Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baking a Cake

My last post was a recipe for the two most common cakes I have made. In it I discussed how to make a batter and scale it out for what you need. What I didn't touch upon was baking that cake and knowing when it is done. You may think (like I once did) just pour it in the pan and use a toothpick. But in truth there are a few simple steps to baking a cake that will come out correctly.

One of the most important things is to prep the pan properly. These steps work for most cakes (except angel food cake). First and I think one of the most important steps is to grease and flour the pan. I use butter to grease the pan. All you need to do is just put a pad of butter in the pan and push it around with your hand. Make sure all areas are covered. Next put a little bit of flour in the pan and shake it around till it is completely covered. I feel this is the most important step because it ensures the cake will come out of the pan. If it doesn't come out of the pan correctly then you don't have a cake--you have some wasted batter! I know some people use the canned spray to cover their pans and that is fine, but I just feel that I would rather not put chemicals into my food.

There are three ways to know a cake is done without using a toothpick. They are easy to remember and help you to know where your cake is at without putting holes everywhere.
1) Color - your cake should be a light brown color, darker than it started
2) Bounce back - you should be able to lightly press on the top of your cake and it should spring or bounce back. If it stays indented then the cake is not done yet.
3) Pulls away from pan - if you greased the pan correctly you should see the cake start to shrink away or pull away from the sides of the pan.

After the cake comes out of the oven, leave it sit for a minute then remove them from the pan onto a cooling rack. This is important so that the steam can be released from the inside of the cake into the air and not recirculated back by the walls of the pan.

Basic yellow butter cake before baking.

The same yellow butter cake after baking. Note how it is now light brown and has pulled away from the pan.

Yellow and Chocolate Butter Cake

Most of the cakes I have done so far have been yellow butter cake, chocolate butter cake or a combination of the two. These two recipes can also be used to make marble cakes. The recipes for these are really simple. Below I will list the recipes and then I will talk you through the making of them. Since they are both made with the creaming method of cake mixing, I will not have to describe the mixing process twice. And since these recipes are done by weight, it is really easy to increase or decrease them depending on the size of cake you want to make.


Yellow Butter Cake*
Butter, room temperature 12 oz 360 g
Sugar 13 oz 390 g
Salt 0.12 oz 4 g
Eggs 7.5 oz 225g
Cake Flour 15 oz 450g
Baking Powder 0.62oz 18g
Milk 15oz 450g
Vanilla Extract 0.25oz 8g
TOTAL WEIGHT 3lb 15oz 1905g

Chocolate Butter Cake*

Butter, room temperature 9 oz 280 g
Sugar 15 oz 470 g
Salt 0.2 oz 6 g
Unsweetened chocolate, melted 6 oz 188 g
Eggs 8 oz 250g
Cake Flour 12 oz 250g
Baking Powder 0.5oz 15g
Milk 14oz 439g
Vanilla Extract 0.25oz 8g
TOTAL WEIGHT 4lb 2202 g

Mixing
1) Weigh out all your ingredients

  • Butter, Sugar & Salt in mixing bowl
  • Eggs in a bowl
  • Cake Flour, Baking Powder sifted onto parchment
  • Milk and Vanilla Extract in a measuring cup or something that you can use to pour

2) Cream the butter with the sugar and salt
  • To do this use the paddle attachment on your mixer and mix the butter, sugar and salt together. Start at a slow speed till everything starts to combine (this will prevent the separate ingredients from leaving the bowl). Once they start to combine turn up the mixer to medium speed. Continue to mix until the butter goes from the usual yellow color to white. Make sure you scrape down the bowl during this so everything get mixed evenly. You are adding air to the mix during this process so it should be light and fluffy. If you are making a chocolate cake you can add the melted chocolate at this time before the eggs. Scrape down the bowl after the addition.
Here's the buttercream when its still got the normal yellow color.


Once its properly combined, it'll turn nice and white like this.


3) Add the eggs a little at a time.

  • You want to add the eggs one at a time. You want to make sure that the first is combined into the butter mixture before you add the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition in order make sure everything is evenly combined.

4) Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture with the mixer off (if you add it with the mixer on it will make a mess). Turn on the mixer on low to combine the flour.

5) Add about 1/3 of the milk mixture. You can do this while the flour is mixing in.



6) Continue to add the flour and milk mixtures alternating until you have added it all. Make sure you periodically scrape down the bowl for even mixing.

7) Once everything is added scrape the bowl down one last time and turn on the mixer for one last short time to ensure an even batter.


Scaling and Baking*
Use the chart below to scale out your batter and bake the cakes. For example, the chocolate butter cake recipe above makes 4 lbs of batter. That would be enough for a 18x13 inch sheet pan. If you cut the recipe in half, you would have 32 oz of batter, enough for a 12 inch round pan. So figure out what you're going to make, calculate how much batter you need, and scale the batter recipe accordingly.

Pan Type Scaling/Baking Guidelines


Round Size
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
6 in. 8-10 oz 230-285 g375F 18 min
8 in. 14-18 oz 400-510 g375F 25 min
10 in. 24-28 oz 680-800 g360F 35 min
12 in. 32-40 oz 900-1100 g360F 35 min


Sheets/Square Pans
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
18x26 in. 7-8 lb 3.2-3.6 kg360 35 min
18x13 in. 3.5-4 lb 1.6-1.8 kg360F 35 min
9x9 in. 24 oz 680 g360F 30-35 min


Loaf (pound cake)
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
2 ¼ x 3 ½ x 8 in. 16-18 oz 450-500 g350F 50-60 min
2 ¾ x 4 ½ x 8 ½ in. 24-27 oz 680-765 g350F 55-65 min


Cupcakes
US weight
Metric weight
Temperature
Baking Time
Per dozen 18 oz 510 g385F 18-20 min

* Recipe and Chart were taken from Professional Baking 5th Edition by: Wayne Gisslen

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our new Facebook Page and a special thanks!

For our Facebooking friends, we've set up a Facebook page for the blog. Click here to check that out. Anytime Laurie or I update the blog, if you've liked that Facebook page you'll automatically see a note on your news feed and you can easily stay up to date with our latest posts. You can also like us by clicking the link in the Facebook toolbox in the right column.

I also wanted to give a really special thanks to our great longtime friend Lisa Toff. Lisa is a really talented artist and designer who helped us turn a paper sketch Laurie had made for the Confectionary Bliss logo into something we could actually put on the website. She runs prismPOP and does all sorts of clever, unique pop art. She also has a design, arts, and Coney Island blog at myconey.wordpress.com. So a big thanks to Lisa for helping us out with that. Go check her stuff out and be amazed by her creative talents.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Measuring Ingredients for Baking

Before I post details on recipes I have made or recipes I try out, I thought I should talk about how I measure ingredients. I grew up baking using measuring cups and spoons. Then I went to culinary school where we were only allowed to use balance or digital scales. Since I have used both methods, I will tell you that I prefer weighing everything out. Below are the reasons why:
  1. You can keep your recipes consistent that way
    • when using cups and spoons they can differ from day to day depending on how much you pack the ingredients down or whether or not you sift it. By weighing it stays the same no matter what.
  2. You can increase or decrease the size your recipes much easier
  3. You will use less dishes which means less clean-up later
    • you can weigh ingredients that go in at the same time into the same bowls
    • you don't have to wash the extra cups and spoons.
I also prefer to use the metric system. It means less conversions from pounds to ounces in order to divide or increase a recipe. I try to convert recipes that are in cups into grams as I am working so that I will have the recipe consistent for later use.

You will see in future posts that most of my recipes will be in grams. Scales are pretty cheap and can be purchased at most houseware stores. If you prefer to convert them back to cups, at the bottom of this post is a chart of some common, quick baking measurement conversions. There are also plenty of online sites that will do the math for you, such as http://www.onlineconversion.com/cooking.htm.

Next thing that is very important in baking is measuring everything out before you start to combine your ingredients--it's called mis en place, meaning things in place. There are a few reasons for this:
  1. It allows you to make sure you have everything you need. This way you are not in the middle of mixing and realize you don't have enough of an ingredient.
  2. It helps you work cleaner and more organized.
  3. Batters are put together much quicker
Weight
1 lb = 16 oz
1 oz = 28.35 grams
8 oz = 1 cup

Volume
1 gal = 4 qt
1 qt = 2 pt or 4 cups or 32 (fl)oz or 907.2 grams
1 pt = 2 cups or 16 (fl) oz
1 cup = 8 (fl) oz
1 (fl)oz = 2 tbsp
1 tbsp = 3 tsp

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wedding Cookies

Our two year wedding anniversary is coming up next month, so I thought why not post about the wedding cake cookies I made for all of our guests' hotel goodie bags. The plan was to make homemade cookies for every guest who stayed overnight for our wedding. Well, our kitchen is kind of small and it wasn't not feasible to make a cookie for each person. So I made one or two per bag (I based how many cookies went into the bag on how many people were staying in the room, about 1 cookie for every 2 people).

First, I searched online for a wedding cake cookie cutter. It took a bit but I found a good one that was reasonably priced. The cookie cutter came with a really good sugar cookie recipe, so I decided to test it out on Dan. Next, I figured out how many cookies I would need. Since the cookie cutter was rather large, I counted every one wedding cake cookie equalled two cookies per the recipe. I made the dough and baked off the cookies a few days before the wedding, so I would have time to let them cool before I had to decorate them.

Decorations were done with royal icing. I made a huge batch and filled in all the cookies with the white colored icing. Next, I made flowers to look like the sunflowers we were using throughout the wedding. I piped them on parchment paper and let them dry overnight. This allowed me to attach the flowers directly to the cookies as I wanted them. I also accented the white color with burgundy lines and dots (our wedding colors were burgundy and gold). On the bottom "layer" of the wedding cake cookie I piped our names in the burgundy royal icing. The cookies were intentionally designed to look like our wedding cake, which was a 4-tier with burgundy ribbon and sugar sunflowers.

Once the cookies were all dried, I placed them in clear plastic bags and tied them with burgundy ribbon. I placed a homemade sticker on the back of each.

Everyone loved them and appreciated the personal touches we added to make them feel special.


wedding cake cookie
Just some perspective from Dan--I absolutely loved this personal touch Laurie added to our wedding hotel goodie bags. We used them as hotel bag favors, but with enough time and effort these wedding cake cookies could make for a great wedding favor to give out at the reception, or you could even make really clever wedding cake cookie seating cards. They took Laurie a lot of time and effort (and I helped a little bit here and there) but it was really worth it!

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Give yourself plenty of time to complete a large project
2) Know your limits! ( I am glad I decided to make 1 or 2 cookies per bag)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Personal Apple Pie Tarts

These personal apple pies were a great treat that Laurie whipped up for my family's Rosh Hashanah dinner with some friends. Laurie used a mini-pie mold from Williams-Sonoma. The pie dough recipe was pretty standard but with a few custom touches from Laurie (I add cinnamon and nutmeg to my crust). The filling was Granny Smith Apples (cut into small cubes), sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt--she made them both with and without nuts, using both walnuts and pecans. And she had a clever idea to help tell the with and without nuts pies apart. She used the leaf cutout, putting it on the top of the ones with nuts and leaving it off the others. So that worked out great to keep people happy since so many people have nut allergies today.

They cooked up great and made for a great personal-sized apple pie, or pocket pie. We served them up with vanilla ice cream and they were a smash hit. Another great idea to top this off would be adding some caramel sauce. They'd also make for a great Thanksgiving pie for someone looking to give a different take on a traditional Thanksgiving apple pie.

A Plate of Apple-Shaped Personal Apple Pies
Two Apple-Shaped Personal Apple Pies

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Don't over fill the pockets or the steam pocket will rip the dough.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grandmother Tribute Cake

This cake was a very special one that Laurie made as a tribute to my wonderful Grammy, who passed away last November. Our family was getting together and my Mom asked if Laurie could make a special cake as a tribute to Grammy and all of the things she loved best.



I found this cake very challenging. The main issue was how to make a cake that honors such a wonderful, loved woman. The other problem was transporting the cake to Pittsburgh (about 5 hours away). To solve the transportation problem, I covered the cake in fondant and made sure the cake was done a day before so it had time to get really cold in the refrigerator.

The cake was alternating layers of yellow butter cake and chocolate butter cake. It is filled and covered with Italian Buttercream.

The decorations pay tribute to my wonderful grandmother. She was from Pittsburgh and a big Steeler's fan, so Laurie made a Steelers' jersey and laid it across a football field for part of the cake. That was all made out of simple fondant, rolled out and colored, with the field lines piped in royal icing. She put on a cruise ship in an ocean since my Grammy and Poppy always went on cruises. The ship is sculpted fondant, detailed with royal icing. The ocean was done with colored piping gel, which came out great. The beach scene recognized how much my Grammy loved going down to Atlantic city and reading books. The sand was light brown sugar, the book and towel were sculpted out of fondant, and the umbrella was, well, a little drink umbrella--sorry, not edible! The last part on the top was a grass yard (royal icing piped with a grass tip) with a family photo album (fondant), and finally my grandparent's beloved chocolate poodle Ollie, sculpted out of modeling chocolate and detailed with royal icing.

Around the side of the cake were the names of my grandfather, my Mom and Dad, my Aunt and Uncle, and all of the grandkids. My grandmother always wore a charm necklace with the little "stick figure" versions of each of her grandkids, so Laurie used some gingerbread man and woman cookie cutouts to look like the necklace, piped on the names, and then piped the chain to connect the cutouts. She added the hearts in between to recognize Grammy's other most important people--her husband, her daughters, and her sons-in-law.

This was a really wonderful tribute cake that blew away our whole family. It quickly became the centerpiece at our dinner table and people had a hard time cutting it when it came to eat dessert because it was just so special to all of us. But it was also REALLY delicious. Once we finally did cut it, everyone enjoyed it not just for its beautiful look and loving tribute to our Grammy, but also because it was a great dessert!

LESSONS LEARNED:
1) Fondant really helps keep a cake together for long rides.
2) Sweeter butter (such as Land O'Lakes) really helped boost the flavor of the buttercream.