Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saying goodbye to the Barefoot Bloggers

Well, it appears that this will be my last post with the Barefoot Bloggers. I was taken off the member list because I didn't participate for two months over the summer, and I respect the decision of the group's mods (though I won't say I'm happy about it). I did make both of September's recipes though, and I think they came out pretty well, so I still wanted to post about them.

Both of the September recipes were cake recipes - apparently a coincidence but sort of a difficult situation given the fact that there's only two of us and we'd never eat that much cake (nor should we!) Luckily, though, I had an out - my office has a dessert party every month to celebrate all of the employee birthdays during that month, so I just offered to provide the cake this time. Everybody won in that situation - I had an appropriate way to offload a metric buttload of cake, and our office administrative staff didn't need to go to spend the money on a store-bought cake and go to the trouble of picking it up.

Please ignore the horrible photos - the lighting in the conference room at work is less than optimal.

The first cake was a white sheet cake with chocolate ganache frosting, and was a particular challenge because A)I don't own a sheet pan of the right size and shape to make it as directed, and B)the recipe was given fairly bad reviews on, claiming the cake was dry and too sweet, Luckily, my best friend Cristen happens to be an amazing baker (check out her mail order bakery on Etsy!), so I showed her the recipe and asked her advice on how to fix it. She recommended omitting the cornstarch to fix the dryness issue, and cutting the sugar back to 2 cups. I also followed the recommendations made in the FN reviews to reduce the baking soda by a 1/4 tsp, as the indicated amount is apparently too much for the flour called for, and added lime zest in addition to the requisite lemon because I had a flavor combination of raspberry and citrus in mind for the finished product. These all seemed to be good alterations, because the cake came out reasonably moist and with just the right amount of sweetness and a complex citrus flavor (the extra cup of sugar called for in the recipe definitely would have been too much) though it seemed unusually dense to me and had a weird swiss-cheese-like crumb with big air holes.

Lacking the proper pan, I also opted to make this a layer cake instead of a sheet cake and baked it in two batches in a 9" square cake pan.

For the ganache frosting, I opted for white chocolate instead of semisweet. I don't have a real double boiler and have had awful luck with the standard rig of a bowl over a pan of hot water, so I opted to make the frosting by heating the heavy cream in a pan with the vanilla, corn syrup, butter, and more lemon and lime zest, then poured the hot cream over the white chocolate chips in a bowl and let it sit until the chips were melted and could be stirred evenly into the cream. After a stint in the fridge the frosting thickened to the perfect spreadable consistency.

For filling and additional topping I made a raspberry mousse of sorts by folding seedless raspberry jam into some stiffly whipped cream (plus a drop or two of red food coloring, because the all-natural jam I bought didn't have the lovely red hue of normal jams).

To assemble, I leveled off both cakes and spread the top of the first layer with store-bought lemon curd, then spooned on a generous amount of the mousse and spread it edge to edge. Then I added the second layer of cake and spread it with more lemon curd, then covered the entire cake with the ganache. On the day I served it, I poured the remaining mousse over the top of the cake and spread it so that it would spill over the sides a bit. In retrospect, I wish I'd either put the mousse into a piping bag and piped it neatly around the edge of the cake, or used just plain raspberry jam thinned with a bit of water and drizzled it over the top - the way I did it, I think it was kinda ugly. Ah well, lessons learned.

The second cake was Beatty's Chocolate Cake, a deep chocolate cake with mocha buttercream. The secret ingredient in this cake is brewed coffee, which isn't recognizable as an individual flavor in the finished cake but which enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Aside from turning this cake into a layer cake as well, I pretty much followed the recipe as written, and as far as I'm concerned it was perfect. The cake was exactly what I think of when I think of chocolate cake - soft and moist with a fluffy crumb and a deep, dark chocolate flavor that wasn't too sweet.

The buttercream recipe was perfect too, smooth and rich with an ideal balance of chocolate and coffee. I was actually really proud of my buttercream, because this was the first time I'd ever made one from scratch and I was absolutely convinced that it was going to break on me when I added the melted chocolate. The key, I found, was simply going slowly and not overmixing the frosting - I added the chocolate one large spoonful at a time and mixed it slowly with my handbeater on its lowest setting, and only beat it until the chocolate was evenly worked into the butter and sugar base. It was so much easier than I would have expected, and so much tastier than any store bought or bakery buttercream that I've had. I'll never be afraid to make real frosting again!

With all the coffee and chocolate, my immediate thought was to turn this into a sort of tiramisu, which I did by making a filling of sweetened mascarpone blended with powdered espresso, and lining the sides of the cake with ladyfingers. After creating and filling the cake layers (same technique as witht he first cake, minus the crumb-coat layer of lemon curd - this cake was so moist it didn't need it) and spreading the whole thing with that beautiful buttercream, an extra sprinkle of chocolate chips finished the job. If the first cake was a bit of an ugly duckling, I think this one was much closer to the beautiful swan I envisioned.

Though both cakes were tasty - extremely so, as a matter of fact - and my coworkers seemed to prefer the white cake option, the mocha tiramisu cake was the hands-down winner in my eyes. The cake and frosting were simply superior to the sheet cake recipe, and although I love raspberries and citrus together I am generally hard-pressed to come up with a better dessert flavor combination than coffee and chocolate. The only thing that might have made it better would have been a bit of spice, either a warming sweet spice like cinnamon or a tingly heat from some kind of chili. Perhaps next time.

So with this I wave farewell to the Barefoot Bloggers - its been fun and I've learned a lot, but I suppose its time to move on and seek out other opportunities. I'll be looking for new groups to join, so stay tuned!

1 comment:

Cristen said...

Thanks for the press Erica! The cakes both look great but I have to say I am partial to the Chocolate Mocha one. I can't ever pass up Chocolate Mocha anything! Well done :)