Thursday, August 26, 2004

Well, I've just taken my first ever 14" cake out of the oven and I've got to say it looks pretty good. No digital camera this week or I'd post a picture. I was only 95% sure the pan would even fit in my oven and I never did track down a baking core. Fortunately, it all worked out.

With all the baking I've done in the last week, four 6" layers (one backup), five 10" layers (one backup and one I've been addressing as "Lumpy"), and this latest monster, I've learned a few things. First, my new stand mixer is very nice to work with, both because of the quantity it can handle and because it leaves your hands free for at least a couple minutes at a time to do other things, like trimming the parchment paper liner for the cake pan. Second, it is a bad idea to use more than one rack at a time in my little oven. I don't know if the heat doesn't circulate properly or what, but everything I've baked on that lower rack has come out a little bit freaky (no offense, Lumpy). Thirdly, my oven does not appear to be level with the ground. I never really noticed before with the little 6" layers I was baking, but pretty much everything comes out of there a little lower on the left and a little higher on the right. Nothing I can't trim up in assembly, but still.

Another thing I tried in the last week was the amaretti recipe from Room For Dessert. They were delicious and well-received by all, but distinctly crispier than I am accustomed to. Like, seriously crispy. Rice cake crispy. The recipe did indeed use the word "crunchy" in its description, so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised. The real anomaly was that the recipe was for 60 cookies and I ended up with 13. Still not sure what went wrong there.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I finally finished the The Wedding Cake Book, cover to cover. Well, I had stopped reading it, except as a reference, once I'd settled on a couple recipes, but now I've even gotten through the appendices. Only a zillion more books to go! For my birthday, I received copies of The Pie and Pastry Bible and Room for Dessert, which led me to find David Lebovitz's web site, which led me to discovery the existence of his Paris Bakery and Chocolate Day Tour. Now that's a reason to travel. Seriously, how delicious and informative would that be? Answer: very!

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Oh, crazy week. Let's see, what's happened cake-wise? Well, I've been buying crazy amounts of cake stuff. Large-size baking pans, cardboard rounds, icing spatula, magi-cake strips, masonite board, decorative foil, marble pastry/candy board. That sounds right. Big thank you to my folks for the stand mixer! That will be a big time-saver. Also thanks to my sisters for all the classy servingware.

Another thing I bought this weekend was Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible. Not that I need another book on my to-read list, but this one is referenced all over the place as one of the authorities on cake baking and I just happened to spot a copy at a used book store near my apartment where I just happened to have almost exactly enough store credit to cover the cost of the book. I ended up having to cough up a penny. Not the worst penny I ever spent. I've only skimmed through the book and I've already picked up some good tips. Chocolate tempering, anyone?

Lastly, I set a date to show off the trial full-scale cake: Saturday, August 28.

Oh, and here is the previously promised picture of last week's apple pie:

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

I baked an apple pie last night. Well, an apple-strawberry pie. I had some apples that had been sitting in the fridge for a while that I hadn't felt inspired to eat and a pre-made pie crust taking up room in the freezer. Figured I'd kill two birds with one stone. I used a recipe from my school textbook for apple-cranberry pie and substituted some fresh organic strawberries I happened to have picked up at Trader Joe's yesterday. I also substituted some limeade I had on hand (thanks, Shannon!) for the orange juice that the recipe called for. Can I never make things by-the-book? I haven't tasted it yet, but it does look good. Pictures pending.

While I was at it, I checked to see if a 14" cake pan will fit in my miniature oven. It does, but only on the topmost shelf position, and only one pan at a time. I feel pretty good that that won't be a problem. I'm going to start baking and freezing layers for the trial cake this week. Thursday? Friday? Where is my spare time?

Three of my sisters, including the bride, are visiting from The OC on Saturday. I want to take them to a few local bakeries I found on the Internet. You know, get some ideas, scope out the competition, beg for a weekend baking job. Whatever.

On Monday, I attended a meeting of the San Diego Cake Club. Nice group, but I don't think our cake philosophies (if there are such things) overlap too much. Their emphasis is on the cake as a visual canvas. For their annual competition, they recommend decorating a Styrofoam block. They use a lot of dyes and sugar-based sculpting media which, though technically edible, aren't especially palatable. I prefer to focus on the experience of eating the cake. I do want my cakes to be elegant and attractive, but mainly I want them to look appetizing; to look like what they will taste like, if that makes any sense. The appearance should provide some indication of the flavors and ingredients. I'm not as interested in making a cake that looks like a hatbox, or a toucan, or a scene from Gone With the Wind, although those things certainly take a lot of skill. Just not my thing. If that's what you're into, the store that hosts the club also offers decorating classes.