Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Science of Cake Baking Part 1

Happy Sunday!  I hope you all had a wonderful week!  I have another wedding next weekend, so I’m starting to get organized for that.  It is a large event, so I’ll be doing a lot a baking this week!

There is definitely an art and a science to baking and cake decorating.  I usually share the artistic side, but after talking to a couple of friends, I decided to do a few posts on the science side of things.  Now don’t worry, I’m not about to bore you with a lot facts!  It’s really cool actually!

Every cake recipe is made from basically the same few ingredients and each one serves a specific purpose.  You can’t just go switching things around, leaving things out altogether, or adding new things.  But with a little bit of knowledge you can learn how to make substitutions when necessary or how to successfully add your own twist to a recipe.

                                                     - Butter -
Most cakes call for butter, but oil or shortening are also used sometimes.  I’m definitely a fan of real butter…there isn’t anything better!  Butter (or whatever the fat source is) keep the cake moist and adds flavor.  A cake made without butter would be very crumbly and somewhat bland. 
All fats are not the same though….you can’t just swap one for the other.  Oil and shortening are both 100% fat, butter is about 75% fat and 25% water, and margarine (gasp!  I hate to even mention it!) is 30 – 50% fat and the rest water.   Margarine should NOT be used in baking.  It contains too much water and will produce a very tough cake.

- Sugar -
Obviously sugar provides taste, but it also contributes to the moistness of the cake too.  There really are no substitutes here.  Honey can used, but the cake will be much darker both inside and outside. 

- Eggs -
Eggs mainly provide structure in baked goods, but they also help to bind all the ingredients together.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I made an egg-less cake, so you can make substitutions though.  I found that yogurt made a great substitute for eggs, since it provided the missing proteins from the egg.

- Vanilla -
Of all the ingredients in a cake, vanilla is probably the most simple…its serves ones purpose: flavor!

- Flour-
Flour, like eggs, provides structure in cakes.   However, it is very difficult to find a substitute.   The gluten in the flour is what gives a cake its texture; without that, you would have a very dense cake.  That gluten can be a problem though if it’s over mixed.  That can lead to a very chewy texture, which is not desirable in a cake.

If a recipe specifies all purpose flour, cake flour, or bread flour, it is a good idea to use the right kind of flour.  The amount of gluten and protein is different in each one and that can really mess with your finished product.

- Baking powder -
Baking powder is called a “leavening agent” which basically means that it makes the cake rise, which gives it a fluffy texture.   Baking powder is not the same as baking soda.  Baking powder will react with any liquid, whether it acidic or not.  Most baking powders sold in stores in “double acting” which mean it reacts once when it gets wet and once when it is heated.

- Baking Soda -
Baking soda is also a leaving agent.  However, it requires another acidic ingredient like buttermilk or yogurt to make it work.  Baking soda is “single acting” so it only reacts when it get wet.  So, when baking with baking soda, you have to get it in the oven pretty quickly or all the baking soda will react away.

-Salt -
In cakes, salt has just one job: flavor!  If you leave the salt out, your cakes will taste very flat and one-dimensional.  Salt enhances all the other flavors in the cake.

- Milk/Buttermilk -
 The milk or buttermilk (or in some cases, water) obviously add moisture to the cake, but it can also affect the leavening agent.  If the recipe calls for baking soda, make sure you also use buttermilk or there won't be any acid to react with the baking soda.

Stay tuned for Cake Science Part 2....I'll give you a quick overview of the science of mixing all these ingrediants together.  It really is important to cream the butter and sugar together first and alternate the wet and dry ingrediants, and I'll explain why!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Horse Birthday Cake

Happy Sunday!  I’m sitting in my kitchen with all the windows open enjoying a delicious lunch while typing my blog….Ah, life is good!  I’m loving this beautiful weather!
This week’s cake comes from way back in the dusty archives of cake pictures on my computer.  I had actually forgotten about it, it’s been so long ago!
The cake was for a friend’s daughter on her 7th birthday.  The little girl loves horses, so they asked for a horse-themed sheet cake for her party.
I started by sketching the horse design.  Sketching designs is actually one of my favorite parts of the cake process.  I love to put my ideas on paper, and then see them come to life in the cake.  Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before I get it right.

Then I used my sketch to cut the horse shape out of brown fondant.  I started with just the basic shape, then added some details later.

I have a special cake tool that I use to split cake layers so I can add a filling.  For larger cakes, a regular cake knife isn’t long enough to cut the cake all the way through.  So, I use a larger Wilton cake torter to slice the cakes in half horizontally.  Its not as easy as it looks though!

After a filled and frosted the cake, it was time to cover it in fondant….a very large piece of fondant! 

Once the cake was covered, I made a "rope" to go around the base of the cake, by rolling out stands of fondant and twisting them together.

O used the same technique to add the lettering.  That was very tedious!  Piping letters with icing is much easier, but I wanted to it match the rope on the bottom of the cake so I decided to use rolled fondant.

And the finished cake.....

I’m getting ready for a big wedding in two weeks, so check back over the next few weeks to see pictures of another amazing wedding cake!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recipe of the Month: Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Sunday...well Monday actually!  I had my blog done yesterday, but the pictures took FOREVER to upload, as in 36 hours forever!  But better late than never, right?
This month’s recipe sounds bizarre at first, but please let me explain before you totally write me off as a crazy bacon fanatic (which I am!).
Bacon has been becoming more and more popular over the last year or so, especially now in desserts.  bread pudding with maple bacon glaze, candied bacon, chocolate covered bacon, chocolate bacon ice cream, etc…..  
I was introduced to candied bacon a week or so ago and absolutely fell in love!  It was sweet, salty, smoky, crisp, crunchy….absolute deliciousness!  So, when I found a recipe for Candied Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies, I couldn’t wait to try it!
I decided to use my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe instead of the one from the recipe, since mine is the best chocolate chip cookie recipe ever (in my opinion anyway, which since this my blog is really all that matters, right?)
But, first I had to make the candied bacon.  The process is fairly simple, but it does take a little while.  You start by placing the bacon on a cooling rack in an aluminum foil-lined cookie sheet.  Then sprinkle the bacon with about ½ cup of brown sugar, making sure the sugar is distributed evenly.

Bake the sugar coated bacon for about 30-40 minutes at 350, until crisp.  Watch it carefully toward the end, as the sugar causes it burn more quickly.
You can see why the aluminum foil is important.  The sugar and bacon grease make a mess!

Then prepare the Chocolate Chip Cookies per the recipe, stirring in the chopped Candied Bacon with the chocolate chips.

When they’re done, voila!  Buttery chocolate chip cookies with a hint of smoky, salty bacon.  The combination is really addictive actually. 

Try it let me know what you think!  Or just make the candied bacon and eat that by itself!  What other strange food combinations have you tried?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Superman Birthday Cake

Happy Sunday!  This week’s cake was a lot of fun to make because the “client” was a super-cute 5-year-old.  This little guy is a huge Superman fan, and he wanted me to make him a cake for his birthday.
I didn’t have much time to work on this particular cake, so I decided to a simple round birthday cake in blue, red, and yellow with the superman logo.  Normally I have to do some research on the designs my clients ask me to do, but this one didn't need any research...David loves to wear his Superman outfit all the time.
I started by frosting the cake with a light blue frosting….not too deep of a color or everyone’s mouth would turn completely blue!   

While the frosting was setting up, I cut the Superman logo out of yellow and red fondant.  (My countertops are completely ruined with various colors from all the fondant work I do.  It’s kind of interesting to see how the colors change each week as I work on a new project.  Oh, the hazards of cake decorating!)

I felt like the cake looked a little plain with just the Superman logo on top, so I added band of fondant around the bottom of the cake to resemble his utility belt. 

Once I added the rest of the details on the belt, it was perfect!

Here’s a shot of me and little Superman with the birthday cake!  We even had superman ice cream too! 
Have a great Labor Day!