June 2019, Bake #2: Vanilla Cake w/ Chocolate Frosting
June 16, 2019
I ordered some baking gear from King Arthur Flour and a little postcard came with the order, upon it printed their “2019 Recipe of the Year”. Well who am I to resist baking such a prestigious recipe?
Anyway I have been itching to start baking some cakes. I have this idea to make a spherical cake by the end of the month, and I figure I should probably build my way up to that by baking some more standard cakes.
Anyway, you can find the AWARD WINNING RECIPE at King Arthur Flour.
(OK, so I’m looking at the recipe on the website and I am a little annoyed because it is more complete than the one I received in the mail. Mainly it gets into more detail regarding the icing application process; fortunately, I had my lovely wife around to help me with that part. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
I used our standing mixer for this one. This is the second time I’ve used the standing mixer and I have to say I’m not in love with it. It’s a pain in the ass to pour stuff in there without spilling shit all over the counter. Possibilities:
- My pour technique is terrible.
- Standing mixers are poorly designed.
- I need to get a funnel or something.
These are not mutually exclusive.
Whoever invented frosting is a psychotic monster. It’s just powdered sugar and butter! I love both those things dearly, but jeez. Jeez! Jeez, is all I have to say to frosting.
Despite it being just these two things, I managed to make a complete mess. The main issue is that I guess I can’t reliably get things into standing mixers, and this problem is exacerbated for very powdery ingredients like cocoa and powdered sugar.
(By the way, fun fact: powedered sugar and confectioner’s sugar are THE SAME THING)
I was very pleased that I got to use Droste chocolate for my frosting, because everything tastes better with a dash of infinite recursion.
Carrie gave me a tip for dealing with the springform pans:
- Pop out the bottom of the springform pan
- Use the bottomless circular pan as a stencil to trace a circle on a piece of parchment paper
- Cut out and use your perfectly-sized circle to line the bottom of the pan
I managed to screw this up: I traced around the outer edge of the popped-out bottom rather than the inner edge of the bottomless pan. So my parchment circle came out too big, and I had to painstakingly trim it down to get it to fit into the pan.
The funny thing is that Carrie told me how to do this correctly – not once, but twice! And yet I still fudged it. Because I am an idiot, I guess.
Incidentally, it is kind of annoying to get the bottom into a springform pan! Why did I never know this. (It is also annoying to wash them, because bits of cake likes to get stuck into the little ridge where the bottom of the pan nestles into the ring. In general, this baking kick has forced me to up my dishwashing game.)
The cake came out very moist. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprsied as the bake was pretty short (<30 minutes) and at a relatively low temp (325 degrees F).
I popped one of the springform pans TOO EARLY (i.e., right when it came out of the oven) and this caused the edge of one of the cake layers to tear a bit. Carrie suggested I just clamp the pan back and let it cook; this seemed to work, and the cake kind of cohered back together while it cooled. Still, one layer was clearly shittier than the other; thus, this became the bottom layer.
My layers were also a bit lopsided. It didn’t turn out to be very significant, since the frosting masked everything. But maybe next time I will pay more attention to getting the pans level in the oven. Maybe putting them on a cookie sheet would help?
Fun fact: moving around cake layers and stacking them is very fiddly business, especially with a cake this moist. The surfaces of the cake layers stuck to everything, including the drying rack. So, pro tip: use lots of parchment paper! All the parchment paper! Use it everywhere!
Icing the cake
Carrie was very helpful in helping me understand how delicate you need to be with this part of the process. We only had regular utensils for this bit, but apparently you can get special knives and things for icing cakes. That seems very fancy; maybe one day I will waste money on those.
One thing to keep in mind for future bakes is the importance of the temperature of the frosting. It should be relatively warm and soft while you’re mooshing it around, but not so much while you’re piping words and other fiddly business.
King Arthur Flour also suggests doing a thin initial layer of frosting on the cake, then letting it firm up in the fridge before doing the rest of the icing. I guess this protects the surface of the cake from tearing and shedding crumbs while you’re doing your mooshing.
Oh, also, piping a chocolate-frosted cake with more of the same chocolate frosting makes kind of look like you’re putting poop frosting on top of a poop cake. Lesson for next time: plan ahead and make some complementary colors of frosting.
(Oh, and the reason it says “A RUN FOR UR $” is because I brought this cake to my D&D/Shadowrun group the next day, and the in-game name of our Shadowrun crew is “A Run For Your Money”.)
It tasted good! I mean, it’s cake. I’m not sure the tastiness of the end product was ever really in question.
But, like, it was moist, and moistness is not a foregone conclusion. I feel like vanilla cakes in particular have a tendancy to be dry. This one was not. So hooray for moistness!
I HAVE A THEORY ABOUT COMMERCIAL CAKES. If you’re producing cakes at a commercial scale, you’d want to err on the side of your cakes being too dry, as this would would make them easier to work with. I.e., less likely to fall apart and more likely to look yummy, not crummy. THAT IS MY THEORY about why commercial cakes are not always very moist but always seem to look pretty good.
The cake also looked pretty good; this is mainly thanks to Carrie’s guidance. At some point during the icing process I got a little bitchy and mopey because I felt like she was doing too much of the work and not giving me enough of an opportunity to fuck up my own cake.
The lesson here is that I need to grow up and learn how to take feedback better.
I’m not wild about all the fiddliness that goes into making cakes and pastries and whatnot. I think this is because I’m a sloppy, lazy, unartistic person, and I get uncharismatically self-critical whenever something turns out bad or weird, like if a cake layer gets torn up or comes out lopsided or whatever.
That said, cake!
I also continue not to be a big fan of batters. Batters are boring! They are wet and gloopy and drippy. Dough is fun and springy and utterly charming.