER for the buttercream!
  • I don't really like buttercream. At least this buttercream. Much too rich and buttery for my taste. I used Trader Joe's Lemon Curd instead of making my own. It was easier than I anticipated, but just didn't taste as delicious as I'd hoped. I did not read the reviews before moving ahead with it, but it sounds like I could have gotten away with adding less butter. Oh well.
  • Cake flour=not a big deal. There was definitely a finer crumb and more delicate texture on the half with cake flour. It was delicious. But I don't think I care, and neither does the bride. So all-purpose flour, here we come.
So, in the end, my first cake was a tremendous learning experience. I loved the experience, I love baking, and I'm SO, SO glad I'm giving myself the time to learn and get this right. I have 3 more months to find some great recipes and to perfect my decorating skills!