Archive for May, 2006

Very Little Cakes

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
little cakes


cupcake sand

I think that yellow butter cakes (edit), buttermilk cakes, and devil’s food cakes should play larger parts in my life. For all their moist sweetness, I have a hard time finding them among the dense chocolate cakes and light sponge cakes on offer at bakeries and markets. If they are available, they’re often made with shortening or hydrogenated oils… and I like to trust butter (and certain oils) in my cakes.

So, I have to make them at home, and decided that they could easily be cupcakes, and even very little cakes. As much as I like cupcakes, even they are a bit to large for when I just want a bite… that turns into two… Just two.

This was an experiment to see how bite size cakes would fare in the oven and with icing… and to eat…

They turned out great. I think that the size and shape of food effects the flavor somehow, and I liked how every bite of these has just a touch of a slightly crisp edge, moist cake, and sweet frosting. It was a very hot day, though, so the icing was a bit loose and I decided to live with that instead of adding yet more powdered sugar. I think that they are best either drizzled with frosting or lightly covered completely, but I’d want to play around with that more.

I also thought about the mignardise we made in our class. Although we made some very good mignardise, I couldn’t think of a better way to finish off a meal than with my very own very little cake (or maybe two. Just two). And yes, all the piping homework has influenced me — I just couldn’t resist the dominoes.

I used silicone molds that look something like this, fortuitously handed down to me from my mother. I just baked them at 350, and checked them until they were light brown on one edge, then rotated them, and then checked them until they sprung back when lightly poked in the center. I let them completely cool before unmolding them by peeling away the mold.

I also can’t recommend Flo Braker’s Devil’s Food Cake recipe below enough (or her thorough book, for that matter). It was so moist and light and perfectly cake-y, and it stayed that way for a week, at least.

I used these recipes from Billy’s Bakery in New York City for the vanilla cake and vanilla buttercream (I halved the recipe, and it was fine). I thought they were both delicious, with a great use and balance of the vanilla flavor. I used my Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste in both, so that probably had something to do with the final flavor. Incidentally, I like the paste b/c you can see the vanilla seeds in the final product, and for the flavor; the only drawback is that it’s thick, so it has to be scraped or mixed into other ingredients to get it all off the spoon.

Oh, and I also made the vanilla batter twice, b/c I unknowingly had skim milk instead of whole milk. But I also had cream. So, I did half cream and half skim milk, resolved to call it yet another experiment before I went out to get whole milk. Fat-wise, this would mean about 48 grams of fat from the cream in the full recipe — versus 4 grams from whole milk. BUT the cream cupcakes were so good. They had a looser crumb with bigger air bubbles and a slightly bumpy exterior, but they were so light, and tasted creamy. The top two cupcakes here were made with cream.


Devil’s Food Cake

adapted from Flo Braker’s The Simple Art of Perfect Baking.

Yield: one 9 x 13 x 2 1/4 inch cake pan, or two 8″ round cake pans, or however much you can fit into multiple small molds

  • 2 cups (200 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) unsifted cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) buttermilk, room temp
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) water
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 large eggs, room temp, whisked to loosen
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 1 cup (200 grams) light brown sugar, packed

Preheat the oven to 350. If using silicon molds: spray with baking spray. If using cake pans: grease with butter, dust with flour, shake to distribute evenly, tap out excess (a couple gentle bangs onto the counter will loosen the excess well), and insert parchment circle on bottom.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Pour lukewarm water over cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
Pour buttermilk, 1/2 cup water, and vanilla into liquid cup measure. Set aside to cool.

With paddle, cream butter on med speed in a mixer for 30-45 seconds, until smooth and light in color. Reduce to low, and add sugars in a steady stream. When all sugar is added, stop the machine, and scrape the bowl and paddle. Continue to mix on med, and cream until light and fluffy — about 6-7 minutes.

With machine running, slowly add eggs in 2-3 additions; wait for mixture to fully combine before each addition (the goal of this step is to maintain the emulsified batter; if it looks curdled, stop adding eggs, stop machine and scrape, and then briefly mix on med-high or high until it smoothes out).

Continue to cream, scraping as necessary, until mixture appears fluffy and velvety and has increased in volume (this process, including adding the eggs, takes about one minute).

Stop the machine, and add cooled cocoa mixture. Resume at med speed and mix until just incorporated. Detach the beater and bowl, scraping the beater for batter.

Using rubber spatula, stir in 1/4 of flour mixture. Then add 1/3 of buttermilk mixture, stirring to blend together. Repeat until flour and buttermilk are incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s). For 9×13 cake, bake for 40-42 minutes; for 8″ round, bake 22-25 mins; for mini molds, bake 10 mins and check until done. For all of these, I rotate the pan once one side has been browned, and they are done when I can press the middle and it springs back. Just be careful not to press too hard or too early, or the impression will be permanent. I don’t use a skewer anymore.

If using cake pans, let cool 5-10 mins, then unmold, wearing mitts if necessary. Let cool on rack, top-side up, until completely cool.

If using silicone molds, let cool completely before unmolding.

Buster’s Southern Barbecue Revisited – Calistoga

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Unlike every other time that I’ve gone to Buster’s and ordered the tri-tip, I got the pork loin sandwich last time.  It was a fantastic… and lean. Even though it’s a little drier than the tri-tip, it has its own sweet charm, and I didn’t feel as guilty eating it. On the other hand, the chili beans were a little bland and starchy, and I’d recommend the baked beans instead. So, I predict that my next meal there will be a pork loin sandwich with extra BBQ sauce and baked beans. Can’t wait.


Schramsberg Vineyards – Calistoga

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
Schram Frog

Schramsberg has an excellent tour to match its excellent sparkling wines, and I’d recommend making it part of a visit to Napa (reservations mandatory, $25 for tour and tasting; no tasting without a tour, even if you just want to taste again). It’s the second oldest winery in Napa, dating back to 1862. Only Charles Krug is older, and Beringer was founded shortly after. Interestingly enough, these wineries were founded by German immigrants, and produced rieslings and gewurtzaminers, and the like (the French and Italian winemakers came a bit later). Schramsberg closed down production for the most part during Prohibition, but was revived in the 60’s by the Davies family. They were the first American winemakers to produce methode champenoise sparkling wine. Since then, Schramsberg has regularly been served at the White House, and in 1972 the 1969 Blanc de Blancs was served at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing, between President Richard Nixon and Premier Chow En-lai.

Our friendly tour guide told us this before leading us into the wine caves built into the hillside that the winery is built on. There are two miles of caves that contain two million bottles of sparkling wine. The only awkward part of the tour was when we were told that after the transcontinental railroad was completed, the Chinese workers on their way home were “invited” up to Schramsberg… to build the 2 miles of caves. That took 18 years. What an invitation.



Cellar 2



The above is a cast of the Schram family seal (the original winery founding family). There are three of them. In olden days, two of them had been lost by Jacob Schram during a poker game to Beringer from Beringer winery, but the wineries recently staged a fixed poker game so that Schramsberg could win them back.

Anyway, we were eventually led into a tasting room with tables and chairs, and four glasses set at each. We tasted three sparkling ones and one cab, and they were all fantastic. Our guide also talked a bit about tasting wines, and said that it’s best to let white wines roll down from the tip of your tongue and down its sides to get the most out of the flavor. For me, each sparkling wine was closely associated with a fruit taste. The 1999 J. Schram was of caramelized apples, the Blanc de Noir was of cherries, and the Blanc de Blanc was of peaches and berries. It was the first time that I considered signing up for the Wine Club, in which you perks and 2 bottles (inc one J. Schram or Prestige) shipped to you 4 times a year for $90/shipment. It seems so worth it for the quality, but I’m still mulling it over… and probably will for a while. 🙂

On Cruising Around Napa in a Limo

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

Napa doesn’t offer much in the way of public transportation, or of inter-winery transportation for that matter (even the “Wine Train” cruises past the wineries, not to them), so limos are the most logical choice for a special day of all out wine drinking. Some friends came in from out of town this weekend, so we decided to go for the limo experience for a couple days to spare all of us from driving (or one from of us from abstaining).

Of course, it’s fun and luxurious, but there are a few pitfalls. First of all, some people are very susceptible to motion sickness in limos, especially if you’re in a seat that faces the side windows. I found that out during my first ride, which was only about 20 minutes. By the end, I felt like I’d been on a mild rollercoaster. After that, I rode in the back seat facing front and I had no problems, but even that can still affect people. If you’re at risk for motion sickness, sit in the back seat and/or take some Dramamine. Also, I consistently drank way too much wine on both days just because I could. For the sake of your head and stomach, try to moderate your consumption anyway. Also, our friends had rented a gorgeous house in Calistoga that happened to be at the end of a hilly, curvy, narrow 1/2 mile driveway through a forest with ravines, and since we didn’t think that a limo could make it through, we had to coordinate meeting the limo at the gate with a car that we then parked elsewhere in Calistoga. That was probably a rare situation, but it’s something to consider and possibly deal with.

I was especially happy with our limo driver named Steve from 3B Limousine Service at (707) 321-7386. We were probably a pretty low maintenance group, but he was willing to be helpful any way he could, without being intrusive. For instance, we had scattered showers that day, and he was always ready with umbrellas — even catching us as we were just leaving a winery building to make sure that we’d be protected by the rain. He was also very good with figuring out logistics for a smooth day.

Confectionary Arts/ Special Occasion Cakes/ Sugar Work

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

For the next two weeks, we will be focused on cake decor.  We’ve already made buttercream and marzipan roses, and we are once again doing our piping homework with that shortening concoction for practice.  We’re decorating a cake a day, and next week, we will decorate a two-tier buttercream wedding cake with a topper (we’ll be doing contemporary rolled fondant wedding cakes later in the program).  I was always the kid in school who could never think of something to draw out of the blue, so I have to think fast and think of (and research) some designs that I want to work with for this block.

For the third week, we’ll be working with sugar: pulling sugar, blowing sugar, and creating a sugar showpiece.  Sounds like (somewhat dangerous) fun. 🙂