Sunday, March 30, 2008

Imperfect

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The last couple weeks have been the busiest I've been at work in a very long time. I mean, I'm always fairly busy and I never have enough time or staff to finish everything, but we had a deadline to meet and a product to launch. In addition, our company was in the process of moving from one office building to another. Even though our new office is a million times better than our old office, my commute now has me driving on the parking lot more commonly known as Highway 101 instead of the wide-laned, rolling-hilled Interstate 280. I sound like a total whiner and I know that this month's Daring Baker challenge recipe was fairly straightforward, but I wasn't sure if I had the time.

I'm aware that my situation is not unique. Whether it's your job, commute, children or household chores, there are not enough hours in the day for all that and "personal" time too. But it is exactly during these busy, stressful times when taking a moment for a "breather" is so important. A pleasant distraction (like taking a walk or baking a cake) can de-stress and refresh the mind enough so that it can continue working.

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So I took a break from my desk and headed into the kitchen to bake the cake. This month's hostess Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts chose the "Perfect Party Cake" from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home To Yours. The cake is a white cake flavored with a hint of citrus. The frosting is a Swiss meringue buttercream and the cake can be filled with whatever we like. It sounded, well, perfect.

I was unsuccessful the last time I made a Swiss meringue buttercream (for the Daring Bakers' yule log challenge) and I was not sure if I would be successful this time around either. My buttercream curdled a bit so I added a bit of cream cheese to help smooth it out. Using cream cheese was a much better solution than adding more sugar to bind the frosting (which is what I did for the yule log frosting) and the frosting turned out surprisingly well. But it seemed more like a cream cheese frosting now than a buttercream.

I don't usually have any trouble making cakes and that was pretty much true this time. However, I realized that the flour I purchased was not cake flour but actually pastry flour. Now normally I would just use about 1 tablespoon less of pastry flour than I would per cup of cake flour. (FYI: Pastry flour has a higher protein content than cake flour but still lower than all purpose flour.) But this pastry flour was not the fine textured ivory pastry flour that I usually buy, but a slightly coarser light tan pastry flour. Stupidly, I went ahead a used it for the cake anyway. What I should've done was use all purpose flour. (FYI: One cup minus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour = one cup cake flour.)

My cake looked far from perfect. My cake was not snow white like the cake shown in the cookbook. My cake was beige and I'm sure it was because of my pastry flour. Even though my cake rose in the oven and was fluffy, my cake tasted very "whole grainy". I think that my pastry flour was a whole wheat pastry flour. The package read whole grain pastry flour and I'm not quite sure if that's the same as whole wheat. Generally speaking, I am not opposed to whole wheat, but it's just not appealing when you're expecting a light, delicate and tender white cake.

I did some calculations and determined that the King Arthur pastry flour I usually use has 8 grams protein per 100 grams (8%) and the pastry flour I used for this cake had 11 grams protein per 100 grams (11%). I'm not sure if the label on my pastry flour package is correct since 11% is as high as the content in all purpose flour. (But protein content was not the major issue with my cake. The major issue was the flavor. But it's my fault for using the wrong flour. I'm sure the recipe is a good one. I just messed up.)

I had no time to make the cake again before the posting date so I just continued with the recipe. I cut my cakes horizontally to make 4 layers, and then using a cookie cutter, I cut out 4-inch circles for mini cakes. I filled them with Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) and my buttercream, frosted the sides and top and then snapped some quick pictures.

The Nutella and frosting helped to hide some of that whole grainy taste but I felt my cake was beyond salvaging. I wanted to toss the whole thing into the compost and just get back to work. My husband said it was not horrible and I should just bring it to the office and see what my coworkers thought. Some really liked it, some thought it was a bit strange but still good and others felt it was not my best work. My coworker JC did say that my worst is still better than most people's best. Thanks JC -you made my day! And thanks to hostess Morven and all the Daring Bakers. When I have some more time, I will definitely try making this cake again.

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My changes to the recipe:
I filled my cake with 2/3 cup of Nutella instead of fruit preserves.
I used orange zest and orange oil instead of lemon zest and lemon extract in the cake.
I use orange juice instead of lemon juice in the frosting.
I added some cream cheese to the frosting (when my buttercream frosting curdled).
I omitted the shredded coconut.
I cut my split cake layers with a 4-inch diameter cookie cutter to make mini layer cakes.

PERFECT PARTY CAKE
(From "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan)

Cake Ingredients
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract

Buttercream Ingredients
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Filling and Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable
About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Getting Ready
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.
Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.
Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated.
Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.
Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.
Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean
Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners.
Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

To Make the Buttercream
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.
The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.
Remove the bowl from the heat.
Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes.
During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again.
On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.
Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper.
Spread it with one third of the preserves.
Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream.
Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover).
Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.
Press the coconut into the frosting, patting it gently all over the sides and top.

Serving
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

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73 comments:

Gretchen Noelle said...

What a great idea Nutella was to fill this with! I love it! I tried to do mini cakes but found the cake way to sticky and it sort of collapsed around the edges. So I went with a square. Love the changes you made to make it your own!

Chris said...

Yes! Nutella would have been wonderful with this cake. Good thinking! I am with you on the personal time...it seems to be an unfortunate trend with many of us....too little "me" time. Hmmm...

Meeta said...

sorry that the cake did not taste so good for you Mary, but I absolutely love the idea with the Nutella and it sure does look scrumptious. I too feel the same way when I need a break. A trip to the kitchen a bit of baking or cooking and I am revived!

Kitt said...

Bless those co-workers. Always willing to make sacrifices for the sake of your art.

Mine are similarly selfless.

The cake looks pretty good, actually. I'm sure you'll get it right next time!

Maryann said...

Hi Mary,
I think your cake looks delicious and I like the addition of nutella :)

Courtney said...

yumm yumm nutella, doesnt that make everything great. i love new offices but when the drive get worse i totally feel you. i learned so much in your cake flour/pastry flour update!

glamah16 said...

The texture lloks creamy. Plus you added cream cheese and nutella to the ensemble. I would want to try this. But rather than get down about it you learn more and more.

Aran said...

I love the addition of nutella and orange. Very very clever!

KJ said...

Well, it looks great if that is any consolation!!

Peabody said...

I'm sure the cream cheese was a great addition to the frosting!

linda said...

Maybe not as perfect as you imagined but it looks delicious! Love the addition of the Nutella.

Dharm said...

Nutella with cake - fabulous! It looks just great Mary and I'm sure your 'worst' is so much better than most peoples best!!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Mary the Nutella seems perfect with the whole grain! I think it looks beautiful!

Anne said...

Nutella and cream cheese sounds really good!

familiabencomo said...

Wow! Your cake is still AMAZING! I wish I had your imperfections. ;)

xoxox Amy

P.S. Sorry about the 101 commute - definitely a less serene drive.

Judy @ No Fear Entertaining said...

I love the idea of Nutella in the layers! I bet that was delicious. Too bad you didn't like it!

L Vanel said...

Still a very pretty cake. Nice ideas too.

Bake your cake and eat it too said...

Even with flour issues, your cake definitely turned out wonderfully. I love the chocolate against the white. Looks amazing.

~Amber~ said...

Sorry to hear you had a rough time with the cake. It looks wonderful and I hope you have a chance to make it again. To the next challenge we go.

Sarah said...

Even with its imperfections, you got me at Nutella...it is pretty!

slush said...

I am so feelin ya on the stress level. Maybe March is just one of those months for everyone? I seriously hope so. I dont want to be going through a blog breakdown. ;)

Your cake looks scrumptious! I love the idea of nutella inside. Nutella makes everything better!

Deborah said...

I love the Nutella idea!! And regardless of what you think, I still think it looks great!

RecipeGirl said...

It still looks pretty good, and the addition of Nutella was a brilliant idea. I didn't care for the buttercream either.

Jerry said...

I found it great that you filled it with Nutella! Sorry it didn't come out the way you liked it, but it still looks beautiful!

Suzana said...

Looks beautiful whatsoever! Chocolate and orange must be delicious together with the buttercream. Great job on the challenge. :)

breadchick said...

OOOO OOO OOO! Nutella!!! I would never call anything with nutella spread between its layers Imperfect!! I'd call that PERFECT!

Marie said...

Mmmm... a cake filled with nutella. Now, why didn't I think of that!!! Your cake looks delicious!

culinography said...

Mmmm... I'll bet the Nutella was wonderful with this cake. Yum!

bombshellwithin said...

I think the cake matches perfectly. Sorry to hear it didn't come out so well but at least you got to bake something up and get away from it all for a bit.

Claire said...

well, it did make for a beautiful well set cake! I bet the Nutella was great!

HoneyB said...

What a great idea to use the nutella! I find when I am out straight with my work that it is hard to concentrate on anything else. I hope it slows down some for you!

Melanie said...

Still lovely - and nutella is ALWAYS a great addition! With your busy schedule, I'm impressed you did the challenge - I let the busy-ness of life get the better of me this month!

creampuff said...

Way to perservere, Mary! I wasn't happy with my cakes either so don't feel bad. And as I've always said, Nutella covers a multitude of sins!

Gabi said...

I love the Nutella/Orange cake combination- i thought about adding Nutella to my strawberry preserves cake but my hubby nixed the idea. Maybe on my own slice...
I hope things settle down for you soon and the stress recedes. I second the idea that your worst is better than most people's best any day!
Take care of yourself.
xoxo
Gabi

Karen said...

I agree, baking a cake is a great distraction and refreshes the mind. Your Nutella idea was great.

Tartelette said...

Any cake is flawless with Nutella :)
I bet that cake tasted delicious Mary! Great job again on the challenge and I am happy you too the time to take a breather and bake with us!

Lesley said...

Hey it might not have gone as planned but it looks deeelish! I want to try it with different flavors next time too...

The Baker & The Curry Maker said...

I'm sorry to hear you didn't think it went so well. Looks great from here! Nutella would work really well I'm sure.

Amy J. said...

Yum! I was thinking Nutella for a future version of this cake. I'm sorry it didn't turn out like you wanted, but it still looks good!

kimberleyblue said...

I love the Nutella idea! Your cake looks awesome!

Faery said...

NUTELLA oh my gosh with orange I am 100% sure that the cake was DELICIOUS :9 yummmm

Chez Denise et Laudalino said...

Nutella - YUM! You can not go wrong with that. Your cakes looks fantastic!

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

That cake actually looks pretty good. I love that you used Nutella as a filling. Cardboard would taste great with a Nutella filling! (Not that I'm implying that your cake....oh, never mind.) Anyway, feel good that you did the challenge and enjoy your cake. It really does look good!

Allergy Mom said...

You never need to apologize for anything served with Nutella! And changing the lemon to orange sounds perfect with it.
For future reference, I'll be happy to help you out with any future baking endeavors you consider less than perfect!
Libby

Antonio Tahhan said...

the nutella in the cake looks so good I'm actually having some now... while I sit at my desk to do my endless amount of Italian hw : (

Miss Ifi said...

Yuuum cream cheese frosting!!! Congratulations on your challenge.. even though you think your cake was not as good.. I am sure it was delicious!

marye said...

it is beautiful anyway! Looks great.

Dhanggit said...

this is definitely a perfect party cake for me, with nutella on it :-)!! would love to have a slice of it :-)

Morven said...

Yum - hazelnut and orange. What a great combination. Reminds me of a homemade chocolate recipe that has hazelnuts, nutella and cointreau in the filling.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A marvelous idea! Your cake looks great!

Cheers,

Rosa

Andrea said...

I think your cake looks great! The Nutella was a great idea. I know how you feel about the flour mixup. I've done that too!

PJH said...

Mary, it makes sense that your whole wheat pastry flour was 11% protein (and yes, whole-grain pastry flour most probably meant whole wheat); whole wheat is naturally higher in protein than all-purpose or other flours that have had their bran and germ removed. I work at King Arthur Flour, and the pastry flour we sell via our catalogue is 9.2% protein; I hope it works well for you. Other than that, the cake looks fabulous, and I love the imaginative ways you finished it off... Have fun and share, that's my motto! - PJ Hamel

kellypea said...

Good luck at your new building in spite of the traffic. I don't like that part very much either! I love the idea of the small round cutters and am dying to try the idea. So very cute!

Cheryl said...

Ooooh Nutella on the layers, what a fantastic idea. I think your cake came out fantastic.

Passionate baker...& beyond said...

I think it's pretty & perfect. Imperfect is unfair for such a beautiful looking cake! The cross section is lovely...nutella & all. YUM!!

Lis said...

Ugh.. I hate when I buy the wrong flour - they need to make the labels more clear.

Lookswise, though - it's gorgeous Mary! Mmmm Nutella + buttercream - YUM!

xoxo

Jennifer said...

Nutella! Brilliant!

Jenny said...

Still, I love the idea of Nutella. I hope you get a chance to try this recipe again with a better flour - I really felt like it was a good one.

Rachel said...

Oh my goodness! Nutella! I can't believe I didn't think of nutella! Your cake sounds delicious :)

Canadian Baker said...

I actually wanted to fill my cake with Nutella as well but ran out of time and used blueberries. Your mini cake looks yummy!

Jenny said...

No cake filled with nutella and with cream cheese in the icing could possibly be bad! And being mini it is so cute too!

Brittany said...

Looks perfectly delicious- nutella, cream cheese, and orange....I must try that soon!

Emma Nowell said...

If you have any interest in the future to try the buttercream again, it sounds like it was just too cold, that's a very common problem when the butter is too cold when being added (both should be right around 70 degrees. One way to diagnose this is to feel the bottom of the bowl and if at all cold put it over a pot of boiling water while whisking. Don't leave it on long, only a few seconds, then whisk and continue taking it on and off until it is smooth and shiny- buttercream is almost always fixable. I was almost unable to finish my challenge as well- for entirely different reasons- but good job for hanging in there!

SweetDesigns said...

It sounds super yummy regardless of the flour situation, and man none of us have much time lately..hope that is a fading trend cause there are too many things here I want to do!! Great job and your cake looks wonderful!

VeggieGirl said...

aww, no worries - your cake looks quite perfect to me! :0)

Big Boys Oven said...

looks so petite awesome!

bbaking said...

you win some... I think it still looks delicous!

Mara said...

What a cute idea on the mini cakes, I will have to file that away for the future!!

Cream cheese, nutella and whole grain sound yummy to me.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Nutella saves everything! And since it's whole grain that's like eating health food, right?

Helen said...

Oooh, that looks totally delicious! I love the idea of the nutella. I'm joining Daring Bakers this month and I can't wait to get started!

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wmpe said...

Your cake looks lovely. I enjoyed reading your write-up and I really appreciate your explanations of flour/protein content. I would love to have a book that explains that stuff to me. Nice job. Wendy

Katy said...

nutella!!!!! i bet that was just awesome.