Thursday, April 29, 2004

I was recently asked to help come up with a low-carb dessert for a dieting friend's birthday party. What's with the out-of-control low-carb obsession these days? I mean, it's dessert. Dessert needs sugar. Sugar good. Did you know that if you reduce your serving size of even the sweetest, fattiest dessert by 33%, you eliminate about a third of the calories and carbs? My helpful tip for the day.

Regardless, I was at the grocery store tonight and a popular brand of sucralose, the hip "natural"-ish new sugar substitute, was on sale, so it seemed like a good time to bite. When I got home, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies from the recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef, only I substituted the 6 oz of granulated sugar in the recipe for the equivalent amount of sucralose. That took a little math. Don't tell the author what I did! I kept the 6 oz of brown sugar and all of the flour. Does that still qualify as low-carb?

The cookies taste pretty good. They didn't spread out into big flat discs like I normally expect chocolate chip cookies to. I want to attribute that to the lack of sugar, but I'm not exactly running a double-blind controlled trial here. Pictures and taste-testing results will follow shortly.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Yum! Not strictly a cake, but not a bad way to use up the leftover cream and egg yolks.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Baked the first experiment of this project earlier this week, and I even borrowed a digital camera to document the results. Looking through my cupboard for some ideas, I found a box of instant lemon pudding that needed using up. I thought that that as a filling in a plain simple cake with a slightly lemony frosting would be nice. I happened to already have a stock of lemon juice on ice. Shopping, I picked up some white chocolate for a ganache frosting.

I wanted to make several small cakes to distribute to different people, but I only have medium-largish baking pans. I stopped by Michael's to check out their cake supplies, which I'd heard were impressive. I picked up 6" and 8" baking pans, some cardboard cake rounds, and some disposable pastry bags. Convenient place, although they were out of a few other things I might have grabbed.

I used a basic white cake recipe from the wedding cake book. Baked wonderfully, except for one thing. I'd forgotten that my cake flour (actually pastry flour) was whole wheat. Sure, it seemed like a healthy idea when I was at the store, but honestly, who's looking for a healthy cake. So, although the white cake was moist and tender and delicious, there was a little bit of extra texture in there. And some crumbliness. And it wasn't exactly white. It was, you know, wheaty. Lesson: you're making cake, not granola.

I love using a ganache as frosting. It's simple to make, melt chocolate and cream together, you just have to pour it onto the cake (after a protective crumb layer, I used simple buttercream), and I think it looks very elegant. I would love to be able to make a ganache with white chocolate, because it's very mild and could be easily flavored, but I've had bad luck with it in the past. I did some reading and decided that a white chocolate glaze, made with a little clarified butter instead of cream, and some highly reduced lemon juice, might be a better bet. I tried that, and it seemed to be going great, but was just a little too thick. "Why not add a little cream to thin it out?" I thought. So I did. Did you know that adding water-based liquids to chocolate actually makes it more thick, instead of less? Well, it's true. And documented, apparently. It was like some crazy chemical reaction. Impressive, in a way. I kept adding more and more cream until I finally got it down to about peanut butter consistency, and figured I'd quit while I was ahead. Not the smooth pourable glaze I'd hoped for, but still super rich and yummy. Lesson: respect the recipes, even for frosting, and especially for chocolate.

Final lesson: be prepared for a little improvising to lead to a lot of improvising.

I actually remembered from class how to fold the little paper icing bags and used one to do a quick melted white chocolate pattern on each cake as a finishing touch. Nobody who tasted them complained. :) Check it out:

lemonwhitecake-before lemonwhitecake-justbaked lemonwhitecake-sliced lemonwhitecake-melting lemonwhitecake-after

Saturday, April 17, 2004

The books arrived today and they are great. The Art of the Cake looks hugely detailed and comprehensive, but I'm probably going to wait on it until I get through at least a bit of Dede Wilson's book. I've already started reading it (page 10! plus some skimming) and the writing style is just... so freakin' helpful. I love it. She's not just showing off what she can make, she really wants to make sure you get good results, too. Besides including a good diversity of cake types, she also has advice for customizing the cakes for different sizes and flavors, and tips on problems to watch out for. I'm excited to read through it and see what people like. Fortunately, I finished pastry chef book a couple days ago.

Another interesting thing that happened... I ran into my old boss today and he recommended that I talk to Karen Krasne of local pastry shop Extraordinary Desserts about helping out over there. Now that would be an educational opportunity. We'll see what happens.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

So, a little background... Hi, my name's Ben. I am, among other things, a recent graduate of culinary school. Yay, how fun was that? About two weeks ago, my sister Eve announced her engagement; the first of my siblings to do so, and there are a lot of us. Congratulations, Eve! Then, about a week ago, she asked me if I would be interested in making her wedding cake. Duh! That would be such a cool, personal way for me to contribute to the wedding. Heck, I was already reading The Making of a Pastry Chef. (You never know, right?) Of course, a wedding cake is a huge project, and my professional kitchen experience is, at this point, zero. I told Eve that I would definitely start researching it, but that she should keep a backup plan, just in case.

This blog is intended to chronicle my progress in learning to design, bake, assemble, decorate, and transport a colossal, amazing, elegant, delicious, crowd-pleasing, non-sister-disappointing masterpiece of a wedding cake. Day One: Yesterday, I went online and did a survey of Amazon's half-dozen or so most popular wedding cake books. Far and away the least sucky-sounding was Dede Wilson's The Wedding Cake Book. I mean, check out those (hopefully authentic) reviews! Nothing else really came close. Amazon offered me free shipping if I could just manage to spend an extra $0.50. Somehow, I managed. In the interest of saving money (on shipping), I also rang up The Art of the Cake: Modern French Baking and Decorating, simultaneously knocking an item off my Wishlist and furthering the wedding cake cause. It's all for the cause. That's what I'm telling my credit card company, anyway.

Day Two: The books are in transit. Hey, progress is progress.

Moral of the story? My friends can look forward to a long, sugar-filled summer. How many dinner guests do you think it will take to eat through a series of giant, trial wedding cakes? I'm guessing a lot.