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BEFORE YOU BEGIN
It is important that your cake ingredients are at room temperature. This is the only way for all the elements to blend together successfully. This makes cake baking a planned event: You must get organized and let the refrigerated ingredients come to room temperature before mixing. This usually takes two to three hours.
FLOUR: Cake flour is the best flour to use for most cake baking. It produces a light texture. Other flours have more gluten, which will toughen the cake. All-- purpose flour and unbleached flour contain more gluten than cake flour, strengthening the batter. This type of heavier, denser batter is used primarily in fruitcakes. The higher gluten is needed to hold up the fruit and nuts and to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
SUGAR: Extra-fine granulated sugar is used in the cake recipes in this book. It provides a great flavor, and it blends well with butters and shortenings.
BROWN SUGAR: Brown sugar is sugar that has been processed with molasses for a rich flavor. You can use light brown or dark brown sugar depending on your personal preference, unless a particular type has been specified. When measuring brown sugar, spoon sugar into a measuring cup and lightly pack it into cup with the back of a spoon or with your fingers.
CONFECTIONERS' SUGAR: Confectioners' sugar is very fine powdered sugar that has a bit of cornstarch added to prevent sticking. Because of its fine texture, it blends well with other ingredients to produce smooth icings and glazes.
BUTTER: Unsalted butter is used in these recipes. It offers the fullest and freshest flavor. It's easier to add salt to your recipe as needed instead of assuming there's enough in salted butter. You can substitute margarine or shortening in these recipes, but you'll be sacrificing the fresh, full flavor of butter.
VEGETABLE SHORTENING AND VEGETABLE OIL: Whenever shortening is called for in these recipes, use vegetable shortening. Vegetable shortening provides a smooth texture. It can be used to grease cake pans if you're going to grease and flour them to prevent the cake from sticking in the pan.
When a recipe calls for oil, use a vegetable oil. Olive oil is very expensive and often too heavy for most cake baking.
EXTRACTS: Be sure to use pure extracts in all your baking. You can really taste the difference compared with cheaper flavorings. You can keep your frostings white by using a clear extract.
EGGS: Whole, large grade A eggs are recommended for these recipes. If you need to separate eggs, it's easier to do when they are cold. Then let the eggs come to room temperature before using.
BAKING POWDER AND BAKING SODA: These are two leavening agents that are commonly used in cake baking. Be sure that your supply is fresh for best results. Store unused baking powder and baking soda in airtight containers.
MILK AND BUTTERMILK: When a recipe calls for milk, use whole Grade A milk. Don't substitute low-fat or nonfat milk. You'll be compromising the texture and flavor of your cake.
Years ago, buttermilk was the liquid that was left after churning butter. Today it is made by adding a bacteria to whole milk to produce a slightly sour taste. It adds a richer flavor to many of our cakes.
SPICES: There are several common spices used in this cookbook. They include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. These are readily available in supermarkets, already ground. Just be sure your supply of spices is fresh. If your spice jars have been opened for more than six months, you should replace them with a new supply.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: This book includes some cakes that require fresh fruits or vegetables. Try to take advantage of local produce and use the seasonal specialties of your area. Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are best when they're fresh and in season, but a good alternative is "IQF" berries. These are berries that are "individually quick frozen" separately, then frozen together. This allows the whole berry to thaw whole instead of the pieces and juice that come with other types of frozen fruits.
Every baker has his or her favorite variety of apples. Use your favorite or try Empire or Cortland. These are firm and flavorful for most baking purposes.
Pears are gaining in popularity for baking purposes and rightly so. Bosc pears bake wonderfully and are available just about all year.
CHOCOLATE: Always use the finest and freshest chocolate available. Most of these recipes use semisweet bars or semisweet chocolate chips that are available in most supermarkets.
COCOA: Many bakers will debate the best type of cocoa. I've found that Dutchprocessed cocoa can't be beat for a full rich flavor and color.
CITRUS RIND AND JUICE: A great way to flavor cakes is by using the rind and juice of citrus fruit such as lemons, limes, and oranges. This adds a much more pungent and natural flavor than any extract. It's easier to squeeze the fruits for juice if they are at room temperature. To grate the rind, use a zester or four-sided grater. Just be sure to avoid the bitter white pith underneath the rind.
WHIPPED CREAM: Heavy cream is recommended for whipped cream frosting. It has a higher butterfat content than whipping cream or light cream, so it whips up the stiffest and has the richest flavor. Pasteurized heavy cream is the freshest-tasting cream, but is usually hard to find. Most supermarkets stock ultra-pasteurized cream that will work in most recipes.
MASCARPONE: This is a soft Italian cheese similar to cream cheese in texture. It is the basis for the Italian dessert tiramisù.
CREAM CHEESE: Any brand of cream cheese will work in these recipes. Be sure it is softened to room temperature for the easiest blending. Neufchatel cheese is a natural low-calorie alternative to cream cheese. It has a lower milkfat content than traditional cream cheese, and it makes a fine substitute.
YOGURT AND SOUR CREAM: Both yogurt and sour cream are added for flavor and moisture in some of the cakes in this book.
NUTS: A wide variety of nuts is used in this book, including walnuts, pecans, and almonds. In many of the recipes you can interchange the types of nuts (e.g., if the recipe calls for almonds, change to hazelnuts). If you have a large amount of nuts that you need to store, place in a plastic bag and freeze for later use.
Freshly chopping nuts helps to bring out their natural flavors and oils. This book uses various sizes of nuts.
For finely chopped, use a food processor. For coarsely chopped, use a long knife and cutting board.
Roasting nuts and coconut helps to draw out their natural oils and flavor. Lay the measured amount of nuts or coconut on a clean parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spread in a single layer. Bake in the oven at 350°F for 5 to 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool before using.
It is very important to have the right tools for cake baking. The wrong size pan or cheap foil layer cake pans can ruin the best batters.
LAYER CAKE PANS: If you are using round layer cake pans, use the ones withstraight sides, two inches deep. For layer cakes, you only need the pan to be the same height as the finished cake will be. Disposable foil pans are not recommended for layer cake baking.
LOAF PANS: Loaf pans come in many sizes, the most common are 10 × 6 × 2½ inches and 8 × 4 × 3 inches. Foil pans are fine for loaf pans and are especially practical for wrapping and gift giving. Mini loaf pans make a unique individual dessert. These pans usually come in a set of six pans, 4½ x 2½ x 1½ inches each.
BUNDT AND TUBE PANS: Tube pans are round, tall pans that have a center column. Bundt was originally the brand name for a fancier fluted tube pan. Now any fluted tube pan is referred to as a Bundt pan, regardless of the manufacturer. The most common sizes are 9 x 4 inches and 10 × 4 inches. Mini Bundtlette pans (4 × 2 inches) are also available and make ideal individual desserts. Tube pans are commonly found in 9 x 4 inch or 10 x 4 inch sizes. Some tube pans have feet that make them ideal to invert foam-style cakes for cooling.
PARCHMENT PAPER: Lining loaf and layer pans with parchment prevents the cake from sticking to the pan and produces straighter bottoms and cake sides. It also makes cleaning up easier. Cut parchment into circles to fit the appropriate size pan (e.g., 8- or 9-inch round). Then cut parchment into 2-inch-wide strips. I usually cut a bunch of strips in various sizes just to have them handy. Spray the cake pans with nonstick spray, then line the bottom of the pan with the circle of parchment. Use the strips to adhere to the sides of the pan. This also eliminates the messy task of greasing and flouring pans.
When using a tube pan for butter-based cakes, you can cut the parchment to adhere around the inner tube. When spraying, try to hold the pan and spray over the sink. This helps to eliminate messy overspray. If you're using foil loaf pans and are giving them as gifts, in the pan, you don't need to line the pan with parchment. Just grease and flour, or spray with nonstick spray.
For fluted Bundt pans that can't be lined with parchment, carefully grease with vegetable shortening, being sure you grease every crevice. Dust with flour to coat pan. This will prevent the cake from sticking. Spread shortening over inside of pans using your fingers or a pastry brush.
When baking chocolate cakes, dust the greased pan with cocoa instead of flour to avoid any white blotches on the cake. If you absolutely hate to grease and flour, you can use a nonstick cooking spray. I've found this method to have irregular results, whereas the traditional method of greasing and flouring is virtually foolproof.
MIXING BOWLS AND UTENSILS: You will need the usual types of mixing bowls, rubber spatulas, cake testers, measuring cups, and spoons that are normally found in most kitchens.
ELECTRIC MIXERS: Hand-held electric mixers will work fine, but a stand-upmixer is a great tool to have. This allows you to walk away from the mixer while butter is creaming, for example, and do another task like prepare cake pans.
You'll need a hand-held mixer to make our Seven-Minute Frosting. This frosting is mixed in a double boiler over boiling water, so it would be impossible to use a stand-up mixer.
DOUBLE BOILERS: These are pots that fit together, with one pot in another. The lower pot holds water that either simmers or boils to gently cook whatever is in the upper pot. If you don't have a double boiler, you can carefully use a saucepan filled with water as the bottom, and a stainless steel bowl that fits over the top.
WIRE COOLING RACKS: These are necessary to cool cakes properly. They allow air to circulate around and underneath the cake to cool it completely. Wire racks are also great while glazing the top of a cake with confectioners' frosting. Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the wire rack to catch any excess frosting that drips off.
OVENS: The recipes in this book are timed using a moderate oven, either gas or electric. If you are using a convection oven, your baking times will be less than the recommended times. Please consult your owner's manual for more specific baking times.
I don't suggest going out and purchasing a new oven, but oven doors with windows and ovens with lights are ideal for anxious cake bakers. This allows you to glimpse the progress of baking without actually opening the oven and disturbing the baking process. You can cause the cake to fall if you open the oven door too soon and let cold air in.
Be sure to check your oven temperature. Many bakers assume their ovens work fine because they cook roasts and casseroles well. Remember that cakes are sensitive and need the proper heat to generate volume. Use an oven thermometer to check for accurate temperatures. These are inexpensive and can give you an accurate reading. If the oven temperature is too low or high, call a repairman to make the proper adjustments.
GENERAL INFORMATION AND TECHNIQUES
I stress once again that all the cake ingredients should be at room temperature. This is the only way to ensure that all of the elements will blend together successfully and smoothly. A good way to start is to read through the recipe first so that you understand all the directions. Then organize your ingredients according to mixing order to be sure you don't forget anything. Also, prepare your pans before you begin mixing so that you can get the cakes in the oven as soon as they're mixed.
There are several methods for blending ingredients together. One is the creaming method. This is commonly used for butter cakes. The butter or shortening is creamed first, then the sugar is gradually added and blended until light. Eggs are added one at a time. It's important to the volume and structure of the cake that one egg is well incorporated before adding the next egg. After the eggs and extracts are added, the dry ingredients are added. Usually all the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, etc.) are combined together. They are either added slowly or added alternately with some type of liquid (such as milk, buttermilk, or sour cream). It's important not to overmix at this point. If overbeaten, the cake can become dry and tough. Blend just until smooth and pour into the prepared pan.
Foam Cake Mixing
This technique is used primarily with angel food and sponge-type cakes. With sponge cakes, the egg whites and yolks are separated. The yolks are beaten with sugar until thick and uniformly yellow. In another bowl, the whites are whipped until stiff but not dry. Flour is added to the yolk mixture. The yolks are then carefully folded into the egg white mixture using a rubber spatula. The batter is poured into an ungreased pan. The angel food technique is the same as above, without the yolk stage.
How to Fold in Beaten Egg Whites
It's important to have a light hand while folding. Using a rubber spatula, with small wrist turning strokes, add air as you incorporate ingredients. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with your turning strokes.
How to Tell When a Cake Is Done
The traditional method of checking for doneness is to stick a cake tester into the center of the cake. When the tester comes out clean, the cake is done. Sometimes, however, when a tester comes out clean, the cake ends up overdone because it will continue cooking in the pan. I've found it best to remove a cake when the tester comes out with a small crumb. Not batter, just a fine crumb.
Most butter-based cakes should be cooled in the pan, on wire cooling racks, after removal from the oven. Most cakes at this point are too fragile to be turned out of the pans; they will break. After cooling in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, remove cake from the hot pan, carefully flipping the cake bottom side down on the wire cooling rack. If you leave the cake top side down on the cooling rack, it can split. You can easily flip the cake bottom side down by using another wire rack to turn it.
Continue cooling for 15 to 20 minutes on cooling rack. If you are going to frost the cake, leave it on the rack until fully cool. Otherwise, when almost cool, wrap in foil, then plastic. Store at room temperature overnight or freeze for later use.
Angel food and sponge cakes are baked in tube pans. They need to be inverted for proper cooling. Many older models of tube pans will have feet extending from the top of the pan. If you have a pan with feet, simply turn it upside down and let the cake stand on a clean counter or table until cool. If your tube pan does not have feet, you can invert the pan onto the neck of a soda bottle. Although it may look precarious, this method will hold the cake firmly on top of the bottle and it will hang there and cool successfully. To remove sponge cakes from the pan, use a long, sharp knife. Run the knife around the sides of the tube pan. Loosen the inside cone. Run the knife around the inside cone and underneath the bottom of the cake.
Frost cakes only when completely cool. There will be less breakage and crumbs if the cake is frosted the day after baking. If unfrosted cake layers have been frozen, thaw them first, then frost.
Dusting with Confectioners' Sugar
To dust a cake or cake slice with confectioners' sugar, place a few tablespoons of powdered sugar in a small dry strainer. Hold the strainer over the cake and with a teaspoon stir the sugar over the cake in the desired amount.
Wrap unfrosted cake in foil, then plastic. Freeze up to two months. Thaw cake in the refrigerator before serving or frosting.
Store cakes frosted with a buttercream icing in the refrigerator for two to three days. Once a cake has been frosted with a buttercream frosting, it is sealed. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Cakes frosted with whipped cream can stay refrigerated for one to two days. Whipped cream is a more porous frosting, so it doesn't have the sealing capabilities of buttercream. Keep whipped cream cakes away from odors in the refrigerator. The cream will absorb odors.
Unfrosted loaf and Bundt cakes can be shipped through the mail, but layer cakes with frosting are not recommended for shipping. If you need to ship a cake, be sure to use a heavy corrugated cardboard shipping box. Wrap the cake in plastic to secure freshness, and perhaps use a cookie tin or wrap with some cellophane and ribbon. Besure to properly cushion the cake with newspaper or tissue paper. Use the quickest service possible to ship perishable food items.
Determining Serving Quantities
Many of these recipes for layer cakes are for either 8- or 9-inch cakes. These cakes serve 10 to 12, and 12 to 15 respectively. If you're having a larger party, I recommend making two different types of cakes--perhaps one chocolate and one another flavor.
The number of servings will vary with loaf and tube pans. Although they are standard-size pans, the type of cake will dictate the number of servings. A dense fruit-filled butter cake should be cut into thin pieces. Because these types of cakes are rich, they will yield more servings than a light, plain angel food cake.
Baking for Company
When baking or cooking for guests, it is less stressful to prepare a recipe that you've already tried. This way you know if you like the cake and what to expect for preparation time. It's also a good idea to prepare as many elements ahead of time as possible. For example, if you are having a party on a Saturday night, bake your cake and make your filling on Friday. Make your frosting and assemble the cake on Saturday morning.
How to Whip Cream
If you're whipping the cream to use as a dollop on a slice of cake, you don't need to beat until very stiff. Stiff whipped cream is necessary only if you're filling and frosting a layer cake.
Chill the mixing bowl and beaters for 10 to 15 minutes before whipping cream. Use a fresh heavy cream. Whip with an electric mixer using wire whisk attachment. Whip at high speed until medium peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add granulated sugar and continue whipping another 30 seconds, or until stiff. Use immediately.
BASIC CAKE DECORATING TIPS AND EQUIPMENT
Here are a few basic items that are great for decorating cakes.
Pastry Bags and Tips
Don't be intimidated by a pastry bag. It's a great tool to use to assemble and decorate layer cakes. If you're just starting to use a pastry bag, I recommend using the flexible plastic reusable type. These are pliable, easy to use, and easy to clean. Some ofthe older cloth pastry bags absorb greasy frostings, are hard to dry, and can become stiff with age. The only decorating tip you may need for the cakes in this book is the basic star tip, usually numbered 32 by most manufacturers. We won't spend a lot of time on decorating techniques--just enough to assemble your layer cake and perhaps make a simple shell border.
Spatulas and Combs
Straight metal spatulas are recommended for frosting cakes. Try to find the length that you are most comfortable with. I prefer a wooden-handled 6 x 3-inch version. Metal scrapers, found in most kitchen shops, are another great tool to help you smooth the sides of your layer cakes. You can also purchase, quite inexpensively, a triangular cake comb that will give your sides a ribbed effect. Just hold the comb against the sides of your cake as you turn the cake on your turntable.
Professional cake decorators use a turntable to spin cakes around for easier decorating. You can use the same technique at home by using a lazy susan to turn your cake as you frost it.
A flat, sturdy plate can serve as the base for your decorated cake. If you are bringing the cake somewhere and don't want to worry about getting your plate back, use a cardboard cake circle. These corrugated cardboard circles can be purchased at specialty kitchen or party shops. Use a cardboard base that is at least two inches larger than your cake. For exceptionally heavy or large cakes, double or triple the cardboard thickness.
A nice way to present your cake is to use a doily on top of your cake base. Use a bit of buttercream to adhere the doily to the cake base and to adhere the cake to the doily to prevent any slipping of your cake.
To keep your doily clean as you decorate, place a piece of cellophane or plastic wrap over the entire doily surface. Then place the bottom cake layer on the plastic or cellophane. After decorating, carefully cut away the excess plastic, leaving the clean doily.
The easiest way to frost a layer cake is to start from the top. Pile some frosting on top of your filled layer cake. Working from the center, spread the frosting to the edges with your metal spatula. Work the frosting onto the sides of the cake, covering all areas. It's always best to pile on more frosting. Be generous. After you get the frostingon, you can eliminate the excess with your spatula, metal scraper, or comb. If you're working with a dense frosting like a buttercream, it's a good idea to have a bowl of hot water nearby. You can dip your spatula, scraper, and/or comb into the water to help spread the frosting and help to release it from the spatula.
For fancy smooth finishes with buttercream icings, it's best to apply two coats of frosting. The first coat is called the crumb coat. This is a thin layer that you apply without worrying about crumbs in the frosting. Refrigerate the crumb-coated cake for about 30 minutes, or until hard to the touch. Now you can apply the crumb-free finish coat of frosting to the cake.
Whipped cream frostings are easier to spread than buttercream frostings and require only one coat. It is important that you use the whipped cream immediately after whipping it. Frost quickly to be sure that the frosting stays firm.
Filling a Pastry Bag
An easy way to fill a pastry bag is to place the tip side down in a tall drinking glass. Fold the top edges of the bag down around the outside of the glass. Spoon your frosting into the open bag, being careful not to overfill it. Gather up the top edges and remove from the glass. To use, simply squeeze and add pressure to the center of the bag. This will release the frosting through the tip.
Making a Dam
For many loose fillings such as custards and lemon curd, you will need to make a frosting dam to hold the filling in. Using a pastry bag fitted with a basic star tip (or no tip at all), simply pipe a line of frosting around the perimeter of the layer of cake. Spoon your filling inside the frosting outline and place the top layer of cake on top.
Piping a Shell Border
A shell border is a basic border for the top and bottom of a layer cake, made with a pastry bag and, most often, an open star tip (#32). Practice on a flat surface, such as a parchment-lined cookie sheet. You can then scrape up frosting, refill the pastry bag, and practice again. You can use a top and bottom border to frame your cakes or just a top border.
Covering Your Mistakes
One of the easiest things to do when decorating is to cover your mistakes. With many of the cakes in this book, you don't have to be fussy about frosting the cake sides and tops. While the frosting is still wet, cover the frosting with chopped nuts, coconut, or colored sprinkles. This is an easy way to get a professional look without the headaches of professional cake decorating. Garnish generously with sliced fruit orchocolate pieces, candy, or fresh, nonpoisonous, unsprayed flowers and herbs. These are simple elegant ways to garnish a cake. Remember that your cake doesn't need to have a structured, store-bought look. A natural, simple home-baked look is more appetizing and shows that you've spent the time and energy to produce something of your own.
If you don't want to decorate your cake, decorate around it. Pretty platters, doilies, candles, tablecloths, and floral arrangements can all enhance the presentation of your desserts.
Copyright © 1998 by Maria Bruscino Sanchez. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.